‘Nothing seditious,’ says ex-SC judge on farm protest document, decries Disha Ravi’s arrest
Justice Deepak Gupta also raised questions on Ravi’s five-day judicial custody granted by a Delhi court.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta on Monday said that there was nothing seditious in the “toolkit” edited by 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, NDTV reported. Ravi was arrested and subsequently sent to five days of police custody for sharing and editing the document intended to help the farmers’ protest against the new agricultural laws.
“I have gone through the documents of the toolkit, those which are available in the public domain and I see there is nothing that says anything with regard to violence or anything with regard to inciting people,” Justice Gupta said during a discussion on the news channel. “...I don’t see what is seditious about this document...not at all.”
The “toolkit” – a common term used by social activists for campaign material – was tweeted by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in support of India’s protesting farmers on February 4. Ravi was arrested on Saturday from her Bengaluru residence by the crime branch of Delhi Police. A Delhi court on Sunday sent Ravi to police custody for five days. The police alleged that Ravi was the editor of the “toolkit” and the “key conspirator” in its formulation and dissemination.
Earlier this month, the police had filed a First Information Report in the case, which included sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting hatred amongst various communities on social/cultural/religious grounds) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
Suggesting that the police action was “an attack on free speech”, Justice Gupta cited previous judgements of the Supreme Court that outlined offences that amount to sedition.
“The Supreme Court, many years back in Kedar Singh case, in which validity of Section 124 (A) [of the IPC] was challenged, held that we are upholding Section 124 (A) because the expression to the section makes it clear that sedition can only take place where there is incitement to violence, or to public disorder,” Justice Gupta said on NDTV. “I don’t think this toolkit does any of these two things.”
He also criticised the court’s decision to send Ravi to judicial custody. “I see many cases, where the court seems to forget that bail, not jail, is the rule,” Justice Gupta added. “At this stage, they [judges] don’t even read the documents. They just see what the police asks them. I know a detailed scrutiny at this stage is not required, but at least they should apply their mind.”
Incidentally, the Delhi Commission for Women on Tuesday sent a notice to the Delhi Police, raising concerns of reported procedural lapses like the failure to obtain a transit remand after Ravi’s arrest and not providing her with a counsel of her choice. Earlier during the day, Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava had however denied that there were any lapses in Ravi’s arrest.
Meanwhile, the former top court judge further said that the sedition law was framed by the British to rule over India and that the United Kingdom itself has diluted provisions of punishment under it. “I was hoping that with our experiences of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi being sent behind bars for sedition, we would have abrogated this law or at least toned down this clause,” Gupta said. “But, unfortunately, this law is being misused.”
Speaking on the same NDTV show, Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra said that sedition charges were being slapped “at the drop of a hat” and pointed out that procedural aspects like whether the Delhi Police had a warrant to arrest Ravi and whether she had access to lawyers need to be scrutinised.
Another senior lawyer Rebecca John took an exception to the police making the arrest on a weekend.
“Delhi Police could have waited for a Monday arrest and a Tuesday production [before the court],” she said. “By producing an accused person on a Sunday, you are basically ensuring that her legal rights are compromised because it’s very difficult for lawyers to be present.”