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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 11, New Delhi, February 27, 2021

Truth prevailed over Delhi police’s malicious designs to implicate and ruin the future of innocent Disha | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 27 February 2021

by Arun Srivastava

The little girl Disha Ravi who was slapped with the charge of sedition, accused of conspiring against the sovereignty of the country, projected as the biggest anti-national and eventually was placed in custody for nine days has exposed the dirty designs of the Delhi police to frame innocent youth and students opposing Narendra Modi in false and fabricated cases.

But the Delhi court exposed a number of holes in the conspiracy theory of the police and granted her bail. In its dirty design to showcase her arrest as the catch of the decade, the Delhi even did not deter from violating the fundamentals of the legal provisions and in its pursuit did not present her before the local court in Bangaluru, from where she was arrested, and seek the transit order.

The Delhi police treated her like a hardened criminal was manifest from its denial to provide her the basic needs, like food and winter clothing on way to bringing her to Delhi after the arrest. Probably Delhi police chief enjoying the patronage of the Union Home minister Amit Shah nursed the view that none has guts to question his extra-constitutional and illegal action. He can twist the legal provision to suit his whims.The Delhi police treated her like a hardened criminal, an anti-national conspirator, was evident from its chief’s observation that age is not a factor to judge the nature of the crime.

Unfortunately for Delhi police the court while granting bail observed; ’Not even an iota of evidence brought to notice’. Disha Ravi bail order demolishes almost every charge levelled against her. The court held; “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments”.

Quoting the Rig Veda and reminding the nation that “this 5,000-year-old civilisation of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters”. The police had tried to project the toolkit as the most mysterious anti-national object. It was more dangerous than an atom bomb. She was arrested from her home on the charge of editing and sharing an online “toolkit” on the farmers’ protest and booked for sedition.

Nevertheless the court said; “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-year-old young lady, with absolutely blemish-free criminal antecedents and having firm roots in the society, and send her to jail”.

The judgement is quite significant for the reason that it demolishes the police efforts to slap false and fabricated cases against the dissenters, the people who dare to put their own views in public domain and question the rational of government action. The judge citing the 1942 verdict said “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments.” The verdict was among several that had implied that sedition cannot come into play without incitement to violence.

Unfortunately the police and a section of pro-government media have been making a mountain out of the contention that Disha had deleted a group chat. The police had alleged that Disha was associated with a pro-Khalistani secessionist group, the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), and people associated with it are directly linked with the creation of the toolkit document. Disha’s associates Nikita and Shantanu attended a Zoom meeting with 60­70 people from across the world, including Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal. But it proved to be a mere wild accusation. The police could not provide any proof to justify its allegation.

The additional solicitor-general said that the PJF is not a banned organisation and no criminal action is pending against Dhaliwal and Lal. There is nothing on record to establish any direct link between Disha and Dhaliwal and Lal. There is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of Disha and the organisations mentioned and associates to foment violence on January 26.

In the absence of any evidence that Disha agreed or shared a common purpose to cause violence on January 26 with the founders of the PJF, it cannot be presumed by resorting to surmises or conjectures that she also supported the secessionist tendencies or the violence caused on January 26, simply because she shared a platform with people who have gathered to oppose the legislation. not even an iota of evidence is brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on January 26 with the PJF or the applicant/accused.

The attempt of the Delhi police to connect Disha with the violence that took place near Red Fort on January 26 proved to be a futile effort. The police could not provide any evidence connecting Disha with the actual perpetrators of the violence. Justice observed there was absolutely no link established on record between Disha and the banned organisation.

The Delhi police and its bosses ought to be complimented for their imaginary skill and intelligence. They had found link between Indian conspirators, including Disha and Kisaan Ekta.co (Vancouver) through an organisation, Extinction Rebellion. But this failed to convince the court and judge observed that it had neither been averred nor proved that Kisaan Ekta.co is an organisation with seditious agenda.

The perusal of the said toolkit reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. Judge observed; “In my considered opinion, citizens are conscience keepers of the 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. 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…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 Disha and her co­conspirators.”

The police had alleged that the toolkit has embedded hyperlinks with an intent to malign India abroad. However the court did not find anything objectionable. The judge said;”Upon perusal of the material available on Genocide.org, it is revealed that it carries certain facts about the status of human right violations in somewhere about 40 countries, including India.”

The police had alleged that she is one of the editors of the toolkit. She tried her best to conceal her identity so that legal action could not be taken against her. She gave a global audience to the secessionist elements by manipulating support of international youth icon Greta Thunberg. Disha’s co­accused Shantanu came to Delhi to ensure the execution of the plan. However the judge said; “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 the PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and the PJF also becomes meaningless.”

He even observed; “Further, it is rightly pointed out by the defence counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by Delhi police. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in co­accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march.The attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies.

