New Delhi: A local court in Gorakhpur on Saturday (October 28) – while granting bail to activists and journalists accused of assaulting officials during a demonstration on land rights for Dalits – pointed to a major inconsistency in the FIR lodged in the case by the administration.
The inconsistency relates to the nature of attack alleged in the FIR, raising questions on the merit of the charge of attempt to murder being slapped against several activists and journalists, including 79-year-old retired Indian Police Services officer-turned-human rights defender S.R. Darapuri.
Additional sessions judge Ashok Kumar granted bail to the three YouTube journalists and six other activists who had been arrested after they covered the October 10 demonstration organised by a local Ambedkarite outfit, Ambedkar Jan Morcha. The activists and journalists, most of them Dalit, were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly, vandalising official property, and abusing, threatening and assaulting the staff inside the divisional commissioner’s office premises where the demonstration was held. Even though the demonstration concluded peacefully, they were booked for rioting, criminal intimidation and causing damage to public property, and other sections of the Indian Penal Code. The more serious charges of attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, which ensured they would not be liable for bail from a chief judicial magistrate court and would have to spend some days in jail before applying in a sessions court, were added to the FIR later.
The attempt to murder charge was later added to the FIR, a senior police officer told The Wire, on the basis of the medical report of the complainant Rajesh Kumar Sharma, a low-rung staff at the divisional commissioner’s office. The medical report mentioned that he had injuries, the police officer said.
According to the FIR lodged in the early hours of October 11, a day after the peaceful protest, Sharma accused the protestors of indulging in “dhakka mukki (pushing and shoving)” with the staff after they asked them to clear the premises, citing prohibitory orders under Section 144. The FIR accuses the protestors of abusing the officials, obstructing them, tearing government documents inside the office and damaging flower pots on the premises by kicking them. They were also accused of threatening to kill the staff.
However, there was no overt mention of any direct attempt on his life or use of any weapon in the FIR.
Judge Ashok Kumar, while granting bail to Manoj Kumar (Ghaziabad), Santosh Kumar Ambesh (Delhi) and Ramesh Chandra (Sant Kabir Nagar), takes note of the omission of the nature of the attack in the FIR.
In his statement under CrPC 161 before the investigation officer recorded in the case diary, Sharma says that Shravan Kumar Nirala, the president of AJM and organiser of the demonstration, instigated others to attack him.
“Then, someone from behind me grabbed my neck, while Shravan Kumar Nirala grabbed my neck from the front. Working in collusion, they started strangling me with the intent to kill me and pushed me to the ground,” Sharma said in his statement.
His medical report, signed by a medical officer of the Gorakhpur district hospital, mentions two injuries. While one relates to his neck, the other was an injury to his shoulder. “Opinion: Injury no 1 is refer to ENT surgeon for opinion. Injury no 2 is quo Rt. Shoulder joint are seen simple (sic),” said the medical report cited in the bail order seen by The Wire.
While taking note of the statement and medical report of Sharma, Judge Ashok Kumar points out, though without comment on the merits of the case, “In the FIR, the complainant makes no mention of anyone grabbing his neck.”
The court also mentioned this point while granting bail to the other activists and journalists arrested in the matter, including Nirala. Darapuri, who had attended the demonstration for just an hour as a special invitee, was also granted bail.
The kin and associates of the activists and journalists arrested in the case have maintained that the charges against them are fabricated and that the demonstration had ended peacefully with the district magistrate receiving their memorandum in full public view under amicable circumstances.
The demonstration – ‘Dera dalo, Ghera dalo andolan‘ – was held to demand one acre of land for each landless Dalit, OBC and Muslim family. It recorded a large attendance of rural Dalit women.
At least nine persons were arrested in the case while a French scholar, Heinold Valentine Jean Roger, in India to research poverty, was also arrested for allegedly visiting Uttar Pradesh without a valid permit and violating the provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946. He was at the demonstration filming the events for a project he was working on when the police apprehended him.
The FIR lodged in the case named 13 persons and 10-15 unknown persons. Among those identified were writer Siddharth Ramu, lawyer Jai Bhim Prakash, AJM office-bearer Rishi Kapoor Anand, independent journalist Neelam Baudh, and former Peace Party MLA Ayub Ansari.