Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana has granted bail to 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi and directed her to furnish a personal bond of rupees one lakh with two sureties each.
“Considering the scanty and sketchy evidence on record, I do not find any palpable reason to deny bail”, ASJ Rana reportedly said, while also noting that Disha Ravi has “blemish free criminal antecedents”.
The Delhi police had lodged an FIR against Ravi and two others in connection with a toolkit that was allegedly created by pro-Khalistan groups to support the farmers’ protests and defame India as a part of a larger conspiracy. Disha was booked for serious offences of sedition, criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity between groups.
The judgment recorded that even the Additional Solicitor General, appearing for the State, had no evidence to prove that the toolkit was directly related to the Republic Day violence. The judgment further observed the conduct of Disha Ravi and stated:
“..there is nothing on record to suggest that there was any call, incitement, instigation or exhortation on the part of the applicant/accused and the abovesaid organizations (Poetic Justice Foundation PFJ) and its associates to foment violence on 26.01.2021. In my considered opinion, it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpability”.
On the issue of Sikhs For Justice, a banned organisation that had issued an open communication that a reward of USD 250,000 will be declared for anybody who hoists a Khalistan flag at India Gate, the court noted that, “There is absolutely no link established on record between the applicant and the said banned organisation”.
The court considered the contents of the Toolkit, including the zoom sessions to ask questions about the protests, “Digital Strike’, signing online petitions, etc. He concluded, “The perusal of the said toolkit that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of the government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with state policies”.
It is claimed that the applicant/accused created a WhatsApp group by the name of “International farmers strike” and added certain persons in the group. It was further submitted that she deleted the group chat from her phone in an attempt to destroy the crucial evidence linking her with the toolkit and PFJ. She is alleged to be one of the editors of the toolkit. To this, the court said:
“In my considered opinion creation of a WhatsApp group or being editor of an innocuous Toolkit is not an offence. Further, since the link with the said toolkit or PJF has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless. Further, it is rightly pointed out by Ld. Defence Counsel that the protest march was duly permitted by the Delhi police therefore there is nothing wrong in co-accused Shantanu reaching Delhi to attend the protest march. Still further, the attempt to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies”.
On sedition charges
The Sessions Court also made some scathing remarks on invoking sedition against people on shaky grounds. He said, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments”. The Bench further added, “Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy. This 5000-year-old civilization of ours has never been averse to ideas from varied quarters. The following couplet in Rig Veda embodies our cultural ethos expressing our respect for divergent opinions”.
The right to dissent is firmly enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. In my considered opinion, the freedom of speech and expression included the right to seek a global audience. There are no geographical barriers on communication. A citizen has the fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four concerns of law and as such have access to audience abroad”.
Observing this, the judge perused some of the hyperlinks by the name “Genocide.org” and “askindiawhy.com” in the toolkit and held that there was no “objectionable material” on the said websites.
Lack of evidence
The court held that there is no evidence on record to prove that Ravi subscribed to any “secessionist idea” and the prosecution failed to point as to how Ravi “gave global audience to the secessionist elements”.
The judgment also said, “No evidence has been brought to my notice to support the contention that any violence took place at any of the Indian embassies pursuant to the sinister designs of the applicant/accused and her co-conspirators”. Another important excerpt from the judgment read:
“I am conscious of the fact that it is very difficult to collect evidence for the offence of conspiracy but I’m equally conscious of the fact that what is difficult to prove for the prosecution in the affirmative is virtually impossible for the defence to prove in the negative. I’m also conscious of the fact that the investigation is at nascent stage and police is in the process of collecting more evidence, however, the investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations”.
Need for police custody
ASJ Rana observed that the State had opposed her bail plea and argued that they needed to confront her with other co accused- Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk to understand the alleged larger conspiracy behind the Republic Day violence.
But the court agreed with the submissions made by Disha Ravi’s counsel who said that if the other co accused persons, who are on anticipatory bail, can be confronted with Ravi in custody, “then there is no rule of law or prudence, at least that I am aware of, that a person if mandatorily required to be detained in custody to be confronted with other co accused persons”.
As she has already been in custody since February 14, ASJ Rana held that it would neither be “logical nor legal” to keep her liberty restrained in jail.
After three long hours of hearing on February 20, the Sessions Court had reserved orders on Disha Ravi’s bail plea.
The judgment may be read here: