BJP govt in Karnataka drops 182 cases of hate crimes in 4 years: Report

These withdrawals were ordered during the tenure of Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa
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A response to an RTI application filed by The Indian Express revealed that the BJP government under B S Yediyurappa withdrew 385 criminal cases out of which 182 cases were of hate speech, cow vigilantism and communal violence. Most of these 182 communal crimes were registered during Congress tenure between 2013 and 2018 in the state.

These withdrawals have favoured over 2,000 accused and 1,000 of which were accused in cases of communal crimes. Those who benefited from these withdrawals include a BJP MP and MLA. However, the report does not disclose the name.

Withdrawal of cases requires recommendation by the Home Minister, clearance by a state Cabinet sub-committee, and approval of the Cabinet. However, in August 2021, the Supreme Court bench led by then CJI NV Ramana directed that no criminal case against MPs or MLAs can be withdrawn without an approval of the high court of the concerned state. This was done when misuse of Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was flagged before the court by an amicus curiae. In September 2020, the Supreme Court asked the high courts to register suo motu writ petitions to monitor trials against MPs and MLAs, and asked them to examine the cases of withdrawals.

Even the Congress had resorted to withdrawal of cases during its last tenure (2013-2018) which were filed against about 1,600 activists which included activists of the SDPI and now-banned PFI. However, most of these cases appear substantially different and were linked to violation of prohibitory orders imposed by the police.

As per IE report, Of the 182 cases with communal links dropped under the BJP government, 45 pertain to violence allegedly by right-wing activists in the Uttara Kannada district in December 2017, following the death of a Hindu youth, Paresh Mesta, which was found to be a case of accidental death by the CBI. Further, the orders for withdrawal of prosecution include four incidents of cow vigilantism in Chikamagalur, several incidents of violence in Kodagu and Mysuru over celebration of Tipu Jayanti, incidents around festive occasions like Rama Navami, Hanuman Jayanti and Ganesh Festival, protests over inter-religious marriages, and conversion, writes IE.

One of these withdrawals was challenged in the Karnataka High Court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). This was pertaining to withdrawal of cases against Mysuru BJP MP Prathap Simha and BJP MLA Renukacharya following this, there were no withdrawal orders between 2020 and 2022.

Four cases against the leader of an emerging right wing group in the state, Hindu Jagran Vedike, Jagadish Karanth were dropped in October 2022.

Another beneficiary is Sri Rama Sene leader Siddalinga Swami who was accused of hate speech in Kalaburgi in April 2016. The case against him was withdrawn in March 2023.

Right Wing outfits enjoy state shield, impunity?

Hindu Jagran Vedike leader had targeted Muslims girls at the centre of the hijab controversy in Udupi, and said that the girls had maligned the name of the coastal region and that the HJV had exposed their “true colours”. It was at HJV’s annual convention of December 2022 that terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur made some provocative remarks and incited Hindus to keep weapons at home. She also said that Hindus should “answer those involved in love jihad the same way”. In December 2022, HJV members tried to enter Jamia Masjid in Srirangapatna, Mandya district. About 2,000 police personnel were deployed to avoid law and order situation and despite this, a young Hindu devotee climbed atop a house owned by a Muslim family where a green flag was erected and replaced with the saffron flag amidst chants of “Jai Sri Ram“. HJV is an outfit that has made itself visible in many of the communal incidents in the state, be it the hijab controversy or the boycott of Muslim traders from temple fairs in the state.

Sri Ram Sene is another outfit in Karnataka which is consistently involved in targeted crimes against minorities. In January 2023, it worked with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as they called for boycott of Muslim vendors during the Panchalingeshwara temple fair in Vittal town in Dakshina Kannada district and evicted the shop of a Muslim owner. Pramod Muthalik, who is the chief of the Rashtriya Hindu Sena, the parent organisation of the Sri Ram Sene, is known to deliver hate speech from time to time. In February, a month later, he made a misogynistic comment urging Hindu men to “get 10 Muslim girls for losing 1 Hindu girl”. In January, while delivering a speech in Belagavi, he claimed that displaying a sword at home would not result in police officials filing any complaints and that the purpose of doing so was to defend women rather than to kill. Sri Ram Sene is also known to spread terror among consenting couples during Valentine’s Day, in the name of protecting the “Hindu culture”. One of the Sri Ram Sene members is also accused of killing journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017.

Court rejects govt order

In February 2023 however, a civil judge and magistrate in Sirsi in Uttara Kannada defied the withdrawal order (dated February 28, 2023) against 66 accused who allegedly were involved in communal violence in the Paresh Mehta death case. The court deemed the offences to be triable by the Sessions court.

Court’s stand on withdrawal of cases

In State of Bihar vs Ram Naresh Pandey & Anr. AIR 1957 SC 389 the Supreme Court held that while granting consent to withdrawal the court just needs to ensure that the Public prosecutor has exercised his executive function properly and that it is “not an attempt to interfere with the normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons or purposes”.

In Sheonandan Paswan vs State of Bihar & Ors (1987) 1 SCC 288 the majority judgement held that the court in deciding to grant consent to the withdrawal petition must restrict itself to only determining if the Prosecutor has exercised the power for the above legitimate reasons.

The Supreme Court, in State of Kerala v K Ajith and Ors (in Cri Appeal No. 697 of 2021; decided on July 28, 2021), after analysing precedents pertaining to section 321 CrPC laid down the following principles on withdrawal of prosecution:

(i) Section 321 entrusts the decision to withdraw from a prosecution to the public prosecutor but the consent of the court is required for a withdrawal of the prosecution;

(ii) The public prosecutor may withdraw from a prosecution not merely on the ground of paucity of evidence but also to further the broad ends of public justice;

(iii) The public prosecutor must formulate an independent opinion before seeking the consent of the court to withdraw from the prosecution;

(iv) While the mere fact that the initiative has come from the government will not vitiate an application for withdrawal, the court must make an effort to elicit the reasons for withdrawal so as to ensure that the public prosecutor was satisfied that the withdrawal of the prosecution is necessary for good and relevant reasons

(v) In deciding whether to grant its consent to a withdrawal, the court exercises a judicial function but it has been described to be supervisory in nature. Before deciding whether to grant its consent the court must be satisfied that:

(a) The function of the public prosecutor has not been improperly exercised or that it is not an attempt to interfere with the normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons or purposes;

(b) The application has been made in good faith, in the interest of public policy and justice, and not to thwart or stifle the process of law;

(c) The application does not suffer from such improprieties or illegalities as would cause manifest injustice if consent were to be given;

(d) The grant of consent sub-serves the administration of justice; and

(e) The permission has not been sought with an ulterior purpose unconnected with the vindication of the law which the public prosecutor is duty bound to maintain;

(vi) While determining whether the withdrawal of the prosecution subserves the administration of justice, the court would be justified in scrutinizing the nature and gravity of the offence and its impact upon public life especially where matters involving public funds and the discharge of a public trust are implicated; and

(vii) In a situation where both the trial judge and the revisional court have concurred in granting or refusing consent, this Court while exercising its jurisdiction under Article 136 of the Constitution would exercise caution before disturbing concurrent findings. The Court may in exercise of the well-settled principles attached to the exercise of this jurisdiction, interfere in a case where there has been a failure of the trial judge or of the High Court to apply the correct principles in deciding whether to grant or withhold consent.

image.pngSource: The Indian Express




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