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FB arrest: Is India really a democracy?
A mockery of democracy was observed when two women were arrested over their post on social networking website Facebook expressing their opinion on the Mumbai shutdown on November 19, 2012.

BHUSHAN SANKHE the Palghar head of Shiv Sena had filed the police complaint. 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada was arrested for posting her view regarding the shutdown. Her post read: “With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone show some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.”

Moreover, her friend Renu Srinivas was also arrested for merely liking the post.The women from Palghar were charged under hate speech laws in India (Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code) for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. They were also charged under Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code for making 'statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes'. Also, they were also charged under Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. They were granted bail fo Rs 15,000. As if the arrest weren't enough, Shiv Sainiks vandalized the clinic of Shaheen Dhada's uncle even after the accused withdrew her post and apologized. The victim's family suffered a financial loss of over Rs 10,00,000.

Countrywide protests followed this inhuman act of the Shiv Sainiks. The arrest was criticized by former Supreme Court judge and the present chairman of Press Council, Justice Markandey Katju, and also by the former Union Information and Technology minister, Kapil Sibal. Also, an online petition was initiated to support the women, which got very healthy support from the public.

Nationwide support for them resulted into the arrest of the nine Shiv Sainiks, who had vandalized the clinic. Actions have also been taken against the cops who arrested the women. Moreover, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, assured that the victims will be rendered justice very soon.

The issue raises several questions regarding the freedom of expression in the world's largest democracy. The episode also throws light upon the unnecessary act of web censorship in India. And most importantly, it mulls over the worthiness of 'bandhs' in the country. Do they signify anything? The nation incurs loss, people are deprived of amenities and at times, riots take place. Exercising a bandh for demonstrating appeals, paying respect, or for any other reason, is nowhere greater than the act of posing nude to satisfy one's demands. The case may shut down, the accused may get justice, but incidents like these always remain a blot on the nation's prestige.

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prithviraj chavan
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