False equivalence: On Prophet remarks and Delhi Police FIRs

Omnibus prosecution of offensive remarks will make the original offence difficult to prosecute

June 13, 2022 12:20 am | Updated 01:39 pm IST

The investigation by the Delhi Police against 30 people for remarks allegedly hurting religious sentiments is an unnecessary attempt to create an artificial balance between the specific instance of controversial views being expressed recently on the Prophet and the unrelated opinions expressed online by others in recent times. The BJP has acted against its spokesperson Nupur Sharma and Delhi media unit head Naveen Jindal following global outrage among Muslims over their remarks on Islam. There is little doubt that their remarks came as part of a long-running trend among BJP functionaries and several Hindu organisations to vilify minorities, especially Muslims, and few would question any lawful action against them. The Delhi Police have chosen to register FIRs against Mr. Jindal and Ms. Sharma, but also added 30 other social media users. There may be a justification for the registration of a case against anyone if there appears to be a deliberate attempt to outrage religious feelings or inciting ill-will. However, registering an omnibus FIR that covers priest Yati Narsinghanand, journalist Saba Naqvi, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, and Hindu Mahasabha activist Pooja Shakun Pandey, and others at one go defies logic. The police believe that many others cutting across religions had created animosity and spread inflammatory misinformation. This may be true in some instances, but clubbing of several such instances, instead of investigating and prosecuting them separately, gives the impression that these emanate from a general culture of hate and intolerance, and an endless cycle of tit-for-tat religious insults. Actually, some of these could be wilful transgressions of the law aimed at creating disharmony and inciting violence for political purposes.

Mr. Owaisi has questioned the registration of a case against him, maintaining that the Delhi Police are displaying ‘both-sidesism’ due to their fear of prosecuting the former BJP functionaries in isolation. Pursuing all these remarks in a single probe and trial would mean that material must be gathered from various social media platforms against all of them — leading to a prolonged trial. The tactic of putting a ‘part-of-a-larger-plot’ spin on specific offences is not new. The Bhima Koregaon case was transmogrified into a purported conspiracy to foment a Maoist insurrection; in the aftermath of the East Delhi riots, communal violence was linked with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. If the idea was to open up the larger field of political dissent in those cases, the strategy now seems to be to drag those who made vocal responses into the criminal ambit so that the original offence appears diluted and becomes difficult to prosecute. Investigative agencies should pursue legal action against individuals in a proportionate manner and not through omnibus prosecutions just to give an impression of being ‘balanced’.

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