Indian Women Arrested Over Facebook Post Questioning Mumbai's 'Bal Thackeray Shutdown'

A supporter wails during the cremation of Hindu hardline Shiv Sena party leader Bal Thackeray in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Nov.
A supporter wails during the cremation of Hindu hardline Shiv Sena party leader Bal Thackeray in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. Hundreds of thousands of supporters have filled the streets of Mumbai for the funeral of Bal Thackeray, a Hindu extremist leader linked to waves of mob violence against Muslims and migrant workers in India. Thackeray, an 86-year-old powerful, rabble-rousing orator for Shiv Sena, which means Shiva's Army, died on Saturday following a cardio-respiratory arrest. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

India's commitment to free speech has been cast into the spotlight yet again after two women were arrested over a Facebook post this weekend.

According to the Times of India, a 21-year-old woman was arrested on Sunday over comments she made on her Facebook account criticizing the shutdown of the city of Mumbai following the death of politician Bal Thackeray.

A friend who had "liked" the comment was also arrested.

The BBC reports that Mumbai was brought to a standstill following the death of Thackeray, a "controversial Hindu nationalist politician," on Saturday.

The news agency writes:

Thackeray, one of the most divisive figures in Indian politics, was blamed for inciting tensions between Hindus and Muslims and was revered by his followers.

News of his death saw businesses shutting and taxis staying off the roads amid fears of violence by supporters of the right-wing Shiv Sena party he founded.

More than a million people attended Thackeray's funeral, the Associated Press reports.

However, while the politician's supporters mourned his death, many others were reportedly "angered by the inconvenience to commuters" and took to social media sites to criticize the shutdown, the BBC adds.

In her Facebook comment, the 21-year-old woman, identified by the Hindustan Times as Shaheen Dhada, wrote: "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a 'bandh' [shutdown] for that."

According to the Times of India, the woman and a friend who had "liked" the comment were arrested "for hurting religious sentiments." They were released on bail a few hours later.

The newspaper also reports that "though the girl withdrew her comment and apologized, a mob of some 2,000 Shiv Sena workers attacked and ransacked her uncle's orthopedic clinic" following the Facebook post.

The two arrests have incited outrage among some members of the Indian press, as well as the public, the Hindustan Times reports.

Markandey Katju, chief of the Press Council of India, said on Monday that he was demanding "immediate action against police personnel for arresting the women," the Hindustan Times reports. In an email to Prithviraj Chavan, the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, Katju warned of "legal consequences" if the official failed to act, according to the news outlet.

"I will deem it that you as [chief minister] are unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which you have taken oath and then legal consequences will follow," Katju said.

"To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against the bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19 of our Constitution, freedom of speech is guaranteed fundamental right. We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," he continued.

Members of the public have also taken to social media sites to express their displeasure:

As the BBC notes, this is not the first time in recent months that India's commitment to freedom of speech has been tested.

In October, businessman Ravi Srinivasan was arrested for a tweet in which he criticized the son of India's Finance Minister P Chidambaram. He was released on bail but faces up to three years in prison if convicted, the Hindu reports.

In September, a cartoonist was arrested on charges of sedition over a number of anti-corruption drawings. The charges were later dropped.

And in April, the West Bengal government reportedly arrested a teacher who had "emailed to friends a cartoon that was critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee." He too was later released on bail.



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