Mumbai/New Delhi: Oppressive, deplorable, arbitrary - the adjectives flew freely Tuesday as Indians across all sectors verbalised their outrage at the arrest of two young women who questioned on Facebook the shutdown in Mumbai after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death.
A day after 21−year−old Shaheen Dabha was arrested with her friend, who had 'liked' the post on Facebook, and her uncle's clinic in Thane was vandalised, police arrested nine people believed to be from the Shiv Sena. Both the women were arrested Sunday − for "hurting religious sentiments" and under the Information Technology Act, 2000 − and released on bail Monday.
Police also launched an inquiry against the arrests and the vandalism in Thane, near India's financial and entertainment hub Mumbai.
But that did little to curb the democracy vs dictatorship debate and the mounting fury over police high−handedness. The topic was hotly discussed in college and school classrooms, in offices, on social networking sites and was also the top trending topic on Twitter.
From corporates and students to politicians and academics, the voices of protest, young and old, rose in unison.
"I am so scared to write on facebook... My freedom of expression is killed by the arrest of two young ladies in Mumbai," wrote Guwahati−based wildlife activist Firoz Ahmed on his Facebook wall.
"Police officers who arrested the two girls in Mumbai shud be immediately dismissed. That's minimum that the govt ought to do," tweeted activist−turned−politician Arvind Kejriwal.
"Now you can't ask questions about why there should be a bandh? Did anyone notify the police that this is actually a democracy?" Mumbai−based author Jerry Pinto wrote angrily on his Facebook wall.
In Mumbai−based communications professional Kumar Manish's view, the arrests were an "oppressive way of muzzling voices".
"It is unfortunate and deplorable that Maharashtra Police, a state functionary, acts and reacts within couple of hours for an action which is within the laws enshrined in the Constitution of India We are living in a democracy, let us not make it 'demo−crazy'," he added.
Many others IANS spoke to in Mumbai preferred not to be identified though they condemned outright the arrests and the vandalism that followed. A telling comment perhaps on the forces at play in India's busy commercial capital and its neighbourhoods.
"Dictatorship is what we witnessed over last weekend Can one not even express their feelings now? Are we in democracy or dictatorship," asked a young man.
Terming it the "the death of democracy", another woman professional said: "What irks me is how the alleged Shiv Sainiks reacted in the most intolerant and cowardly manner. We are living in mob culture and this is just not acceptable."
The ire spilled over to every sector.
Minister of State for Communications and IT Milind Deora said: "Question isn't about amending 66A of the IT Act, it's about preventing misuse by the police, who clearly acted in haste and applied wrong sections of IPC and IT Act."
"Also, vandals of Dhada Hospital must be booked! Hope Maharashtra government takes immediate corrective action," he tweeted.
The CPI−M asked for Maharashtra's Congress−NCP government to "take immediate action and stop pandering to the whims and fancies of the Shiv Sena".
In a statement against the "illegal and arbitrary arrests", the groups Communalism Combat and SAHMAT said the incident was "one more instance of the growing politics of intimidation threat and violence that are not firmly dealt with by the authorities".
Signed by artists, academics, media professionals and legal experts, the statement said the arrests were the "most recent in a long list of actions undertaken by the police under the IT Act which are questionable".
Most people felt the only way to reinforce faith in the establishment was to suspend the policemen who arrested the girls.
The ripples were felt globally as well.
Linking the Mumbai arrests to the shooting of Pakistani teen Malala Yousafazai, contactmusic.com reported that the prohibition of what's allowed on the internet and the decreasing amount of free speech available on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook is becoming more and more apparent.
And this was the message posted by Shaheen: "With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on... Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect."