Journalist Patricia Mukhim on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that her Facebook post condemning the attack on five non-tribal youth by a gang of masked men, allegedly tribals, in Meghalaya’s Lawsohtun village, is not an offence, Live Law reported.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat reserved its judgement in the petition filed by the senior Shillong-based journalist challenging a Meghalaya High Court order to quash criminal proceedings against her.
On July 3 last year, masked miscreants had attacked five boys on a basketball court in Lawsohtun village. In the post, written days after the incident, Mukhim, the editor of The Shillong Times, had criticised the Lawsohtun village council for failing to identify the perpetrators. She wrote that Meghalaya has been a failed state because of continued attacks on non-tribal people and that such attackers have never been arrested since 1979.
On July 7, a village council in Meghalaya filed a complaint against Mukhim for her alleged inciting statements. Based on this, the police registered a criminal case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code against the journalist for promoting enmity between different groups. She was also charged with defamation, among other things. Besides, she was served a notice under Section 41 A of the Criminal Code of Procedure, requiring her to appear before the investigating officer.
During Tuesday’s hearing, advocate Vrinda Grover, representing the journalist, argued that the content of her post was edited and words were replaced before the police. “One extract was selectively placed before the police instead of the entire post,” she said. “The Facebook post is only making a comment that non tribal boys have been targeted violently and State must ensure that it doesn’t happen. Why do I call on the Dorbor Shnong [traditional village governing body of the Khasi tribe]? Because communities have a social influence and I wanted that the black sheep of the community called out.”
Grover said the portrayal of a skirmish between two groups is not prohibited. “I’m exhorting everyone to rise beyond their caste and communities,” the advocate said. “I am not talking about any two communities here. I am fulfilling my responsibility as a senior journalist and as a responsible citizen.”
Mukhim’s counsel also submitted that there was “no assuaging of feelings of a community which has been attacked brutally”, according to Bar and Bench. She said the Facebook post was promoting harmony and intended to draw attention of the authorities about continued attacks on non-tribal people in the state.
Advocate AM Tripathi, appearing for the Meghalaya government, said that arrests were made after the incident and argued that the probable effect of Mukhim’s actions would be high. “Where did the information originate that the masked attackers were allegedly tribal boys,” he questioned. “There should have been verification of facts before putting out such a post especially when she is reputed and has so many followers.”
Tripathi alleged that a “communal colour” was given to the incident. He called it a “small scuffle” between “two guys”.
However, the Supreme Court responded to him saying, “Tripathi please don’t go all over the place. Just tell us why ingredients of 153A [promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc] are not made out. We know we have limited jurisdiction in the case.”
The judges said the state counsel has to at least make a case, instead of just reading out the judgement. “We understand your point that she has to be more responsible, but you need to make a case as to how Section 153A would apply,” the court said.
In November, the Meghalaya High Court declined to quash a criminal case against Mukhim. Justice W Diengdoh had said Mukhim’s post “sought to create a divide to the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in the state of Meghalaya”.