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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Why Supreme Court’s observations on Nupur Sharma, Delhi Police, promise a new and brighter dawn

Rekha Sharma writes: The Supreme Court sought to highlight the grave consequences when communal passions are given a free run, or are seen to enjoy state patronage

The Supreme Court is reported to have said that Nupur Sharma is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country. (File Photo)

On July 1, the Supreme Court broke the nation’s silence. That day it dismissed a petition filed by Nupur Sharma, praying for clubbing all the FIRs registered against her over her controversial remarks on the Prophet in a TV debate, and transferring the same to the jurisdiction of Delhi Police. Not only did the Supreme Court decline to grant her any relief, it also made some critical observations. Although the media has extensively reported the observations of the Supreme Court, in order to get a sense of how incensed and concerned the Supreme Court felt over the situation, particularly the communal violence which took place in parts of the country in the aftermath of her comments, the court’s observations must be read in the context in which they were made.

The Supreme Court is reported to have said that Nupur Sharma is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country even as her counsel submitted that she faces a security threat. When her counsel stated that she had withdrawn her comments, and tendered an apology, the Bench observed that she should have apologised to the whole country and further observed that the apology was conditional and came too late.

These observations of the Court may appear harsh. But can it be denied that Sharma’s comments triggered an international row, specially in the Islamic world, because of which she was suspended from the BJP, and removed as its spokesperson? Can it be denied that there were violent protests in Kanpur, Saharanpur, Prayagraj, and in the state of UP, where the house of a protestor was also bulldozed?

There can be no justification for the barbaric killings of a tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, beheaded in Udaipur allegedly by two fanatics belonging to the Muslim community, who cited the insult to the Prophet, and a chemist, Umesh Prahladrao Kolhe, who was stabbed to death in Amravati on June 21, ostensibly because of his social media post supporting Sharma.

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But the Supreme Court sought to highlight the grave consequences when communal passions are given a free run, or are seen to enjoy state patronage. The apparent intent of the Court was to put brakes on the motor mouths who frequently make inflammatory statements which give rise to hate, build up communal tension, cause social unrest. Unfortunately, soon after the Supreme Court’s observations, the troll army supporting Sharma started trolling the judges, particularly Justice Surya Kant, who reportedly did most of the talking. The words spoken by the judge were twisted to build a false narrative against him, as if he was justifying the killing in Udaipur.

Incidentally, the troll army has no problem with the order of another bench of the Supreme Court, which while accepting the SIT report relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots, has made observations to the effect that some people “keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design”, and “all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock, and proceeded with in accordance with law.” While the Court was well within its rights to accept or reject the SIT report, it exceeded its remit when it made observations which amount to shooting the messenger. The troll army rejoiced when pursuant to the aforesaid directions, Teesta Setalvad was arrested the very next day of the order. When Nupur Sharma is indicted by the same Supreme Court, however, it has problems.

The Supreme Court also turned the heat on Delhi Police. It reportedly said that Delhi Police must have laid a “red carpet” for her (Nupur Sharma), and that when she makes a complaint the person is arrested, but even when there is an FIR against her, she is not touched which speaks of the clout that she enjoys. The Supreme Court was fully justified in making this observation against Delhi Police. The manner in which it is conducting its investigation in Sharma’s case bears testimony to this.

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The FIR against Nupur Sharma was registered in Delhi on June 8. Since then, except for recording her statement on June 18, the case has not proceeded any further. It appears to have been put on the back burner. Contrast this with the latest case of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Alt News, who was arrested for a tweet by him which pertained to the year 2018 apparently showing an image of a hotel signboard repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel”. It was not without reason that Sharma had asked for the transfer of FIRs against her to Delhi — it is believed to be a safe haven for persons like her who, regardless of the gravity of the offence alleged to have been committed, have nothing to fear while those who are ideologically opposed to the present dispensation are arrested at the drop of a hat.

Given the selectivity with which Delhi Police has been arresting or not arresting the accused, specially in cases with political or ideological overtones, it is no longer enough to merely castigate the police. The role of the judiciary is not only to interpret, but also to apply the law, and to prevent its mutilation. Hence, the Supreme Court needs to be more proactive in ensuring even-handed application of law by the police. The Supreme Court also needs to rein in TV channels that in the name of prime-time news, spew venom against a particular community or a religious group.

For now, the observations made by the Supreme Court promise a new and brighter dawn.

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The writer is a former judge of the Delhi High Court

First published on: 10-07-2022 at 07:30:20 pm
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