Updated: April 22, 2022 7:36:18 pm
The Delhi High Court Friday said student activist Umar Khalid’s speech at Amravati in February 2020, which forms a part of the chargesheet against him in the ‘larger conspiracy’ case of Northeast Delhi riots, was offensive and obnoxious.
“This is offensive, obnoxious. Don’t you think? These expressions being used, don’t you think they incite people? You say things like aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the, you don’t think it is offensive. It is offensive per se. This is not the first time that you said so in this speech. You said this at least five times. It is almost as if we distinctly get the impression that it was only one particular community that fought for India’s independence,” said the division bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar after Khalid’s lawyers read the contents of his speech before the court.
The court made the observation when the counsel representing Khalid was reading the portion where he is reported to have said Mahatma Gandhi had launched a non-cooperation movement against the British in 1920, and Jamia Millia Islamia University was one of the first educational institutes to be established after Gandhi’s call. Khalid in the speech is further stated to have said that the same varsity was now facing bullets, being maligned and called a den of anti-nationals.
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“Hum inko itihas batana chahte hai. Jab aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the, toh Jamia Millia Islamia ke chatr, teachers, angreji hukumat se lad rahe the (We want to remind them of the history. When your ancestors were brokering for the British, the Jamia Millia Islamia students, its teachers were fighting the British government),” Khalid was quoted as having said in the speech.
In the earlier part of the speech that was read before the court, Khalid, while calling the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha the “ancestors” of “current rulers”, allegedly said that the organisations were doing “dalali” of the British and since they are wanting people to prove their ancestry, questions need to be asked about their ancestors too.
The court was hearing an appeal against the dismissal of his bail plea by a lower court in the case. It further asked, “Don’t you think it foments religious ferment between groups? Did Gandhi ji ever employ this language? Did Shaheed Bhagat Singh ever employ such language, even against the English. Did he? Is this what Gandhi ji taught us that we can use intemperate language about people and their purvaj (ancestors). We have no qualms about permitting free speech but what are you saying?”
Senior advocate Trideep Pais, representing Khalid, submitted that it was an opinion of an individual being given in a public speech and that there was “absolutely no incitement” and no reaction among the public afterwards. Pais also argued that speech was made in the context of an “oppressive law” while referring to the Citizenship Amendment Act.
However, the court asked whether the right to free speech extends to making “obnoxious statements” and whether it does not attract the provisions of 153A and 153B of IPC. “All we can say (is) that prima facie this is not acceptable,” said the court, adding, “everything else may be acceptable within the four corners of democracy and free speech, this is not acceptable.”
Pais submitted that Khalid in the speech talks about electoral democracy and rule of law. “He says one need not be scared of oppressive law because it is the people’s power which will speak truth to power,” he argued.
Pais further argued that the court was dealing with a UAPA case where Khalid has been charged with terror. “Your lordship is putting me whether this is 153A or 153B. I am in a bail application,” he submitted. He added that it is “so easy to use UAPA today, just get a crew of people to give statements and that forms a chargesheet.”
When the court asked whether it was only one particular institution which fought for India’s independence, Pais submitted that Jamia was attacked by police during that period. “He is establishing in his speech that these are people who stood for democracy for the constitution and freedom of India.”
The court said it was easy to invoke Bhagat Singh but difficult to emulate him. “If I remember history correctly there was a gentleman who was eventually hanged for his activities against the State. After he had done what he was charged with… and he made sure that nobody got hurt in the process, he stayed there to get arrested. He didn’t run away,” said Justice Mridul.
When Pais submitted that Khalid was not even in Delhi when the violence broke out, the court said that for a conspiracy one does not need to remain present. Pais earlier argued that Khalid is accused of “silent whisper”, nothing has been recovered from him, no transaction has been attributed to him and no overt action has been ascribed to him.
The court said it does not plan to keep the bail plea pending for long, and asked police to file a short reply within three working days. The court listed it for further hearing on April 27.
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