The Delhi High Court today observed that a speech by former JNUSU president Umar Khalid in Amravati of Maharashtra during the anti-CAA/NRC protests was “obnoxious, inciteful and unacceptable”. Police had cited the speech in the charge sheet filed against Khalid and several others in connection with a conspiracy case in the 2020 northeast Delhi riots.
A bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar, while seeking the police response on Khalid’s bail plea, said it was not the first time that such statements had been made. “This is offensive, obnoxious. Don’t you think? These expressions being used, don’t you think they incite people? You say things like ‘aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the‘ (your ancestors were agents of the British Raj), you don’t think it is offensive? It is offensive, per se. This is not the first time that you have said so in this speech. You said this at least five times. It is almost as if we distinctly get the impression that it was only one particular community that fought for India’s independence,” the court said.
The court questioned why such speeches should not be considered fomenting religious differences between groups and whether Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have made such remarks. “Don’t you think it foments religious ferment between groups? Did Gandhiji ever employ this language? Did Shaheed Bhagat Singh ever employ such language, even against the English? Did he? Is this what Gandhiji taught us that we can use intemperate language about people and their purvaj? We have no qualms about permitting free speech, but what are you saying?” the court asked.
The Delhi High Court made these observations when counsels appearing for Khalid read out the contents of his Amravati speech as they challenged the denial of bail by a trial court. On 24 March, the trial court had denied Khalid bail, saying that the accusations against him were “prima facie true”.
When Khalid’s counsel said these were individual opinions of a person and were in no way intended to incite hatred among people, the court asked whether the right to free speech extended to making “obnoxious statements” and if it did not attract the provisions of 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code. “All we can say is that prima facie this is not acceptable… Everything else may be acceptable within the four corners of democracy and free speech, this is not acceptable,” Justice Mridul said.
The court has given the police three days to file a reply and posted the matter for hearing on 27 April.
Police had booked Khalid, along with several others, under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The communist-Islamist gang is accused of being the masterminds of the February 2020 riots, which left 53 people dead and over 400 injured.
Besides Umar Khalid, activist Khalid Saifi, JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia coordination committee members Safoora Zargar, former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain have been booked under the stringent law.