(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)
When I signed up for a Facebook account four years ago, a friend warned me it was “dangerous for your sanity” — of course, she meant it in terms of the time I would spend peeking into other people’s lives (She was right). But on Monday, for 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada, that phrase took on a whole new meaning.
When Dhada updated her Facebook status, complaining about Mumbai’s shutdown following the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, little did she know she would find herself in court pleading for bail after being arrested for “hurting religious sentiments”.
Dhada’s arrest shows that India’s Internet laws and the people who execute them are behind the times. In a democracy of 1.2 billion people and multiple religions, you will find a bewildering spectrum of opinions. Add to that the easy distribution of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, those opinions can bounce around the world.
When that happens, there is bound to be someone who finds other people’s sentiments offensive. The trouble in India is that doling out offence, regardless of whether you intended to, can land you in a situation like Dhada’s.