The judge also touched upon other issues, such as the difficulty in proving the conspiracy charges and the view from the other side.He said; “ I am conscious of the fact that it is very difficult to collect evidence for the offence of conspiracy but I’m equally conscious of the fact that what is difficult to prove for the prosecution in the affirmative is virtually impossible for the defence to prove in the negative. I’m also conscious of the fact that the investigation is at a nascent stage and police are in the process of collecting more evidence. However, the investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations.”

Prosecution has also opposed the release of the applicant accused on bail on the ground that she is required to be confronted with the co-accused. But the court did not agree to it. The judge said; “there is no rule of law or prudence, at least that I am aware of, that a person is mandatorily required to be detained in custody to be confronted with the co­accused persons. The applicant accused is already reported to have been interrogated in police custody for almost about five days and placing any further restraint upon her liberty on the basis of general and omnibus accusation would be neither logical nor legal.”

The court through its observation and granting bail to Disha Ravi in fact raised the bar for the State to initiate prosecution for being part of a “larger conspiracy.” This is significant given this charge is now recurrently levied in cases related to riots and protests. The court said ; “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,”

This critical observation was made in light of the Delhi Police’s argument that although “there is no direct evidence establishing the link between the applicant/accused and the violence” on January 26, Ravi’s conduct when “viewed against the attendant circumstances would unambiguously establish that there was a ‘larger conspiracy’ to perpetuate violence by secessionist forces and the protest against the farm laws was merely a facade to conceal the real sinister designs.”

Ravi was charged with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code that deals with criminal conspiracy along with Sections 124A (sedition) and Section 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony). On conspiracy, the court noted that it cannot be proved merely on the basis of inferences but those inferences have to be backed by evidence. And, on sedition, citing Kedar Nath case (1962), the judge underlined there must be either actual violence or the incitement to violence associated with the words.

The court went a step ahead to rebut the state’s claims of Ravi being part of a “global conspiracy” in recognising that the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression “includes the right to seek a global audience” and that “there are no geographical barriers on communication” as long as it’s “under the four corners of law.”

On sedition, the court analysed the contents of the toolkit and concluded that it was “innocuous” and did not call for violence. Even the toolkit’s link to genocide.org, a site that claims to relay early warning signs to indicate that a genocidal process is underway, was dismissed by the court.

The court pointed out that citizens, “cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies” and adding that, “citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation.” "An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy," the court said.

Questions are being raised as to why is Delhi Police probing a farmers’ protest ‘toolkit’ tweeted by Greta Thunberg? What is a toolkit? Why have they gained prominence? What did the toolkit tweeted by environment activist Greta Thunberg say? What does the police say?

A toolkit is essentially a set of adaptable guidelines or suggestions to get something done. The contents differ depending on what the aim of the toolkit is. The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Association, for example has several toolkits available online, such as those on efficient library systems and on working with teens. In the context of protests, a toolkit usually includes reading material on the context of the protest, news article links and methods of protest (including on social media).

While toolkits have been around for decades, the accessibility of social media have brought them into the spotlight over the past few years. References to toolkits for protesters can be found in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, in the Hong Kong protests of 2019, several climate protests across the world, anti-CAA protests across India, and most recently in the anti-farm law protests centred in North India.

During the Hong Kong protests, toolkits advised participants to wear masks and helmets to avoid being recognised and ways to put out tear gas shells. During the anti-CAA protests, a toolkit suggesting twitter hashtags to use, places to hold protests, and a guide on what to do and carry with you if you are detained by the police were shared through personal messages on WhatsApp and on social media.

The uprightness and the high level of morality of Disha could be gauged from her assertion; “If highlighting the farmers’ protest globally is sedition, then I am better (off) in jail”

Significantly extending support to Disha Ravi, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Friday said that freedom of speech and to protest peacefully are “non-negotiable” human rights that should not be denied in any democracy. “Freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest and assembly are non-negotiable human rights. These must be a fundamental part of any democracy. #StandWithDishaRavi,” tweeted Thunberg, who sparked a controversy after sharing the toolkit document on the farmers’ protest on her social media handle. It was later deleted, with the activist saying it was being “updated by people on the ground in India”.

The toolkit on the farmers’ protest had come under the police scanner after Swedish environmental activist Thunberg tweeted it on February 3, with the police claiming that the sequence of events in the farmers’ protests, including the violent incidents at the Red Fort on Republic Day, was a “copycat” of the alleged action plan in the document.

True enough the response of the Ministry of External Affair’s to celebrity activism shows that India is new to Twitter diplomacy. The MEA’s observation about the Indian “democratic ethos and polity” is indeed high-minded but its global pedagogic role and reach has to extend beyond majoritarian representation to the “miniscule” which dissents from the “multitude”

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