Karnataka HC: Proceedings against Pramod Muthalik for delivering offensive statement quashed

The Bench noted lack of recording of independent eyewitness statements, no data to substantiate that accused made inflammatory statements as reasons
Image: The Deccan Herald

On June 14, the Karnataka High Court quashed the proceedings launched against Pramod Mutalik, the founder of the extremist Hindutva fringe outfit president of Sri. Ram Sene, in the year 2017 for delivering a derogatory speech. Muthalik had been booked under Sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups) and 295(A) (punishment for deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly making offensive words while addressing a public gathering.

A single judge bench of Justice Hemant Chandangoudar sitting at Kalaburagi quashed the proceedings stating, “Section 196 of Cr.P.C. specifies that no Court shall take cognizance of an offence punishable under Section 153-A of IPC and Section 295-A of IPC, except the previous sanction of the State Government. In the instant case, the learned Magistrate has taken the cognizance for the aforesaid offences without there being previous sanction by the State Government. Hence, in the absence of previous sanction, the cognizance taken by the learned Magistrate for the above said offences, is one without authority of law.” (Para 9-10)

According to the police charge sheet, the accused was the chief guest on an event organised on the occasion of Shivaji Maharaj Jayanti and the inauguration of the Sri Ram Sene’s office on February 25, 2017. The accused allegedly made offensive remarks while addressing the crowd in the presence of a Police Sub Inspector, who was the complainant, and three constables. He allegedly stated that those who murder the cow must have their hands cut.

After accepting the charge-sheet, the Magistrate had taken cognizance of the aforementioned offenses and issued summons.

During the hearing, the petitioner-accused had sought for quashing of charges, arguing that the Magistrate’s cognizance for the aforementioned offenses, in the absence of sanction as stipulated in Section 196 of the Cr.P.C., is one without legal authority. Furthermore, it was asserted that the testimonies of the independent witnesses were not recorded, and that in the absence of any material to prove the claims against the accused, the charge-sheet submitted on the basis of the police witnesses’ statements is devoid of substance.

The said plea was opposed by the prosecution. However, after having perused the charge sheet, the bench said “Except the statements of the police personnel, the statements of independent eyewitnesses have not been recorded. Though the statement of the person who is alleged to have video graphed the function is recorded, no data is retrieved from the video camera to substantiate that the accused has made inflammatory statements.” (Para 8)

In accordance to these observations, the Court quashed the proceedings.

The order can be read as follows:


Previous proceedings against Muthalik that had resulted in acquittal due to lack of evidence

In the year 2018, a local court had acquitted Pramod Muthalik and 30 others in the pub attack case of January 2009 for want of evidence. Citing lack of evidence from the prosecution, the magistrate had acquitted Muthalik and 30 others belonging to the said organisation of Sri Ram Sene, who had been charged by then BJP government in the state.

This acquittal had sent shockwaves as the violent attack on the men and women in the Mangaluru pub had happened in broad daylight and the entire episode was filmed. Sri Ram Sene, then a non-descript Hindu chauvinistic outfit, had even claimed the responsibility for the attack. Over 30 Sri Ram Sene activists had allegedly barged into the pub on January 24, 2009, and assaulted the women and men, claiming they were violating traditional Indian values. The incident had generated national outrage after the video clip of the attack went viral. It depicted several men allegedly dragging women at the pub by their hair, slapping and roughing them up and accusing them of “loose morals”.


Who is to be blamed for this quashing of charges?

In the current case, even after an FIR has been filed, based on which a charge sheet had been submitted, the proceedings could not be sustained due to the statements of independent eyewitnesses not being recorded and no data being retrieved from the video graphed speech to substantiate that the accused has made inflammatory statements. Even though this essentially does not mean that no inflammatory, derogatory and offensive statements were made by the accused, a lacunae in the performance of duties led to justice being denied and the accused getting their name cleared. Who should be blamed for the non-deliverance of justice in this case? The quashing of the case against Pramod Muthalik, a hate speaker who is known for targeting the religious minority communities of India and instigating Hindu youth to commit acts of violence, shows the sorry state of our criminal justice system, and will only lead to the accused giving more inflammatory statements with impunity.

But the question that arises is whether any action would have been taken against Muthalik, which has the right-wing forces supporting him, even if the statements had been recorded? In the beginning of this year only, citizens, majorly women, had stated a protest in front of the office of the Director General of Police (DGP), Karnataka, demanding for his arrest after he had made a highly derogatory and violent anti-women statement. In February, in his speech, Pramod Muthalik had urged Hindu men to “get 10 Muslim girls for losing one Hindu girl to Love-Jihad”, and declared that such Hindu men would be provided security and employment by his organisation. With evocative banners, women protesters have raised questions regarding the inaction of the police against hate speeches. Citizens had called for the filing of a suo moto FIR against Muthalik, reminding the senior Karnataka police officer of the Supreme Court’s guidelines on hate speech, which state that police can take suo moto action against those who incite hatred through their speeches. Notably, no action was taken even then.

It is to be seen if the newly elected Karnataka government that has vowed to tackle hate speech and divisive politics seeks to correct the lacunae in prosecution and proceed with cases against Muthalik in the near future.



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