Two women in India were arrested and charged for their Facebook entries complaining about closures in Mumbai for the weekend funeral of a powerful politician linked to waves of mob violence.

After one women posted that the closures were "due to fear, not due to respect," a "friend" on the social networking site gave it a "like."

'We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship.' —Markandey Katju, a former Supreme Court justice

Analysts and the media are slamming the Maharashtra state government for what they said was a flagrant misuse of the law and an attempt to curb freedom of expression.

The arrests were seen as a move by police to prevent any outbreak of violence by supporters of Bal Thackeray, a powerful Hindu fundamentalist politician who died Saturday.

"We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," Markandey Katju, a former Supreme Court justice who now heads the Press Council of India, wrote in a protest letter to the chief minister of Maharashtra.

Katju demanded that the state government suspend the police officers who ordered the arrests and prosecute them.

The women withdrew the comment and apologized, but angry Thackeray supporters ransacked an orthopedic clinic run by the uncle of one woman.

Sudheer Gupta, a lawyer representing the women, said police arrested them Sunday, the day of the funeral, on charges of creating enmity and hatred. They were released on bail Monday.

'It was not a crime'

Shaheen Dhada, the 21-year-old who posted the comment appeared on television Tuesday, her face covered by a scarf so that only her eyes were visible. Dhada told NDTV television she would never again make comments on a social networking site. Both women said they have deactivated their Facebook accounts.

Dhada described her arrest as "unfair."


Shaheen Dhada, left, and Renu Srinivas, right, come out of a court in Mumbai this week after being arrested over a controversial Facebook post. (Associated Press)

"It was not a crime," Renu Srinivas, Dhada's friend who also was arrested, told NDTV.

Indian Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said he was "deeply saddened" by the arrests of the two women.

"Freedom of speech is a very important right, and we need to protect it," Sibal told reporters. He said the government would re-examine the laws governing information technology to prevent its misuse by the police.

"We want to make sure that this law is not meant to prevent people from stating their point of view on any issue," Sibal said Tuesday.

More than 1.5 million attended funeral

Shops and offices were closed Sunday as more than 1.5 million people attended Thackeray's funeral.

He was never elected to office but was seen for decades as Mumbai's most powerful man. He created an army of supporters by weaving Hindu fundamentalism with ardent defence of Marathis, Mumbai's dominant ethnic group.

Thackeray founded his political party, the Shiv Sena — which means Shiva's Army — with the sole aim of keeping people who are not from Maharashtra out of the state and stemming the spread of Islam and Western values.

Spurred by Thackeray's rabble-rousing speeches, his supporters routinely resorted to violence against Muslims and migrant workers who had come to Mumbai in search of work. He is among those blamed for a wave of religious violence in 1992 that left nearly 1,000 people dead in Mumbai alone.

Analysts say it was a sense of fear that kept millions of people off the streets of the bustling city on Sunday. Nearly 20,000 policemen patrolled the deserted streets, mainly because of the violent history of the Shiv Sena.

No violence occurred Sunday. A day later, a relieved Mumbai police chief, Satyapal Singh, praised the "unexpectedly orderly behaviour" of Thackeray's supporters.