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Between December 17 and 19, a so-called Dharam Sansad (literally religious parliament) was organised at Haridwar, which was addressed by many well-known and not-so-well-known Hindu religious leaders and hardliners. The track record and political connections of some of them has already been discussed. Some already have several cases registered against them.
Several inflammatory hate speeches were made in the course of this event. The theme of the event was ‘Islamic Bharat mein Sanatan ka Bhavishya: Samasya va Samadhan’ (‘The Future of the Sanatan (Dharma) in Islamic India: Problem and Solutions’). It was a strange topic. I do not think that other than these people, the general public, the government or the courts believe that we are living in an ‘Islamic India’, whatever that means.
Some speakers chose to speak deliberately in terms of innuendos. However, from the context of the event, it was clear that they were not tilting at windmills. The target of their hatred and ire did not demand any imagination to decipher even if, strictly speaking, the vagueness did not attract any offence.
We are told that the proceedings of the Dharam Sansad were being streamed live on Facebook but the police stopped it. This could not be confirmed. However, video clippings of the speeches have been widely shared on social media. The veracity of the video/audio recordings could not be verified but since so far they have not been contradicted by the police or the speakers themselves, it can be presumed that they are genuine.
Utterances that clearly attract criminal offences
1. Sedition: One speaker said that after three days, the nectar that would be obtained from this event, would be a Dharmadesh (religious edict) and it will have to be accepted by all the democratic governments in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other places. And, if they don’t accept it, then a war more horrible than that of 1857 will be fought.
It is well-known that the Mutiny of 1857 was a war waged to overthrow the British rule. By drawing parallels with it, the speaker is clearly threatening that if the diktat of the Dharam Sansad is not accepted by the constitutionally elected democratic governments in the Centre and the states, they would wage a war to overthrow them.
This clearly calls for application of the charge of sedition. It was unambiguously held by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the famous case of Kedar Nath Singh (1962) that while disapprobation of actions of the government does not constitute sedition, a call to undermine the security of the state or a call to overthrow it by violent means is sedition. A call to wage a war more horrible than the Mutiny of 1857 clearly qualifies on both counts.
2. Criminal intimidation: He also threatened that if any hotel in Haridwar is found celebrating Christmas or Eid, it should be prepared to get its glasses broken. Needless to say, not only does this encroach upon people’s freedom of religion and right to livelihood guaranteed under the Constitution, it is punishable for criminal intimidation as well.
3. Arms Act: Two speakers harangued the people to keep swords at home. One of them clarified that it was to kill ‘intruders’. Another spoke of keeping ‘sharpened swords’. Apparently, he seemed to realise that it would run afoul of the law. Then he advised that if any questions are asked, they must tell (the authorities) that the swords were for Devi pooja.
His advice was wrong nevertheless. Unbeknownst to most people, keeping swords at home does require an arms license. Vide the Arms Rules, 2016, the government of India has authorised the states to issue notifications requiring arms licenses for “Sharp-edged and deadly weapons, namely: swords (including sword-sticks), daggers, bayonets, spears (including lances and javelins), battle-axes, knives (including Kirpans and Khukries) and other such weapons with blades longer than 9” or wider than 2” other than those designed for domestic, agricultural, scientific or industrial purposes.” Devi pooja is not a tenable excuse under the law.
Keeping ‘sharpened swords’ (as against blunt edge swords for ceremonial or stage purposes) would therefore be an offence under the Arms Act.
4. Incitement to Disaffection: Another speaker made a reference to Myanmar and spoke in terms of what he called a safai abhiyan (cleansing drive). He said that the police, army and the leaders will have to take up arms to undertake that cleansing drive. Myanmar is known for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. Hence, even if he did not elaborate upon what he meant by the cleansing drive, the reference to Myanmar leaves no doubt about his intentions.
