The Bombay High Court on Thursday quashed an FIR against journalist Poonam Agarwal and Kargil war veteran and ex-military man Deepchand Singh, who were booked a month after the alleged suicide of Lance Naik Roy Mathew. Matthew had committed suicide following the release of a “sting video” on the news website The Quint, in which he had spoken about the “sahayak system” in the Indian Army.
A division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Bharati Dangre allowed the petitions of Aggarwal and Deepchand seeking the quashing of the FIR filed by Nashik Police.
Agarwal told The Indian Express, “I stand vindicated. I always had faith in the judiciary. My editors stood by me and I cannot thank them enough. The fight is not over. Now, I will focus on my Supreme Court petition which is against the sahayak system in the Army, how OSA is misused against journalists and which calls for a fair investigation into the unnatural death of Mathew.”
Agarwal was booked under sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and those dealing with criminal trespass and abetment to suicide under the Indian Penal Code. A case was registered after the Army submitted an application to Nashik Police complaining against the journalist for illegally entering a prohibited area. The Army also accused the journalist of posing “leading questions” to Mathew. The Army asked the police to treat the application as its complaint.
In a statement to Nashik Police, Lance Naik Nareshkumar Amitchand Jatav said that on February 7, 2017, while he was on an evening walk at the garden at Haig Line, Mahendra Enclave, he saw Deepchand — who had lost both his legs and one hand in a battle — sitting on a bench with an unknown woman. Jatav walked up to Deepchand, exchanged pleasantries and asked him who the woman was. Deepchand introduced Aggarwal as his relative. A few other jawans including Mathew who were present there were also introduced to Aggarwal by Deepchand.
Jatav’s statement further read, “The woman (Aggarwal) and Deepchand started inquiring with us as to what kind of work was done by us? Nature of our work? What was the type of work that we did at our officer’s house? At that time, we told them that we have no trouble working with our officers and that we did adam’s duty.”
On February 24, 2017, a video had gone viral on Youtube, in which Jatav, Mathew and other jawans — whose faces were blurred — were seen criticising the “sahayak system”. He was found hanging days later, and police recovered a diary from the abandoned barrack where his body was found. A note in Malayalam, which Mathew is alleged to have written, described the circumstances that made him take his life. The note stated that he feared he would have to face a court martial for allegedly speaking out against the Army. Police are awaiting a forensic report to determine whether the note was written by Mathew.