NEARLY A year after a protest was staged at the Gateway of India against the attack on students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, the Mumbai police on Monday filed a chargesheet against 36 people over unlawful assembly. The metropolitan magistrate granted bail to 29 of them who were present before the court on furnishing a personal bond. The rest have also been sent notices to remain present.
Those named in the chargesheet are lawyers Mihir Desai, Susan Abraham, Lara Jesani, Lokshahir Sambhaji Bhagat, students and activists, including Suvarna Salve, Bilal Khan and CPI leader Prakash Reddy, among others. While the police in the chargesheet have named activist Umar Khalid as being present at the protest site, he has not been named an accused.
The nearly 80-page chargesheet, filed by Colaba police, claimed that around midnight on January 5, many, holding candles, began assembling at the Gateway of India following violence against students at JNU. The police said that the number of protesters eventually rose to 400.
“The protesters were informed that they did not have permission to assemble and the designated place to protest was at Azad Maidan. This was ignored and the protest was continued at the spot,” the chargesheet stated.
It added that the number of protesters later increased to over 2,000 as various organisations extended their support. The agitators raised slogans against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Delhi police, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah among others. The police have also cited 153 banners used in the protest, CCTV footage obtained from the Taj Hotel, photographs and videos taken by policemen and others during the agitation as evidence.
The 36 referred to as participants in the protest are charged with the same sections as mentioned in the FIR — Section 143 (member of an unlawful assembly), Section 149 (every member of an unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 37 (3) of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, which allows the police to “prohibit any assembly or procession whenever and for so long as it considers such prohibition to be necessary for the preservation of the public order” and 135 of the Bombay Police Act, which authorises arrest and punishment for violations of Section 37. The maximum punishment under these sections is up to one year imprisonment.
The police had registered two FIRs, one at Colaba and another at MRA Marg, for the protests held to condemn the JNU violence. A chargesheet is yet to be filed in the second case. Multiple cases were also registered across the city on charges of unlawful assembly where protesters gathered to raise their voice against the CAA.
“There were thousands including sitting ministers who had gathered in this democratic process which was called spontaneously to uphold constitutional values and rights. It is unfortunate that only a handful of students, lawyers and activists have been chosen and named in the chargesheet among all those who participated. We hope that the cases are withdrawn,” said Jesani, who is a part of the delegation, and has been named in the chargesheet.
The case has now been adjourned to March 23.