As many as 21 cases involving communal violence and violence in the course of cow protection were dropped by courts in Karnataka between October and December last year, based on an August 31, 2020 order by the BJP government. The beneficiaries were the BJP MP from Mysuru Prathap Simha, 206 members of Hindu groups, and 106 Muslims.
The criminal cases were dropped ahead of a December 21, 2020 order of the Karnataka High Court, asking the state government not to stop prosecution of the cases. The order came on a petition filed by the human rights body People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
“…No further steps shall be taken on the basis of the order dated 31st August 2020”, the High Court said in its December 21 order.
However, court records for the 21 cases involving communal incidents that occurred between 2014 and 2019 show that the Karnataka government approached trial courts soon after the August 31, 2020 order was issued, seeking withdrawal of the cases. Thereafter, 21 cases were dropped by the courts between October 10 and December 10, 2020.
The cases were dropped on requests made by former Law Minister J C Madhuswamy (who is now the Minor Irrigation Minister), the BJP MLA from Bhatkal Sunil Naik, and Animal Husbandry Minister Prabhu Chavan.
The cases were dropped despite written objections by the state police, prosecution, and legal departments in each case.
Then Law Minister Madhuswamy sought the dropping of 13 cases involving communal incidents that occurred in the Hunsur region of Mysore district between 2015 and 2018.
Among them was an incident from December 2017, in which Mysuru MP Simha allegedly drove his jeep into a police barricade erected to regulate a Hanuman Jayanti procession in the communally sensitive Hunsur town.
Police accused Simha of disobeying a public order, rash driving, preventing a public servant from doing his duty, and voluntarily hurting a public servant.
A Hunsur court dropped the cases on October 10, based on the August 31 order, saying “the state government has withdrawn the case against the accused”, and “acting u/sec 321 (a) of CrPC the accused is discharged…and the case is closed as withdrawn”.
The other cases of communal incidents in Hunsur were all withdrawn on November 26 last year. Most of them were related to clashes between groups of Hindus and Muslims, mainly over Hanuman Jayanti celebrations or opposition to banners and posters. In all, cases against 142 Hindu youths and 40 Muslim youths were dropped in the Hunsur region.
Five cases involving communal violence that took place in the Honnavar region of Uttara Kannada district ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections, were dropped on the request of the BJP MLA from Bhatkal, Sunil Naik.
The communal violence in Honnavar in December 2017 had led to the BJP taking up the cause of 19-year-old Paresh Mesta, who died under mysterious circumstances following the violence. The BJP demanded a probe by the CBI – which was granted – and then BJP national president Amit Shah visited Mesta’s home.
As many as 110 persons accused in the five cases were acquitted by courts in Uttara Kannada district based on the state government’s August 31 order. Some of these cases pertained to violence that occurred at a peace meeting called by local authorities over the route of an annual Muslim procession near a Hanuman temple in Honnavar town, and a clash a few days later, between two groups. Following the clashes, Mesta was found dead in a pond in the town.
The Honnavar cases were dropped on October 13. Citing the August 31 order, a civil judge and judicial magistrate noted that the government “have decided to withdraw the case against the accused persons”, and “this case is hereby dismissed as the case is withdrawn by the prosecution”.
Among the other communally linked cases dropped by the government are two from Bidar town, based on the request of Animal Husbandry Minister Prabhu Chavan.
A person who has been accused of attacking people transporting cows has been acquitted based on the August 31 order, but six others accused in another case of targeting cattle transporters – recommended for withdrawal by Chavan – have not benefited. A local Bidar court is set to hold a hearing soon for framing of charges.
“Considering the notification in the government and the application of the learned APP the accused is hereby discharged,” a Bidar court said on December 10, while discharging the accused in the first case.
Chavan, who piloted a new law to prevent the slaughter of cattle in Karnataka last month, said on January 19 that the state government would withdraw all cases registered against “gau rakshaks” for blocking cattle transportation.
In another case in Bidar, eight Hindu youths accused of destroying public property after a communal flare-up in 2018 over the alleged rape and murder of a girl, was dropped on December 10, based on the request of Chavan and the state government’s August 31 order.
A communally tinged case in Dharwad from 2015, in which 10 people were accused, was withdrawn on October 28 on the basis of the August 31 order, even though charges had already been framed. The case was withdrawn on the request of the BJP MLA from Dharwad, Amruth Desai.
The 21 cases of communal incidents that have been withdrawn from prosecution by the government are among the 62 that the government decided to stop prosecuting through the August 31, 2020 order on the basis of requests by elected representatives and others.
The PUCL has approached the Karnataka High Court opposing the rationale of dropping cases on the basis of requests by ministers and elected representatives.
On December 1, the High Court pointed out that “the public prosecutor cannot act like a post box or act on the dictates of the state government and he has to act objectively as he is also an officer of the court.
“No court is bound by such a decision taken to withdraw from the prosecution. Even if an application is made under Section 321 of CrPC, the courts are duty bound to assess whether a prima facie case is made out or not and the court has power to reject the prayer.”
On December 21, the High Court imposed a stay on the government’s order after the state did not file a compliance report sought by the court. The High Court is scheduled to take up the matter again on Friday.