Ten days after being arrested in Bengaluru and flown to New Delhi by a Cyber Cell team of the Delhi Police, 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi received bail from a Delhi sessions court. The bail order, by additional session judge Dharmender Rana of Patiala House Court, says citizens cannot be put in jail simply because they disagree with state policies and references the Rig Veda in its observations against the use of the sedition law to jail citizens who dissent against the government.
"Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies,” Rana observed in the order, LiveLaw reported.
“Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a heathy and vibrant democracy,” the Court added.
Rana also referenced the Rig Veda couplet, “Let noble thoughts come from all directions,” to make his point. “This 5000-years-old civilisation of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters. The following couplet in Rig Veda embodies our cultural ethos expressing our respect for divergent opinions,” he observed.
He also quoted from the 1942 order in Niharendu Dutt Mazumdar vs Emperor to say that "offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments". The 1942 case, which concerned a man who made a speech deemed “seditious” against the then-British government, noted that abusive language "even when used about a Government, is not necessarily seditious, and there are certain words and phrases which have so long become the stock in trade of the demagogue as almost to have lost all real meaning."
India’s colonial-era sedition laws, laid down by Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, have been used both pre and post-independence to jail activists and dissenters against the government.
In the Disha Ravi case, the order noted that the right to dissent was firmly enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
“In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication. A Citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad," Justice Rana observed.
Ravi had been arrested for her role in the creation of a Google Drive “toolkit” that was shared by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The toolkit had stirred up a storm after Thunberg shared it on Twitter, prompting the Delhi Police to launch a probe into an alleged international conspiracy to defame the Indian state and government. BJP leader Kapil Mishra claimed the toolkit represented an “international conspiracy to organise massive violence and riots in India”, while the Delhi Police alleged she started a WhatsApp group to make the toolkit document in collaboration with a pro-Khalistani organisation called the Poetic Justice Foundation.
Thunberg later came out in support of Ravi, saying that freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest were ”non-negotiable human rights”. Ravi had often campaigned under the India chapter of Thunberg’s Friday’s for Future initiative, which released a statement saying she was an integral part of the movement for climate action.
Justice Rana noted that it was his opinion that the creation of a Whatsapp group or being the editor of an innocuous toolkit was not an offence. He said there was nothing on record to suggest that Disha Ravi subscribed to any secessionist idea, and that the prosecution had failed to point out how the accused gave “global audience” to “secessionist elements”, noting that there was no call to violence in the toolkit.
However, the court noted that its observations would have no bearing on the merits of the case.
The police on Monday questioned Mumbai-based lawyer Nikita Jacob and an engineer from Pune, Shantanu Muluk in the case. The sleuths have claimed that Shantanu, Nikita and Disha were the creators of the Google document. According to the investigators, both Nikita and Shantanu had also attended a Zoom meeting organised by the Poetic Justice Foundation, a pro-Khalistani group, to prepare the modalities of the ‘Global Day of Action’.
The police had claimed that the 'toolkit' predated and indicated a copycat execution of a conspiracy behind the January 26 violence in Delhi.
Thousands of farmers, protesting against the new farm laws passed by the Centre, clashed with police and stormed the Red Fort, where a religious flag was hoisted on the occasion of Republic Day. Over 500 police personnel were injured and one protester died during the unrest.