DU teacher arrested for post on Gyanvapi mosque granted bail by Delhi court

Raising their voice: Students protesting and demanding the release of Delhi University teacher Ratan Lal in New Delhi on Saturday.

Raising their voice: Students protesting and demanding the release of Delhi University teacher Ratan Lal in New Delhi on Saturday. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The remarks made by Delhi University Associate Professor Ratan Lal, though "avoidable" and "reprehensible", "do not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities", a local court in Delhi observed on Saturday while granting him bail a day after he was arrested by Delhi Police.

The 50-year-old history teacher at DU's Hindu College was arrested shortly after he was called in for questioning on Friday. The police said they had booked him on a complaint from an advocate, who said that Mr. Lal's social media post on the Gyanvapi mosque issue had hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community.

In addition to teaching at DU, Mr. Lal runs a YouTube channel called Ambedkarnama, where he discusses and critiques government policies.

While granting him bail on a personal bond of ₹50,000 and one surety of the like amount, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Siddhartha Malik of the Tis Hazari court said, "The feeling of hurt felt by an individual cannot represent the entire group or community and any such complaint regarding hurt feelings has to be seen in its context considering the entire spectrum of facts/circumstances."

Noting that the same remarks can elicit different feelings in different people, Mr. Malik said that while he, as a "proud" Hindu, would call Mr. Lal's post "distasteful" and "unnecessary", others might find it shameful or feel sorry for the accused but not find it inciting hatred or enraging.

The court said, "India is a country of more than 130 crore people and any subject can have 130 crore different views and perceptions."

While arguing his case, counsel appearing for Mr. Lal submitted before the court that his arrest was an example of abuse of law. They argued that as a reputed associate professor of history, Mr. Lal had written an academic post on the disputed structure alleged to have been found at the Gyanvapi mosque in Uttar Pradesh.

The trial court also noted the disputed nature of the structure and added, "the photographs used in the post are themselves not verified to be belonging to any specific proceedings as the controversy relates to a report which is still not in public domain".

Mr. Lal’s lawyers added that since it did not incite any feelings of hatred nor did it incite any kind of violence, the post does not even meet the ingredients required to make out offences under Sections 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion, race, etc.) and 295A (deliberate act with intent to insult religious feelings) of the IPC.

They also added that Mr. Lal himself was a Hindu, and did not seek to create any animosity between religious groups and that he did not intend to hurt the religious feeling of any person or group.

Packed court

The court was packed with advocates on Saturday, with about 20 lawyers arguing on different points of law for the history teacher, who was produced in court at 3.30 p.m. by the Delhi police.

Despite not wanting his custody for the investigation, the police on Saturday opposed Mr. Lal's bail application and sought that he be sent to judicial custody. They argued that allowing him bail would send "a wrong message to society".

Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Kumar Srivastava and Additional PP Salil Maheshwari, for the State, said his social media post was "clearly meant to incite hatred between religious groups" and that he had defended his statements in the media repeatedly.

Mr. Malik said the "anxiety of the police can be understood" given its duty to maintain law and order.

But he added, "The court has to employ higher standards while considering the need to send a person to custody... accused is a person of good repute with no criminal antecedent and there is no likelihood of the accused fleeing... in view of the aforesaid, the court sees no need to send the accused to judicial custody."

And even as the court said that Mr. Lal’s post appeared to be a “failed attempt at satire... that backfired”, it restricted him “from posting any social media posts or interviews regarding the controversy which resulted in the present FIR”.

After the court noted that all necessary bail formalities had been completed, it directed the police to release him. Mr. Lal was then released from the Maurice Nagar police station around 5 p.m. and dropped home by the police, his lawyers said.

Right to free speech

The issue of law enforcement authorities cracking down on instances of people exercising their right to free speech came up again on Saturday in Mr. Lal's case, a week after the Supreme Court put the sedition law (Section 124A of IPC) on hold. The top court has also directed that no new FIRs be registered under Section 124A while the Union government reconsiders it.

However, the SC directive to put sedition law on hold has not deterred police forces across States from slapping other sections to book people. Mr. Lal has been charged under Section 153A and 295A of the IPC.

In Maharashtra, on Saturday morning, Section 295 (defiling place of worship with intent to insult religion) of the IPC was also invoked by the Pune Police to book dancer Vaishnavi Patil and two others for filming a lavani (folk dance) performance inside the city’s Lal Mahal which is associated with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Section 295A of the IPC was also used to book stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and arrest him for a joke he had written last year.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 12:09:34 am |