Centre for Internet & Society

A woman who complained about the Indian city of Mumbai shutting down for the funeral of divisive Hindu nationalist politician Balasaheb Thackeray was arrested for "hurting religious sentiments," local police told reporters amid public anger over the case.

This article by Emily Alpert appeared in Los Angeles Times on November 19, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.

Indian media identified the woman as Shaheen Dhada, 21, who reportedly wrote, "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh [shutdown] for that.”

Police also arrested a friend of hers who "liked" the comment.

The Facebook remark spurred angry backers of Thackeray, a controversial figure who once openly called for attacks on Muslims, to assault a clinic owned by Dhada' uncle. Analysts told the Associated Press that the arrests appeared to be a move by police to head off any further violence from Thackeray supporters.

Free-speech groups were outraged by the ransacking and arrests. In a blistering letter to the chief minister of Maharashtra state, a former Supreme Court justice who now heads the Press Council of India called the charges absurd and unlawful and demanded that the police officers involved be prosecuted.

"We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," Markandey Katju wrote.

The Maharashtra director-general of police ordered a probe into the arrests Monday, Indian television station IBN reported. The two women were reportedly released on bail during the day.

The Shiv Sena political party that Thackeray founded has polarized Mumbai over the years with campaigns against Muslims and migrants. His death put the city on high alert over the weekend amid fears of violence. As shops were shuttered and taxis sat idle, some Mumbai residents grew frustrated.

"When tens of thousands were making similar comments ... how did the police single out Shaheen Dhada and her friend for arrest?” wrote Pranesh Prakash of the Center for Internet and Society. He added, "This should not be written off as a harmless case of the police goofing up."