The arrest of two women from Palghar in 2012 under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act over a comment on a social networking site had drawn widespread outrage.
More than two years after their ordeal, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan stand vindicated, with the Supreme Court striking down the law that made posting “offensive” comments online a crime punishable by jail
“I am very happy right now,” said Rinu after the verdict was announced on Tuesday.
In November 2012, Dhada was arrested after she posted an update on her Facebook page criticising the bandh imposed by the Shiv Sena after the death of the late Bal Thackeray. Srinivasan was taken into custody for liking the post.
“The section was very vague. What she [Dhada] wrote was not abusive, and I agreed with it,” said Rinu, who was back on the networking site within a week of their controversial arrests.
Initially, the girls were charged under Section 295-A of the IPC for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. They were later booked under Section 66A of the IT Act. However, public outrage compelled the state government and the police to quash the case against them.
Appalled by the incident, Shreya Singhal had filed a petition in court seeking an amendment in Section 66A. “I spoke to Singhal in the morning before the verdict was to be announced. It was a happy moment for us when the court scrapped the provision,” said Rinu, who has now completed audio engineering from Chennai.
Rinu’s father PA Srinivasan said people came to know about the law after his daughter and Dhada’s arrest. “The common man doesn’t understand the law clearly. The use of social media has increased, but there should be a clear definition in law for dealing with it,” he said. He said the incident had caused both families mental agony. “We never imagined ourselves in such a situation. We had never faced the police or gone to courts. People were judgmental and started to react,” he said.
Dhada, who lives in Bangalore with her husband, and her family went through a difficult time emotionally. Following the post, her uncle Dr Abdul Gaffar Dhada’s hospital was vandalised by a mob. “We still have not been compensated for the loss,” said Shakeel, 20, Dhada’s younger brother.
Welcoming the move, Shakeel said the law had been misused. “We were in shock for the first few months, but when people stood up for my sister and her friend, we knew we weren’t alone,” he said.
When free speech was muzzled:
Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, Palghar
Incident: On November 19, two girls from Palghar were arrested for a Facebook post criticising the forced shutdown of the city owing to Bal Thackeray’s death. The post was written by Shaheen Dhadha, 21, while her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, then 20, had liked it
Earlier, on November 18, the police had registered an FIR against the two on a complaint filed by Palghar’s Shiv Sena president Bhushan Sankhe. The same day, 30 to 40 unidentified persons vandalised the hospital of Dhada’s uncle at Palghar Dhadha was called to the police station for questioning and kept there overnight; both women were arrested in the morning
Charges applied: Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc
Sections 295A of the IPC for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feeling or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. This charge was later dropped
Section 505(2) of the IPC for hatred statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between masses.
Air India Employees, Mumbai
Incident: Air India cabin crew members Mayank Mohan Sharma and KVJ Rao were arrested by the cyber crime cell of Mumbai police for allegedly posting indecent jokes about the Prime Minister and other politicians and for insulting the national flag. They spent 12 days in jail and were suspended till the charges against them were dropped some months later.
Charges Applied: The two were arrested under section 66(A) and 67 of the IT Act