The arrest of 21 year old Shaheen Dhada for posting anti-Bal Thackeray comments has not only outraged Indians. The story has been picked up and reported across international media as well. Though they may not be aware of the complexities of Indian politics, the fact that young girls were arrested for an FB post has got them questioning the dwindling tolerance for the freedom of speech in India.
The Wall Street Journal warns ,’You better think twice before ‘Liking’ your friends’ comments on Facebook. It may land you in jail.’ The article quotes Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society saying “Bal Thackeray had violated the same provisions in his lifetime,” with reference to Mr. Thackeray’s inflammatory speeches against the South Indians and Muslims.
The BBC put a question mark on India’s commitment to freedom of speech by citing recent examples of the arrest of a cartoonist like Ravi Srinivasan, a 46-year-old businessman in the southern Indian city of Pondicherry, who was arrested for a tweet criticising Karti Chidambaram, son of Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
UK’s Daily Mail, says ‘So much for freedom of speech’ and questions the IT act which led to the arrest.
In a New York Times article, Pranesh Prakash questioned the arbitrariness in the application of the law saying ‘There were thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter and in person who were saying the exact same kinds of things that this girl is alleged to have said’. The article also stated that Shiv Sena has a history of banning books, movies and other popular culture that are critical of the political party.
Mashable noted that several dissenters had taken to Twitter to speak out about the arrest including Milind Deora, the government minister of state, communications and information technology, who showed support for Dhadha and Renu with this tweet:
It also asked ‘Do you think Facebook is a good place to voice political opinions?’
The Christian Science Monitor calls the incident ‘the latest in a string of crackdowns on Internet speech in the world’s largest democracy’. It says, ‘The other cases have included arrest of a resident of Chandigarh who complained on the Facebook page of Chandigarh police that they were not doing enough to find her stolen car; a cartoonist who posted work online protesting corruption scandals by the central government; and a professor in Kolkata who merely forwarded an email with a cartoon that was critical of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.’ The article also mentions Shaheen Dhada’s uncle, Dr. Abdullah Ghaffar Dhada stating that he had incurred losses of two million Rupees due to the ransacking of his clinic by angry Shiv Sainiks.