However, even if we ignore the implied meaning, the fact remains that by calling upon the police and the army he committed an offence and invited penal action under Section 3 of the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922. The police and the army have their duties clearly defined under the statutes, and undertaking any cleansing drive at the behest of some private individuals is not a part of their duty and inciting them to do so would not only be a ‘breach of discipline’ as defined in the 1922 Act but also make them ‘disloyal’ to the state, which amounts to ‘disaffection’ as defined under Section 124A IPC.
5. False FIRs: Yet another speaker rather shamelessly called upon the people of the SC/ST communities to lodge false FIRs against Muslims under what he implied to be the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 so that they are sent to jail. This is punishable under Sections 182 and Section 211 IPC.
Utterances that were offensive but not offences
Many more things were said, which were extremely offensive but technically not offences.
One speaker said that ‘if we have to reduce their population, then we are ‘prepared to kill’ and that if we get 100 ‘soldiers’ they could kill 20 lakh of them. The ‘if’ saves the speaker.
Another made a reference to a statement allegedly made by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the parliament about the right of the minorities on the national resources and said that had he been a MP and if he had a revolver, he would have shot him six times. Indian law does not have the concept of a ‘thoughtcrime’.
Several speakers made a call to acquire a weapon of Rs 1 lakh. While we know what they meant, it is not an offence because it cannot be made out that they meant acquiring an illegal weapon.
Yet another speaker announced a reward of Rs 1 crore to any yuva sanyasi (young ascetic) who would become a Hindu Prabhakaran and also made a reference to the necessity of every Hindu temple having Prabhakarn, Bhindaranwale and Shubeg Singh to protect Hindu dharma. Unfortunately, eulogising terrorists is not an offence. It was reported in August 2017 that the Central Sikh Museum at the Golden Temple, a portrait of Bhindranwale occupied pride of place alongside portraits of the ten Sikh gurus.
Still, viewed in the overall context, they amply demonstrate the sort of hatred against the Muslims that is being propagated from public platforms, albeit in innuendos.
Whither police action?
The almost irreversible communal divide in Indian society is a very unpleasant fact of life that we cannot wish away. However, as I had pointed out in an earlier article also, far more important than our horror at the ‘curdling of the milk of communal amity’ is the absolute necessity of maintaining law and order at all costs. Indian society can perhaps survive without communal harmony, but not without communal peace.
It is in this context that there is an onerous responsibility on the police to live up to the constitutional expectations and take action against those who are vitiating the communal atmosphere in such a brazen manner.
According to media reports, a case has been registered under Section 153A (promoting enmity between groups) on the complaint of one Gulbahar Khan against one Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi, formerly known as Waseem Rizvi, and others present at the event for highly objectionable and provocative statements. The FIR is obviously hogwash as it does not cover the important charges discussed above and will be weak ab initio given the innuendos and vagueness.
As held by a division bench of the Supreme Court in the case of State represented by Inspector of Police, Chennai vs N. S. Gnaneswaran (2013) the law empowers them to investigate a cognisable offence suo motu (on their own) also ‘impelled by the information received from some sources’. Hence, even if complaints specifying the above charges have not been made, police should have invoked them suo motu based on information available in the public domain.
If a case under proper sections of law as discussed above is not registered, it will naturally cast aspersions on the professional integrity of the police.
I need not explain the repercussions of any deliberate or inadvertent police inaction on the society. To maintain the faith of the people in general and the Muslim community in particular in the rule of law, it is imperative that proper and adequate action taken.
Nothing could be more ironical than the fact that this hate-filled call to arms and violence was made at Haridwar (literally translated as Gateway to God) by some Hindus – all the more so because, at the end of their prayers, Hindus say Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti both as an invocation to peace as well as God.
Dr. N.C. Asthana is a retired IPS officer and a former DGP of Kerala. Amongst his 49 books, the latest book ‘State Persecution of Minorities and Underprivileged in India’ has been reviewed by Justice J. Chelameswar (Retd) of the Supreme Court.