New Delhi: Twenty two-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi – held for editing a toolkit on ways to garner support for the farmers’ protest – was granted bail by the Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana on Tuesday, February 23.
ASJ Rana’s bail order came with a line that made clear in no uncertain terms that compulsion to keep Ravi in jail was flimsy at best.
“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence available on record, I do not find any palpable reasons to breach the general rule of ‘ Bail’ against a 22 years old young lady, with absolutely blemish free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail,” the judge said.
Also notable in the bail order were ASJ Rana’s other observations, many of which directly addressed the questions arising from Delhi Police’s claim that the toolkit document and the meetings Ravi was a part of amounted to sedition and a conspiracy to “defame India”.
Below are some of the noteworthy excerpts from the order.
The Wire has used a PDF copy of the judgment uploaded by LiveLaw to its website.
The Delhi Police had held that the ‘toolkit‘ shared by Greta Thunberg and worked upon by Disha Ravi had connections to the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) and that this was a ‘pro-Khalistani’ organisation led by Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal, who are also pro-Khalistan. ASJ Rana dispelled the illegality of the alleged meetings and said there was no evidence to connect the violence of January 26 – the farmers’ tractor rally – to the toolkit or to PFJ.
Ld. Addl. Solicitor General fairly admitted that PJF is not a banned organization and even no criminal action is pending against the abovesaid Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal. Furthermore, there is nothing on record to establish any direct link between the applicant/accused and Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal.
Still further, there is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of the applicant/accused and the abovesaid organizations and its associates to foment violence on 26.01.2021.
In my considered opinion, it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpability. Any person with dubious credentials may interact with a number of persons during the course of his social intercourse.
As long as the engagement/interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue. In the
absence of any evidence…it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on 26.01.2021, simply because she shared a platform with people, who have gathered to oppose the legislation.
There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on 26.01.2021 with the said PJF or the applicant/accused.
The judge also dismissed the modus operandi ascribed by Delhi police to two other groups, the banned ‘Sikhs for Justice’ and Kisaan Ekta.co, based in Vancouver, in connecting with Ravi and fomenting violence.
Much has been said on the toolkit by Delhi Police, which has posited the shareable Google document as the one-stop answer to the violence that took place in Delhi during the tractor rally.
The perusal of the said ‘Toolkit’ reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies.
The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments. (Niharendu Dutt Mazumdar v. Emperor AIR 1942 FC22). Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.
Quoting from the Rig Veda to illustrate the palatability of opposing views, the judge went on to make further notes.
…Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to the divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right. The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of The Constitution of India. In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience.
There are no geographical barriers on communication. A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad.
Noting that the toolkit has a hyperlink to the website genocide.org – which keeps records of purported human rights violations across the world, including in India – the judge says:
…Even if the said imputations [in the website] are found to be objectionable in nature, I cannot but disagree with Ld. ASG that the said material is seditious in nature. The imputations may be false, exaggerated or even with a mischievous intent but the same cannot be stigmatized being seditious unless they have tendency to foment violence.
Disha Ravi’s conduct
The Delhi Police had said that the fact that Disha Ravi sought to delete a WhatsApp group she had created for the farmers’ protest and the fact that co-accused Shantanu Muluk had arrived in Delhi to attend the farmers’ rally – which was to take place with permission of police – as indication of admission of guilt.
In my considered opinion, creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless.
Further, it is rightly pointed out by Ld Defence Counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police therefore there is nothing wrong in co-accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march. Still further, the attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies.
It is also alleged that applicant/accused sought the support of international personalities using her previous acquaintance. It is pointed out that the applicant/accused shared the toolkit with Ms. Greta Thunberg. It is submitted that the applicant/accused gave a global audience to the seditious elements by manipulating support of international youth icon Ms. Greta Thunberg.
It would be worthwhile to observe that there is nothing on record to suggest that the applicant accused subscribed to any secessionist idea. Further, the prosecution has, except for pointing out that applicant/accused forwarded the toolkit to Ms. Greta Thunberg, failed to point out as to how the applicant/accused gave global audience to the ‘secessionist elements’.
It is further highlighted that the applicant/accused alongwith her associates under the pretext of protesting against the farm laws have resolved to vandalize Indian Embassies and specifically attack symbols of India i.e. Yoga and Chai.
Except for a bare assertion, no evidence has been brought to my notice to support the contention that any violence took place at any of the Indian Embassies pursuant to the sinister designs of the applicant/accused and her coconspirators.