Jaspreet Oberoi: Judge Rana Does His Job As Modi's Sedition Narrative Collapses

While releasing Disha Ravi on Tuesday, February 23, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana made some peculiar observations that warrant a closer look

Jaspreet Oberoi
February 24, 2021 | 5 min. read

After she had spent nine days in custody for preparing a “protest toolkit”, 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi was finally granted bail. 

While releasing her on Tuesday, February 23, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana made some peculiar observations that warrant a closer look. The narrative of anti-nationalism and sedition that the Modi government has spun while arresting dissenters like Disha Ravi clearly stands shaken post-factum this ruling.

Selected excerpts from the ruling demonstrate this very aptly.

"The perusal of the said 'Toolkit' reveals that any call for any kind of violence is conspicuously absent. In my considered opinion, Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies."

In clear words, Judge Rana stated that the much-hyped google document, addressed as the ‘toolkit’ by the Modi government and the Delhi Police, had no signs of any kind of incitement for violence. He continued to express that disagreeing with the government policies alone cannot be the reason for putting the citizens of the country behind bars. 

In contrast, for editing this document and for expressing her dissent against the government’s farm laws, the BJP not only hailed Disha Ravi’s arrest, but they also likened her to Ajmal Kasab, one of the dreaded terrorists who carried out the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. 

They also categorically stated that anybody supporting Disha Ravi is anti-national (working against the interests and sovereignty of India), which included all the opposition parties.

"The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments."

In what seems an intentional jibe, Judge Rana declared the government’s attempt of charging Disha Ravi with sedition as revenge for ‘hurt’ feelings.

The fact that BJP leadership has a history of acting immaturely and being spiteful cannot be ignored. From openly labeling the anti-CAA protesters as ‘mentally unstable’ and ‘dogs’ to generating an official government release in response to Rihanna and Greta’s tweets are just a couple out of the dozens of recent examples.

"The imputations may be false, exaggerated or even with a mischievous intent but the same cannot be stigmatized being seditious unless they have tendency to foment violence.”

The current government has used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) indiscriminately by slapping sedition cases against its dissenters. The law dictating UAPA is vaguely worded and overly broad, making it a highly effective political tool against “thought-crimes”. 

By clearly ruling that unless an act instigates and stirs violence it cannot be determined as seditious, Judge Rana has demonstrated intentions to defang the authorities misusing UAPA.

Even in the past, the courts have ruled similarly. For example, in 1995’s Balwant Singh case, the Supreme Court of India ruled that chanting Khalistan Zindabad is not seditious. As long as there is no clear incitement to violence, it is fully covered by Article 19 (1), which guarantees free speech.

"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.”

It is imperative and pressing for the citizenry to understand that warnings against free speech like the ones issued by the BJP in Uttarakhand and Bihar are sheer intimidation tactics that will not hold up in any Indian court.  Police bodies in the two states had announced that anybody criticizing the government online or in the streets would be barred from accessing government jobs and services like passport creation.

Along with legally legitimizing the tools of protesting, this section of the Disha Ravi ruling intends to shame the fence-sitters and the pliable. Judge Rana minces no words in stating that a healthy democracy is not the one where everybody bows down and lets the rulers mow over them. 

Just because a government has been elected democratically does not mean its decisions should not be questioned. It vividly reminds one of Desmond Tutu’s famous quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.

"In my considered opinion the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to seek a global audience."

Debunking the benighted theory of ‘foreign interference’, floated by the Modi government and wholeheartedly supported by the whole national Indian media space, Judge Rana rightly expressed that asking for global support for a peaceful and lawful cause is well within the rights and legal confines for Indian citizens.

While the BJP government continues to parrot that it does not need democracy certificates from Rihanna, Greta, or Trudeau, the Indian media has been utterly busy adding everybody speaking for the farmers to its preposterous list of ‘India’s enemies’.

“There is not even an iota of evidence brought to my notice connecting the perpetrators of the violence on 26.01.2021 with the said PJF or the applicant/accused.”

While the Delhi Police could not provide the courts with an iota of evidence to link the Canadian organization, Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) to the January 26 violence at the Red Fort, they were quick to leak their framed up stories to the Indian media weeks ago to instigate anti-farmer hysteria around the ‘toolkit’. Mo Dhaliwal, the founder of PFJ has been vilified in India and as a result, has been continuously receiving death threats and abuses online.

Given the circumstances and the timing, this ruling is without a doubt worth paying attention to. As expected though, the chattering class went way overboard in praising and hailing the Judge, forgetting that upholding the law is his job and duty.

Liberal influencers like Barkha Dutt, Shekhar Gupta, and Vir Sanghvi once again displayed their apparent bias by praising Judge Rana to the hilt without caring to point out that a year ago, in a strikingly similar hearing, he refused bail to a 21-week pregnant student - Safoora Zargar, a Muslim, accused in the Delhi riots case.


Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.

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