The arrests of two women in Maharashtra state, who criticized the funeral of Hindu nationalist politician Bal Thackeray on a social networking site, has sparked outrage across India.
The arrests have sparked a nationwide debate over free speech and the need to amend a two-year-old law that regulates information technology.
Shaheen Dadha, a 21-year-old college girl, had questioned on Facebook why Mumbai was shut down after the death of Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena Party and a popular politician. India’s commercial capital ground to a halt on Sunday as more than a million people turned out for Thackeray’s funeral.
Dadha's Facebook post said: “People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe bandh [shut down] for that. We should remember Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, two martyrs of India’s independence struggle.”
Her friend Renu Srinivasan had “liked” the Facebook posting.
Police arrested the two women on Monday. They were accused of hurting religious sentiments and for sending offensive messages through a computer resource.
A local court ordered them to spend 14 days in jail, but they were later released on bail.
The women have since deactivated their Facebook accounts and Dadha apologized for posting the comments and withdrew them.
However, their arrests drew instant protests on social media networks and other media channels.
Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to suspend the official responsible for the arrests.
Maharashtra Director General of Police Sanjeev Dayal has ordered a probe, saying he wants the results by Saturday.
Federal officials also hit out at the arrests with the junior information technology minister, Milind Deora, calling them a gross overreaction by the police.
Deora told ucanews.com that the government was willing to make necessary amendments to the information technology law.
"If there is something that can help us plug these loopholes, I am for that,” he said.
Shiv Sena has justified the arrests with its leader Sanjay Raut saying the police action helped avoid a serious law and order situation in Mumbai.