There was furore across social networking sites and the electronic media yesterday after it emerged that two young Palghar based women had been thrust into a police lock-up after one of them posted a status update on Facebook criticising the shutdown in Mumbai in the wake of Bal Thackeray’s death. While one of the arrested women, 21-year-old Shaheen Farookh Dhada, had posted the update, the other, Rini Srinivasan, had merely ‘liked’ it.
Before the arrests, angry Shiv Sainiks stormed into a hospital owned by Shaheen’s uncle Dr Abdul Dhada, manhandled patients, disrupted their treatment, and damaged the hospital premises. Ironically, none of them have been arrested yet. One of the rioters has been identified as Bhushan Sankhe, city president for Shiv Sena in Palghar. He is yet to be arrested.
It was later revealed that the infuriated Sainiks had rampaged the orthopaedic hospital as they were of the impression that it was run by Shaheen’s father. Three patients were under treatment in the hospital when it was attacked. The attackers cut off their saline drips and broke glass panes in the hospital. They also tried to ransack a medical shop owned by the Dhada family.
Shaheen had updated her Facebook profile with a comment reading ‘People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that.’ Her friend Rini ‘liked’ the post.
The two women were initially booked under Section 295A of the IPC for hurting the religious sentiment of others, and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act which allows arrest of a person who sends, by means of a computer or communication device, information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character.
The charges were later changed and the women were charged afresh under Section 505(2) of the IPC, which books people for making, publishing, circulating statement on grounds of religion, caste or community, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will.
After their arrest, the two women were kept in an adjoining room in the Palghar police station, instead of being taken to the women-only lock-up in Vasai. They were remanded in police custody for 14 days, but were later released on a bail of Rs 15,000 each.
Dr Dhada said, “I have suffered losses of Rs 10 lakh. A state-of-the-art Operation Theatre (OT), which had imported equipment, was also damaged. I was with my family in Mahabaleshwar for the weekend when the incident took place.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Rini’s father, a retired technician who earlier worked for the Indian Navy, said, “I was unaware of the arrest till very late. The issue has been blown out of proportion.” Shaheen is a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) graduate who obtained her degree from Dandekar College in Palghar last year. Rini obtained a BSc degree in Botany this year from the same college.
At the court
Soon after their arrest, the two women were produced before R G Borse, the Judicial Magistrate of Palghar court, who granted the duo release against a surety of Rs 15,000 each. The bail was granted after the defence counsel Sudhir Gupta argued that the charges were not applicable, as no religious sentiments had been hurt. He argued that the women were young and did not subscribe to any political ideology. He later told MiD DAY, “It is not mandatory for a cop to make an arrest in such sensitive issues. They should have first investigated the matter and then issued a notice to the party, before taking such an extreme step.”
Senior police inspector Srikant Pingle of Palghar police station said, “We have arrested the girls under Sections 505(2) of the IPC, which books people for making, publishing, circulating statement on grounds of religion, caste or community, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill- will. However, they were granted bail by the court.”
Though the police were prompt in arresting the two women, they are yet to arrest any of the Shiv Sainiks who stormed into the hospital and damaged it yesterday, endangering the wellbeing of patients receiving treatment there.
A source revealed that the police have merely registered a case against some ‘unidentified’ persons, fearing that the arrest of Shiv Sena workers could spawn a violent backlash from other party loyalists who are grieving the death of their leader.
The anonymous mob has been booked under Sections 141 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 451 (house-trespass) 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) and other sections of the Criminal Law Amendment Act and the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions Act.
PI Pingle confirmed that Dr Dhada has registered a case against 50 unknown persons for rioting. “We are trying to identify the accused who ransacked the hospital and will arrest them soon,” he said. In May 2012, the state government had directed the police to register non-bailable offences against those who assault doctors in government hospitals.
RR Patil’s response
Home Minister RR Patil said, “I have spoken to the IG and asked him to report to me with the case papers. I will be able to comment on it only after going through the papers.”
The Other Side
Sankhe denied that he was part of the mob that ransacked the hospital, saying, “I have not ransacked the hospital. I was present with 400 to 500 other supporters in the police station. I don’t know who ransacked the hospital and who the police have booked.” He explained, “The girls had refused to apologise for the comment. We had called her asking her to apologise, but Shaheen asked us to do what we wanted.” “I was chatting with my supporters Pratik Gharat and Ashwin Gharat yesterday, when two other supporters Akash Patil and Siddhesh Gharat appeared there. They showed the comment posted on Facebook by Shaheen. Another girl Rini Srinivasan had also liked the comment. We were shocked to read the comment. So we decided to register the complaint,” he added.
I am all for freedom of any kind of speech as long as it does not lead to any form of violence. Article 19 of the Constitution gives freedom of expression and speech to every citizen. The update was just a thought that was completely valid, which she shared. This is not wrong. Politicians from all political parties have spoken negatively about their rivals, and they are never held to account for things that they say. The girls were arrested for hurting religious sentiments, even though Shiv Sena is a political party and not a religion. We cannot say or do anything without the fear of being arrested. Meanwhile, people who indulge in violence are allowed to do so, without any fear of incarceration.
— Ashwin Mushran, actor
It is unfortunate that the girls have been arrested and the police have taken this action. The article in the constitution that ensures Freedom of Expression can easily be cited to protect the comments made by the girl. The statement does not amount to hurting anybody’s religious sentiments.
— Amit Desai, senior counsel
Going by what is being told to me, what the girl has written on her page does not constitute an offence. I find it amazing that the police, instead of planning strategies to maintain proper law and order in the city, were appealing to public to stay at home and not venture out. Instead of tackling more important issues, the police are wasting their time in such matters.
— Aspi Chinoy, senior counsel
As told to Vinod Kumar Menon