Shaheen Dhada is an unlikely looking protagonist in the battle under way in India to protect free speech from government restrictions in the new media age.

Slight and soft-spoken, Dhada perches on the edge of her bed in a purple-walled room that has been her own for the past 20 years. Outside, police officers are posted for her protection in the town of Palghar, 2 1/2 hours outside Mumbai.

The 21-year-old management science grad's Facebook post last week triggered her arrest and the wrath of local residents. Her "crime" was questioning the shutdown of Mumbai as mourners gathered for the cremation of Bal Thackeray, who had dominated the city's political stage for decades with cagey intimidation tactics.