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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Facebook Arrests Sparks Protests and Spreads Fear

The death of Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thakre on Sunday, 18th of November 2012 was an event that was handled with extreme care and precautions by the authorities of Mumbai, namely the police, politicians and the Thakre family to ensure that peace and order remained in the city. His death happened at a very delicate time when the country and the city was busy with the festivities of Diwali and Bhai-duj etc. Not to mention, that November is the month that everyone remembers for the 26/11 attacks. So keeping the law and order was a huge task for the police of Mumbai during this time.

Here, I would like to quote Bhavin Jankharia who wrote this in a column for the Mumbai Mirror today, "Our leaders, the police and the ruling bodies did a phenomenon job over the last weekend with virtually complete control over the situation....something that must be commended giving the rarity of such an occurrence....all of which was then instantly ruined by the arrest of the Palghar girls, an act so completely ridiculous that it belies any attempt at rational thinking."

Reenu Srinivasan and Shaheen Dhada arrested in Palghar
Yes, the same day that Bal Thakre died and the whole city came to a standstill due to a complete bandh, two girls from Palghar, Reenu Srinivasan and Shaheen Dhada were arrested for posting a seemingly innocuous comment that questioned the need for the bandh and her friend simply "liked" the comment. In just a few hours of posting the comment, the police knocked on her door with an arrest warrant. The girls were subsequently taken to the police station and charged with offenses under section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code and section 66 A of the Information Technology Act (ITA). Apparently her comments "hurt" the sentiments of religious communities. 

The police apparently acted with great speed in response to a complaint filed by the Shiv Sena activists. Later, when they were questioned for their actions, they admitted that they did what they did out of fear for what would happen if they did not act upon the wishes of the Shiv Sainiks who probably had threatened them with much more dire consequences to follow if they did not act immediately. The girls too were scared out of their wits as soon as they were arrested as they immediately had to post an apology on their Facebook status and soon went on to deactivate their accounts. The arrest of the girls by the police was not only wrong from the "law" point of view but also wrong as they trampled on the right to free speech of the two girls.

This arrest has sparked a huge controversy in the land of the social media, including twitter, which was flooded with messages from all over the country as people questioned the move and the arrest. The girls, after apologizing, said that they were "scared" for their own lives. It should be noted that the Shiv Sainiks had reportedly vandalized an Orthopedic Clinic that belonged to the uncle of the girl who was arrested. So, we can understand where the "fear" is coming from. But to learn that the police too were acting out of "fear" of the Shiv Sainiks sends a different message altogether. "Fear is more contagious than dengue." Quoting Ajit Ranade from the Mumbai Mirror today, "Remember August 11 riots at Azad Maidan? There too the police restrained themselves, "fearing" much worse religious riots if they had enforced the law vigorously. In both Palghar and Azad Maidan, the police acted contrary to conventional wisdom on law enforcement, out of "fear" of a worse consequence, if they had simply upheld the law."

This whole debacle brings forth the question of whether we should be living in fear and letting this "fear" rule our lives.....and much worse still....rule the "law"?

Should I be afraid to write this blog? To wonder if I may get arrested for simply putting forth my views on the subject? Don't I, as the citizen of India, have the right to question the actions of our leaders or politicians? 

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