Indian police arrest student for a political Facebook post

After a medical student writes a mild message of protest on the social network, she is arrested for hate speech. She has now become the symbol of the country's intolerance of free speech.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Facebook page dedicated to Shaheen Dhada for being arrested by Indian police for making a political statement. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Shaheen Dhada wasn't sure what to expect when police called her house Sunday night. The 21-year-old medical student who lives in Mumbai, India, had just posted a political statement on Facebook and her friend Renu Srinivasan "liked" the post.

Within hours, the two young women were arrested and charged with using speech that was offensive and hateful, according to the New York Times.

Now, just days later, Dhada and Srinivasan have come to symbolize India's intolerance of free speech. Tens of thousands of people have taken to social networks criticizing the government's arrests of the two women saying that they did not participate in hateful speech. A dedicated Facebook page has even been created to publicize their plight; at the time of this writing, it has nearly 2,000 likes.

Dhada's incriminating Facebook post was about right-wing Hindu political leader Bal K. Thackeray, who died over the weekend. According to the New York Times, when news of his death spread throughout Mumbai, the city shut down in reverence of the politician.

Annoyed, Dhada wrote, "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."

"Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced," she ended her Facebook post. "Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect."

When the police first called Dhada, she wrote an apology on Facebook and then closed her account, according to the New York Times. But to no avail, she was still arrested.

Government officials and police around the world use social networks to nab people for unlawful behavior. And many times, what users post can get them into trouble. There are cases when people simply exercise free speech, such as a Saudi blogger who tweeted of an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Mohammad, which was viewed as blasphemous and illegal by his government. And there are cases when real criminals get taken down, such as when the New York City police were able to arrest 50 gang members on charges of murder because of their bragging on Facebook.

Dhada and Srinivasan were ultimately released on bail on Monday and are now waiting for their first court hearing. However, according to the New York Times, since their cases have gained such national and international attention, the head of police in Mumbai has ordered an investigation into the legality of their arrests.