Indian Women Arrested over Facebook Post

Two women who expressed discontent with Mumbai being shut down for the funeral of Hindu nationalist Bal Thackeray have been detained

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Parivartan Sharma / Reuters

India's Hindu activists hold placards as they are detained by police during a protest in New Delhi on Dec. 7, 2011

In India, the world’s largest democracy, civil rights are running up against the world of social media. On Monday police in Palghar, some 100 km north of Mumbai, arrested 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada for criticizing a traffic shutdown in a Facebook status update, the Mumbai Mirror reported. Another woman was arrested for merely “liking” that status update.

Both women expressed their discontent with Mumbai being shut down for the funeral of leading Hindu nationalist Bal Thackeray, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 86 — an event that brought India’s financial hub and most populous city to a virtual standstill. The two women questioned whether the bandh, or shutdown, was necessary.

Dhada quickly deleted the comment from her Facebook page and apologized for it. But that didn’t stop a mob of about 2,000 Thackeray supporters from ransacking her uncle’s orthopedic clinic in Palghar, according to the Mirror. Thackeray, founder of the extreme right-wing Shiv Sena party, has been widely criticized for inciting religious hatred and violence.

(MORE: The Firebrand Who Renamed Bombay: Bal Thackeray)

The arrests reflect the wider wariness with which Indian authorities look at social media, even at the cost of curbing freedom of expression.

This summer, rumors that circulated via social media stoked deadly riots in Assam, leaving more than 70 people dead and prompting a mass exodus of tens of thousands of northeast Indians from Bangalore. In August, Facebook and the Indian government pledged to delete posts containing hate speech. But a list of blogs, Facebook pages, and YouTube and Twitter profiles that authorities tried to block was leaked online, sparking a debate over censorship and Internet governance.

So far, the debate has been fruitless. In October, a businessman was arrested for tweeting “offensive” comments about the son of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, the Times of India reported. Also last month, three Hindus in Muslim-majority Kashmir were arrested after they posted anti-Muslim messages on Facebook.

Only 125 million of India’s 1.2 billion residents were using the Internet last year, but that number is growing fast, almost tripling over the past five years. But authorities are catching up to online miscreants: Google says that in the first half of 2012, Indian authorities submitted 2,310 data requests — demands from courts or government officials to hand over information about Google’s users — up 33% from the same period a year earlier and second only to the U.S.

India also ranks third in the number of Facebook users after the U.S. and Brazil, according to SocialBakers. Over the past six months, the number of Indians on Facebook increased by more than 30% t0 60.6 million. By 2015, India will have more Facebook users than any other country, making arresting everyone who likes a status update increasingly impractical.

MORE: In Search of a New India

MORE: India vs. China: Which Has a Bigger Reform Challenge?

8 comments
elcidharth
elcidharth

I made a valid comment, just minutes ago on Hindustan Times. It showed as published, among other more than two hunderd. When I refreshed the page, it was gone.

My comment referred to moral corruption, criminal politicians, fascism, the themes common to all countries and all cultures.

Indians are so scared, I mean, media, that more often my references (citations) from scholarly journals are censored.

I do not read print media and access news from the internet. In print media, there is no feature like (instant) comments/discussion. Imagine, if such could be possible, there would be riots all over. Right-wing politicians are known to incite public by their unsupported invective, political or communal, yet nobody is arrested, charged, tried in court and snet to jail.

...and I am Sid Harth

chili
chili

Tragic... what's the value of having a democracy like the one that exists in India today?  Mankind must have values, and those values must ensure that ALL men (and women) are created equally, or there can NOT be a Democracy.  As it stands today, India is MANY generations away from having the values needing to have an actual Democracy, at least be honest about it.

Tamooj
Tamooj

So what stuns me is the line in the article; "But authorities are catching up to online miscreants:"  which implies that making a comment online critical of someone or a group is sufficient grounds in itself for arrest or perhaps worse, having an angry mob ransack your property.  That attitude by Indians (or anyone) is the world-turned-upside-down problem and makes me wonder if some cultures simply are not ready for democracy *or* the Internet.  Another generation or two of civics classes might be in order.

WahmadAhmad
WahmadAhmad

the only reson this country is called a democracy is because its resources are needed by Canada and the west..and its not a muslim nation...

WahmadAhmad
WahmadAhmad

what a joke...........largest democracy not!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

rohit57
rohit57

@WahmadAhmad Actually India hasthe second largest Muslim population in the world, second only to Indonesia.  When the question of statehood for Palestine came up, India voted in FAVOR.

rohit57
rohit57

@WahmadAhmad from your name you sound like either a Pakistani or a Kashmiri and your complaints against India are to some extent justified.  But one could equally complain against the US, Russia or China.  What is important about India is that a Shia Muslim is safer in India than in Pakistan.  Two Muslims have been presidents of India and one of India's most famous actors, SRK is a Muslim.  Where is such a high position for non-Muslims in Pakistan or indeed in any Muslim country?

So, India is a defective democracy.  But even with its defects it is a lot better than Pakistan.