Not even an iota of evidence to connect Disha to PJF
Besides granting bail to Octogenarian poet Varavara Rao, one of the most important judicial actions that happened recently is grant of bail to Disha Ravi, who should be remembered on International Women’s Day of 2021.
Besides granting bail to Octogenarian poet Varavara Rao, one of the most important judicial actions that happened recently is grant of bail to Disha Ravi, who should be remembered on International Women's Day of 2021. Disha and Varavara Rao were incarcerated for opposing the government's policies, without proper evidence. The serious threat to personal liberty can only be averted with the upholders of justice.
This is the so-called toolkit that was used as basis for arresting Disha Ravi on the charge of sedition.
The Additional Sessions Judge (ASJ) of Delhi Court, Dharmender Rana deserves all appreciation for bringing out basic truths about the lack of evidence or basis for the charge of Sedition against Disha Ravi and the wounded vanity of the government in booking the young environment activist.
She was arrested on February 13 and charged with sedition, criminal conspiracy, and inciting to riot. Police said Ravi, along with two other activists, created the toolkit to spread misinformation and incite unrest as part of a global conspiracy. Court recognised that Disha Ravi is a part of the Indian wing of Fridays for Future, a global climate change movement founded by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Those who exploit and abuse the Sanskrit sayings and rely on Vedic culture of great India to suppress the voices and arrest the critics, the Judge gave a fitting quotation. (see below)
The ASJ rejected the police's argument and said it could not be presumed on "surmises or conjectures" that Ravi supported secessionist tendencies or violence, simply because she shared a platform with people who gathered to oppose the farm laws.
The ASJ concluded that Ravi had no connection with pro-Khalistani organisations, Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), and Sikhs for Justice, and that there was not an "iota" of evidence linking her to the violence that rocked Delhi on Republic Day. He pointed out the "scanty and sketchy evidence". The Judge said: "Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ' Bail' against a 22-year-lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society and send her to jail".
While granting bail to Disha Ravi on February 23, the ASJ Dharmender Rana said: "I find absolutely nothing objectionable in the said page. Upon perusal of the material available on Genocide.org, it is revealed that it carries certain facts about the status of human right violations in somewhere about 40 countries including India. I concur with the Ld. ASG, without commenting upon the sanctity of the information, that the imputations are really objectionable in the said website. However, even if the said imputations are found to be objectionable in nature, I cannot but disagree with Ld. ASG that the said material is seditious in nature. The imputations may be false, exaggerated or even with a mischievous intent but the same cannot be stigmatized being seditious unless they have tendency to foment violence".
Any kind of violence was conspicuously absent from the toolkit, and no evidence was on record to suggest Ravi subscribed to secessionist ideas. Activists have repeatedly said the toolkit is an innocuous document used by social media campaigns for strategy and planning.
Lessons from Judge
These are the lessons from the ASJ to our democratic government:
l The judge said citizens are the conscience-keepers of the government in any democratic nation.
l Citizens cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies.
l The difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies.
l It added an aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.
l The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the government.
l "The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience.
l There are no geographical barriers on communication.
l A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad".
l It added a citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the law and as such have access to the audience abroad.
Editing toolkit not an offence
"In my considered opinion creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless. Further, it is rightly pointed out by Defence Counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police therefore there is nothing wrong in co-accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march. Still further, the attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies".
Nothing to show Disha
"It would be worthwhile to observe that there is nothing on record to suggest that the applicant accused subscribed to any secessionist idea". "Further, the prosecution has, except for pointing out that applicant/accused forwarded the toolkit to Ms. Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the applicant/accused gave global audience to the 'secessionist elements'."
Where is violence?
"It is further highlighted that the applicant/accused along with her associates under the pretext of protesting against the farm laws have resolved to vandalize Indian Embassies and specifically attack symbols of India i.e. Yoga and Chai. Except for a bare assertion, no evidence has been brought to my notice to support the contention that any violence took place at any of the Indian Embassies pursuant to the sinister designs of the applicant/accused and her co-conspirators"
"The perusal of the said 'Toolkit' reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies".
Mere engagement with people of dubious credentials not offence
"…. it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpability. Any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social intercourse. As long as the engagement/interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue. In the absence of any evidence to the effect that the applicant/accused agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on 26.01.2021 with the founders of PJF, it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies, or the violence caused on 26.01.2021, simply because she shared a platform with people, who have gathered to oppose the legislation. There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on 26.01.2021 with the said PJF or the applicant/accused".
(The writer is Professor of Law,
Bennett University and former Central Information Commissioner)