The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a petition seeking cases against political leaders who allegedly indulged in hate speech before last week’s violent clashes in North East Delhi. The petition was filed by a few of the victims of the violence, which has so far claimed 47 lives and left over 200 injured.

During the previous hearing on Monday, Chief Justice SA Bobde had said that the Supreme Court “wishes for peace but has limitations to its power” to control such violence. “We also read newspapers and the comments which are made,” Bobde had said. He added that media reports suggest that the courts are responsible for everything. However, advocate Colin Gonsalves, who is representing the petitioners, argued that the court can prevent the situation from deteriorating.

At the centre of the demand for hate speech cases are at least three instances involving Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. In the run-up to last month’s Delhi elections, Union minister Anurag Thakur had exhorted a crowd at a rally to shout “shoot the traitors” – an apparent reference to those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

An MP, Parvesh Verma, had claimed that Delhi voters must think hard about which party they choose in the elections because “lakhs of protestors” gathering in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh locality to demonstrate against the Citizenship Amendment Act will enter their homes to “rape their sisters and daughters and kill them”. Another BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, made multiple controversial comments in the run-up to the Delhi elections, even comparing the polls to an “India-Pakistan match” and calling the chief minister a terrorist. Just hours before violence broke out in Delhi on February 23, Kapil Mishra had warned police that they must clear an anti-CAA protest site in three days. Opposition leader and protestors have alleged that his remarks were the immediate provocation for the violence.

Plea in Delhi HC

The Delhi High Court had on February 27 deferred a similar matter by four weeks. It was hearing a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander to seek FIRs for hate speech in the wake of violent clashes in Delhi.

The plea was first heard by Justice S Muralidhar since Chief Justice DN Patel was on leave that day. Muralidhar had rebuked the police for inaction during the clashes and said the situation would not have escalated if the police had “not allowed instigators to get away”. The bench, which watched videos of some of the provocative remarks that were made, asked police to consider filing cases for hate speech and inform it of its decision the next day.

Hours later, however, Muralidhar was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The plea was heard by a bench led by Chief Justice Patel the following day. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Delhi Police, told the new bench that they had considered filing hate speech FIRs but had decided against it as the time was not right. The High Court then allowed the Centre to become a party in the case and gave it four weeks to respond to the plea. The bench adjourned the matter till April 13.