On February 9, the Bombay High Court demanded for the Maharashtra state government to place on affidavit the steps it takes and procedures it follows in cases of hate speeches, besides questioning them over the inadequacy in the action taken on a petition seeking the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vikram Pawaskar over his alleged hate speech and role in an attack on a mosque in Satara in September 2023.
The High Court was hearing a writ petition filed by rights activist Shakir Tamboli wherein he had sought for judicial intervention to direct the state government “to take immediate action” against Pawaskar based on two FIRs filed against him. Urging for Pawaskar’s “prosecution and arrest”, the petitioner had also sought for the transfer of the probe in this case to a court-monitored special investigation team.
Brief of the September anti-Muslim attack:
In the month of September of 2023, anti-Muslim violence had taken place in the erstwhile quiet and harmonious Satara district of Maharashtra. On September 10, two posts/comments allegedly surfaced from the social media accounts of Altamash and Muzzamil Bagwan. While Muzzamil’s alleged post contained derogatory references to Shivaji, Altamash’s alleged comments contained derogatory comments about Sita. As both the aforementioned individual were by the police for investigation, on September 10 itself, a mob of approximately 200 to 250 people, some from neighbouring villages like Wadgaon gathered in Datta chowk at around 9.30pm. The mob was allegedly “enraged” by the alleged posts of Altamash and Muzammil. To showcase their “anger”, the said mob attacked shops owned by Muslims on their way from Datta chowk to the Jama Mosque.
Details of the anti-Muslim riot that took place in Satara can be read here.
A report by theWire highlights that in reference to the case on the violence attack on a mosque, at least six independent witnesses have testified before a magistrate under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. These witnesses include those who had overheard Pawaskar and others at the conspiracy meeting and those attacked at the mosque have given elaborate details of Pawaskar’s direct involvement.
FIRs filed against Vikram Pawaskar:
As per the writ petition filed at the Bombay High Court, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the petitioners have shed light upon the two instances of hate speeches delivered by the BJP leader. As per the petition, on January 24, 2023, Pawaskar made a hate speech targeting the Muslim community and uttered derogatory words against the religious minority community. These speeches were made in front of an audience of 3000 to 3500. As per the submission made by the petitioner through the petition, the speeches of Pawaskar incited hate, enmity, and violence by using derogatory words against the Muslim community. It is pertinent here to highlight that the FIR filed at Vita Police Station in the case on May 11, 2023 records that Pavaskar repeatedly used the derogatory word “Landya (meaning circumcised)” while referring to the Muslim Community and gave calls to communal violence and killings of Muslims in his speeches. The said FIR booked Pawaskar under sections 153A, 295A and 34 of the IPC.
The writ petition also mentions another instance of hate speech that took place on June 2, 2023. As had been reported by Sabrang India, on June 2, a gathering was arranged by Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan in Islampur. During this event, in the presence of police officers, Pawaskar made an incendiary speech that had anti-Muslim sentiments. He mentioned historical figures such as Tipu Sultan, and made derogatory comments about their lineage. Additionally, he also made remarks about the so-called bogey of “love jihad” as he called for unity among Hindus and also asserted that India should become a Hindu Rashtra. An FIR against the said hate speech delivered by Pawaskar was registered at the Ialampur Police stated under sections 153A, 295A and 298 of the IPC.It is essential to highlight here that in regards to the hate speech delivered by Pawaskar in June,
A detailed report of the hate speeches along with the videos of the same can be accessed here.
The proceedings before the court:
Petitioners: Senior counsel Mihir Desai and advocate Lara Jesani represented Tamboli in the court. During the hearing on February 9, it was submitted by the counsels that the police took no immediate steps to arrest Pawaskar despite two separate incidents of alleged hate speeches having been delivered by him in Sangli’s Vita (January 24) and Islampur (June 2). It was also highlighted by the counsels that the police had video graphed the event and had also registered an FIR against him.
State: The state government, represented through public prosecutor Hiten Venegaonkar, had submitted one affidavit in the High Court regarding the Satara case, granting clean chit to Pawaskar in the case. It is essential to highlight here that in the said Satara case, in the initial FIR filed by the Satara police on September 11, 2023, a total of 28 accused had been named. In the Supplementary statement recorded by the Satara Police on September 13, 2023, in which they had cited a complainant who had stated that a meeting had been held by BJP leader Pawaskar on August 21. The said meeting had been organised at the house of another accused, Sangram Dadaso Mali, in Karad, 28 kms from Pusesavali. The same is important to note as at least 27 of those accused of rioting on September 10 were present for this particular meeting as per the petition. As per the petition, the supplementary statement provides that Pawaskar directed those in the meeting to target Muslims and planned an attack to damage vehicles and property, cause communal violence and lynching. Notably, the police had added Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code after the statement related to Pawaskar was added in the FIR. However, Pawaskar’s name could not be found in the final chargesheet or in the list of accused.
Notably, the aforementioned affidavit granting clean chit to Pawaskar had been filed in response to the observations made by a division bench of justices Manjusha Deshpande and Revati Mohite Dere during the last hearing of the case. On January 24, the judges had taken note of the seriousness of the charges levelled by the petitioner against the police and Pawaskar, had asked the police to file an affidavit in the court stating the reason behind lack of initiation of action against Pawaskar.
To read the details of the January 24 hearing, click here.
As per a report of times of India, the police had also sought time to file another on the Sangli cases. The arguments raised by the State emphasised that the police were following the necessary process in taking action.
Intervention: Advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, representing BJP leader Pawaskar, also sought to intervene in the case stating that the demands made through the said plea affected his client’s rights and thus he was required to be made a party to the said petition. The request to intervene by Advocate Chandrachud was not considered by the High Court as no written application for intervention had been submitted in the court.
Observations made by the Court:
Notably, as per the report of the TOI, when the bench raised questions to the prosecution on their lack of action against Pawaskar, the counsel representing the state informed the court that the police were waiting for a forensic report of the videography done at the event. Reacting to the same, the bench expressed surprise over the need for a forensic examination of the video that the police had themselves recorded.
The court asked the state several questions on its inaction regarding the two FIRs in Sangli.
Based on the arguments raised by the petitioners, the Bombay HC bench division bench pointed towards the inadequacy of the state government in taking required action against the petition seeking the arrest of BJP leader Vikram Pawaskar for his alleged role.
The next hearing of the case will take place on March 5.