India’s premier bank, State Bank of India, has introduced an all new ‘anticipatory bail’ loan scheme for Facebook and Twitter users, who face a high likelihood of getting arrested under various colonial era provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the draconian Information Technology Act.
This comes in the wake of the arrest of two young girls for comments posted on Facebook in the aftermath of the death of right-wing nationalist leader, Bal Thackeray, which has led to millions of social media users across the country applying for anticipatory bail. SBI’s new product has been hailed by netizens as a timely offering to cope with arrests.
Shahien Dhada, 21, was detained by Mumbai cops for posting the following comment on Facebook: ““People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that.” Her friend was also arrested for ‘liking’ the comment. This implied that the girls were, inter alia, in violation of the provisions of Section 66(1) of the Information Technology Act, under which a non bailable arrest warrant can be issued for posting content that , inter alia, causes ‘annoyance’ or ‘inconvenience’.
According to statistics, as many as 70% of Facebook users in India, totaling up to 4,20,42,066, have applied for anticipatory bail following the arrests. 66% of these users haven’t applied for their voter IDs yet. The anticipatory bail loans will soon be dispensed at all SBI ATM machines all over India. Users will have to enter their Facebook and Twitter IDs as part of the application process.
The SBI agents have also opened a website, www.irabc.in for this purpose, (IRABC is an acronym for Indian Rapid Anticipatory Bail Corporation). However, the site proved to be anything but rapid, as applicants claimed of having booked 10 IRCTC tickets by the time they received their anticipatory bail. A “Tatkal” scheme too, was introduced on the IRABC site, but the site unfortunately crashed even before people could figure out how the scheme worked.
The fever has caught on with various campaign groups as well, with groups like “Vote4Change” expanding themselves to more sub-groups. One such sub-group, called “Bail4Safety” exclusively aims at creating awareness about the risks of being active on the social media, urging people to obtain their anticipatory bails as soon as possible.
“We want to sensitize people to the fact that blogging or posting innocuous Facebook messages is one of the most dangerous pastimes in India, which can lead to detainment and even incarceration. I urge people to apply for anticipatory bail and try not to be annoying to minimize chances of imprisonment,” explained Shrishti Behl, convener of Bail4Safety.