Court grant bail to Disha Ravi, says citizens can’t be jailed simply for disagreeing with state policies – Times of India

NEW DELHI: Noting that the call for violence in the Toolkit was “conspicuously absent” and observing that citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation and cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies, a Delhi court on Tuesday granted bail to 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi.
Additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana in the 18-page bail order stated, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments. Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.”
Therefore, considering the “scanty and sketchy evidence available on record”, the court found no palpable reason to breach the general rule of bail “against the against a 22-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail”.
The prosecution had relied on “links” between Ravi and “pro¬Khalistani secessionist group” Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), which was associated with the creation of the Toolkit document. It was submitted that a couple of pro¬Khalistan activists, Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal, with whom Ravi’s associates Nikita and Shantanu had attended a zoom meeting on January 11, 2021 with – had founded PJF.
The court didn’t find any “direct link” between the PJF founders and Ravi. “There is nothing on record to establish any direct link between the applicant/accused and Dhaliwal and Lal. Still further, there is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of the applicant/accused and the above said organizations and its associates to foment violence on January 26, 2021,” it stated.
Her bail was also opposed on the ground that she allegedly created a WhatsApp group called “Intl farmers strike” but later deleted it in an attempt to destroy the crucial evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF. Being one of editors of the toolkit, it was claimed that Ravi tried her best to conceal her identity so that she evaded legal action.
Ravi and her associates, it was alleged, under the pretext of protesting against the farm laws, resolved to vandalize Indian Embassies and specifically attack symbols of India – Yoga and Chai.
The contention was found to be a “bare assertion” without any evidence that could demonstrate that any sort of violence took place at any of the Indian embassies owing to the “sinister designs” of Ravi and her co-conspirators.
More importantly, when dealing with the allegation that she gave global audiences to the secessionist elements by manipulating support of international youth icon and environment activist Greta Thunberg, the court found nothing on record that could suggest that she had subscribed to any secessionist idea.
“Except the point that Ravi had forwarded the toolkit to Thunberg, the prosecution had failed to state how Ravi gave a global audience to the ‘secessionist elements’,” the order noted.
Going by the prosecution’s own admission, the court underscored that PJF was not a banned organization and even no criminal action was pending against its founders.
“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,” the court held.
Dealing with the contention Muluk came to Delhi as a part of the conspiracy, the court referred to the defence counsel’s submissions to note that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police, therefore, there was nothing wrong in him 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,” added the court.
The court was also of the opinion that it was not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials that was indictable but it was the purpose of engagement that was 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,” it noted.
The order further stressed that in the absence of any evidence to show that the Ravi agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on January 26, 2021 with the founders of PJF, it couldn’t be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on that day, simply because she shared a platform with people, who had gathered to oppose the legislation.
“There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on January 26, 2021 with the said PJF or the applicant/accused,” it held.
Judge Rana observed our 5,000-year-old civilization had never been averse to ideas from varied quarters.
“The following couplet in Rig Veda embodies our cultural ethos expressing our respect for divergent opinions. आ नो भदाः कतवो यनतु िवशवतोऽदबधासोअपरीतास उिददः। अथर­ हमारे पास चारो ओर से ऐंसे कलयाणकारी िवचार आते रह ेजो िकसी से न दबे, उनहे कही से बािधत न िकया जा सके एवं अजात िवषयो कोपकट करने वाले हो। (Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions).”
The order further said, “Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to the divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right. 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. There are no geographical barriers on communication. 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 audiences abroad.”
According to the prosecution, the Toolkit had embedded hyperlinks with an intent to malign India abroad. Two such hyperlinks – askindiawhy.com and Genocide.org – were brought to the court’s notice. On perusing askindiawhy, the court found “absolutely nothing objectionable” whereas the contents of the other website were found to be “really objectionable”.
“However, even if the said imputations are found to be objectionable in nature, I cannot but disagree with the additional solicitor general 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 a tendency to foment violence,” the judge said.
Being conscious of the nascent stage of investigation on one side, the court said that the investigating agency had made a conscious choice of arresting Ravi on the basis of the material collected till now.
“Now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations. The applicant accused is already reported to have been interrogated in police custody for almost about five days and placing any further restraint upon her liberty on the basis of general and omnibus accusation would be neither logical nor legal. No specific article, sought to be recovered from the possession of the accused, has been brought to my notice. The resistance to the bail plea seems to be more of ornamental in nature,” it said.
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