M’tra Govt Opposes NHRC Order Granting Compensation to Palghar Girls arrested in 2012 for FB Post, NHRC Concedes: Mumbai Mirror

Mumbai Mirror reports that acceding to the Maharashtra police’s claim that Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan “had to be arrested keeping in view the tense situation“ and claimed that “all the norms and directions of the Supreme Court were observed at the time of arrest“, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has gone back on it’s own order grating Rs 50,000 each as compensation to the young women.  In sharp and stark contrast to its scathing orders in the past, the NHRC accepted the state's contention and closed the case. “The Commission has considered the report of the State Government and is of the view that it is not necessary to keep this matter pending on the Board. Therefore, we leave it to both the victims to take such measures which are permissible under the law to implement the recommendations made by this Commission vide its proceedings dated 4.11.2013."

Free speech

On November 19, 2012, the day after Bal Thackeray's funeral, Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan from Palghar were arrested for questioning the state-wide bandh in a Facebook post. The arrests sparked nationwide outrage, with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) even ordering the state to pay a compensation of Rs 50,000 each to both girls. After hearing the state's belated response justifying the arrests, the NHRC has now had a change of heart and concluded that the girls need not be compensated. The young women have however stated that they would continue to fight for their rights.

After Thackeray's death on November 17, 2012, the Sena called a state-wide bandh the next day, the day of the funeral. Questioning the bandh, Shaheen had posted on Facebook, “With all respect, everyday, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers… Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect (sic).“

In its long-delayed reply to the NHRC, the state said that the two girls “had to be arrested keeping in view the tense situation“ and claimed that “all the norms and directions of the Supreme Court were observed at the time of arrest“.The state also contended that the action of the police was “justifiable for the situation“ and also for “the protection of both the girls“.

 While Dhada had written the post, Srinivasan had merely `liked' it. A Sena leader filed a complaint against the two, while party supporters vandalised a clinic run by Dhada's uncle in Palghar. The two were booked under section 66A of the IT Act (sending offensive messages through a computer or a communication device) along with other sections of IPC for `causing communal disharmony'. In 2015, the Supreme Court held Section 66A `unconstitutional'.

Their arrest sparked nationwide protests and drew into focus the misuse of Section 66A of the IT Act. Due to the expression of public outrage, the police were forced to drop charges against the two.

On November 4, 2013, a year after the incident, the NHRC directed the Government of Maharashtra to pay Rs 50,000 each to Dhada and Srinivasan for violation of their human rights. When the state refused to do so, NHRC released a scathing press release on July 15, 2014 titled “Pay Rs 50,000 each to two girls or face coercive process in Facebook comments case.” Maharashtra had a change in government in October 2014.

 The state finally responded to the order only last year, where it claimed that an enquiry into the incident was conducted by a police inspector of Palghar police station. Requesting the Commission to drop the proceedings, the state said, “During the enquiry, both the girls along with other witnesses were examined. Keeping in view the tense situation, the girls had to be arrested… The action of police was justifiable for the situation and also for the protection of both the girls. Therefore, the case is not fit for any compensation.”

When the Mumbai Mirror contacted Dhada, she said, “I was not expecting such an order but I intend to fight for my rights.“ She said freedom of speech is the most important thing in a country like ours and needs to be upheld, adding, “What happened with me was a nightmare.“



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