The strange case of getting arrested for making a non-offensive Facebook post in Maharashtra

This was a case that had shocked India, and galvanized pressure from the media and from the online community, and also highlighted a significant number of problems. Disclosures from the case have been coming even now, although it has been weeks and continue to raise concern. By now, a number of urban people would have heard the story. After the death of Bal Thackeray, Mumbai had an unofficial bandh (the Shiv Sena did not officially call a bandh, but the city shut down anyhow). So this girl wrote on her Facebook page about the wonder of a city just shutting down and how that was not a good thing for a cosmopolitan city (mind, she did not really make any remarks about Thackeray), and this was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the Shiv Sena. Another of her friends liked the post – only one problem, they lived in the state of Maharashtra.
Soon, there was a police complaint against them, and an agitated number of Shiv Sainiks clamoring for action, outside the local police station, and the police filed a number of charges against them and took them into custody. And for added emphasis, a group of Shiv Sainiks ransacked the clinic of her uncle. Now, all this happened in the evening and at night. The problem being – there are guidelines against arresting ladies for such non-serious crimes beyond day hours (and taking them to the police station), they were arrested under some serious sections, there were no arrests for the vandalism that happened, and so on. It was only a furor that saw them getting out of jail, the charges being dropped, an investigation happening by a senior officer, and action taken against the policeman, but all of these took time. And when the action was taken, the Shiv Sena promptly protested.

Why this post today ? Well, the issue just refuses to die down. There was a report in the newspaper about how the local police officer had defied the seniors and carried out the arrest, and of course, the suspended officer still does not consider that he has done anything wrong. And this is the big problem. In a democracy, especially a complex and non-rich democracy such as ours, it is very easy to stifle the voice and freedom of expression of citizens who are not powerful by themselves. We are making ourselves as a laughing stock globally with our cries for freedom, and yet acting like the censors of the most autocratic countries (not all the time, but from time to time). We need the law (and the law enforcing individual, which in this case is the local policeman) to stand up for the rights of the individual and against the mob, and yet the experience of Maharashtra and many other states in the country is that the police force is anything but. They listen to 2 sections of society, the rich and the connected, with the common denominator being power. And that is why when something is done to the policeman (such as the case in Amritsar where a local politician gunned down the local policeman), they don’t have the sympathy or the respect that you can see police officers having in countries where the rule of law is more strictly enforced.
I am getting more pessimistic as the day goes by. Inspite of all the protests against corruption and violation of law, the Government is not really taking the required action. In fact, the failure of the previous set of protests to make any changes to anti-corruption efforts seems to have emboldened the corrupt even more, and when they can see politicians get away without any charges, the rule of law in the country becomes even weaker.

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