A group of 95 retired civil servants has criticised the “misrepresentation and mischaracterization” of social activist Harsh Mander’s speech at Jamia Millia Islamia in December. They alleged that Mander’s speech was misconstrued as hate speech and that he was wrongly accused of inciting violence and contempt of court.

In March, the Supreme Court had refused to hear a petition filed by Mander seeking action against leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party for their hate speeches leading up to the violence in Delhi until the matter of the activist’s allegedly derogatory comments about the judiciary were sorted out. “You made statements against the Supreme Court,” Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had said. “We will not hear you now... If this is what Harsh Mander feels about the Supreme Court, then we will have to decide on that first.”

Mander had delivered a speech on December 16 at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi focussing on each Indian’s equal rights in the country. It was made after students were beaten up by the Delhi Police inside the university campus.

The Delhi Police had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Mander for allegedly insulting the court. In the affidavit, the police cited a video clip where Mander allegedly said that he had no faith in the Supreme Court and that “real justice will be done on the streets”. The affidavit was filed after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta brought up Mander’s speech in the Supreme Court during a hearing on a clutch of petitions on the communal violence in North East Delhi.

“…We had pointed out how a selectively edited video was used in the affidavit of the Deputy Commissioner of Police filed before the SC,” the retired civil servants said in a statement. “We argued that if the full video had been presented, it would have proved that neither had he incited violence nor had he been contemptuous of the SC. Citing excerpts from the speech, we said that it had to be read in context, in sequence and in full to appreciate its true exhortations.”

They alleged that Mehta sought to mislead the Supreme Court. “It is apparent that the video-recording submitted by the SG and the police was an edited version comprising selectively chosen excerpts from the recording, which had been clipped in places so as to convey the impression that Harsh Mander had both instigated violence and committed contempt of the SC,” they said. “We strongly feel that the speech has to be read in context, in sequence and in full to appreciate its message.”

The signatories include former Rajasthan Chief Secretary Salauddin Ahmad, former Cabinet Secretary Vappala Balachandran, former Portugal Ambassador Madhu Bhaduri and former health secretary Keshav Desiraju, among others. They call themselves the “Constitutional Conduct Group”. The group had first issued a statement in this matter on March 22.

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