Jignesh Mevani, nine others sentenced to three months in jail for 2017 ‘Azadi March’
The Gujarat MLA had organised the rally to protest inaction in a case in which four Dalits were stripped and beaten by an upper-caste mob.
A Gujarat court on Thursday sentenced Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and nine other persons to three months in jail for holding a rally in the Mehsana city in 2017 without police permission, PTI reported.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 on each of them.
The other persons who have been convicted include Nationalist Congress Party member Reshma Patel and some members of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, of which Mevani is the convenor.
Mevani and his supporters had organised a rally on July 12, 2017, to protest inaction in a 2016 case, in which four Dalits were stripped and beaten by an upper-caste mob for skinning a dead cow. The protest march, called “Azadi Kooch”, had been organised from Mehsana to Dhanera town in the Banaskantha district.
The police had filed a first information report under Section 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly) against 12 persons, including Mevani and Patel. One of the 12 accused persons has died while another is absconding, according to PTI.
Former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar had also attended the rally, and had been named as an accused person, according to The Indian Express. However, as he was not present before the court when it framed charges against the accused persons, the judge had directed that he a separate trial should be held against him when he appears before court.
The conviction came days after Mevani was arrested twice between April 20 and April 25 in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Assam. Though the Dalit leader is an Independent MLA, he supports the Congress.
He has, however, been granted bail in both cases.
In its verdict on Thursday, Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate JA Parmar said that it was not an offence to organise a rally, but it was an offence to hold one without permission, The Indian Express reported.
Kaushik Parmar, one of Mevani’s supporters, had applied for permission for the rally on behalf of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch to the Mehsana executive magistrate. The official had initially granted permission but revoked it later.
The court on Thursday said that the organisers could have challenged the order of the executive magistrate before higher authorities, and held the rally after getting permission.
On July 11, 2016, more than 40 men from the upper caste Darbar community had assaulted members of a Dalit family for skinning a dead cow in Gir Somnath district’s Una town. The Dalit family, the Sarvaiyas, are leather tanners and skinning dead cattle is part of their traditional occupation. But the assailants accused them of cow slaughter.
The assault had sparked protests across Gujarat, and Mevani had been at the forefront of the agitation seeking justice for the Sarvaiyas.
Recent cases against Mevani
In the first case in Assam, Mevani was charged with criminal conspiracy and outraging religious feelings for tweeting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mevani had said that the prime minister worshipped freedom fighter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse.
In the second case, he was charged for allegedly assaulting a woman police officer and outraging her modesty.
After getting bail, the Independent MLA had claimed that the cases against him are a conspiracy by the “worshippers of Nathuram Godse in prime minister’s office” to destroy him ahead of the state elections.