The Delhi High Court on Friday said student activist Umar Khalid’s speech in Amravati in February 2020, which forms part of the indictment against him in the Northern Riots ‘wider conspiracy’ case -east Delhi, was offensive and heinous.
“It’s offensive, heinous. Don’t you think? These expressions being used, don’t you think they incite people? You say things like aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the, you don’t think that’s “is offensive. It’s offensive in itself. It’s not the first time you’ve said it in this speech. You’ve said it at least five times. It’s almost as if we distinctly feel that ‘there was only one particular community that fought for India’s independence,’ the divisive bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar said after Khalid’s lawyers read the content of his speech in court.
The court made this observation when the lawyer representing Khalid was reading the part where he allegedly said that Mahatma Gandhi had started a non-cooperation movement against the British in 1920, and Jamia Millia Islamia University was one of the first educational institutes to be established after Gandhi’s call. Khalid in the speech further allegedly said that the same university is now facing bullets, being slandered and branded as a den of anti-nationals.
“Hum inko itihas batana chahte hai. Jab aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the, toh Jamia Millia Islamia ke chatr, the teachers, angreji hukumat se lad rahe the (We want to remind them of the story. When your ancestors were brokering for the British, the students of Jamia Millia Islamia, its teachers were fighting the British government),” Khalid reportedly said in the speech.
In the first part of the speech which was read out in court, Khalid, while referring to the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha as the “ancestors” of the “current leaders”, is said to have said that the organizations do the “dalali” of the British and since they are wanting people to prove their ancestry, questions should also be asked about their ancestors.
The court was hearing an appeal against the rejection of his bail request by a lower court in the case. He further asked, “Don’t you think this is fomenting religious ferment between the groups?” Did Gandhi ji ever use this language? Did Shaheed Bhagat Singh ever use such language, even against the English? Is he? Is what Gandhi ji taught us that we can use intemperate language about people and their purvaj (ancestors). We have no qualms about allowing free speech, but what do you say? »
Lead attorney Trideep Pais, representing Khalid, argued that this was an individual’s opinion given in a public speech and there was ‘absolutely no incitement’ and no backlash among the public afterwards. Pais also argued that the speech was given in the context of “oppressive law” while referring to the Citizenship Amendment Act.
However, the court asked whether the right to freedom of expression extended to “odious statements” and whether it did not attract the provisions of articles 153A and 153B of the IPC. ‘All we can say (is) that on its face it is not acceptable,’ the court said, adding that ‘everything else may be acceptable to all corners of democracy and freedom of expression, this is not acceptable”.
Pais argued that Khalid in the speech talks about electoral democracy and the rule of law. “He says don’t be afraid of oppressive laws because it’s people power that will speak truth to power,” he said.
Pais further argued that the court was dealing with a UAPA case in which Khalid was charged with terrorism. “Your Lord asks me if it is 153A or 153B. I am in a bail application,” he said. He added that it’s “so easy to use UAPA today, you just have to have a team of people make statements and it forms a billing sheet.”
When the court asked if it was only a particular institution that fought for Indian independence, Pais argued that Jamia was attacked by the police during this period. “He establishes in his speech that these are people who stood up for democracy for India’s constitution and freedom.”
The court said it was easy to invoke Bhagat Singh but difficult to imitate him. “If I remember the story correctly, there was a gentleman who was eventually hanged for his activities against the state. After doing what he was charged with…and making sure no one was harmed in the process. process, he stayed there to get arrested. He did not run away,” Judge Mridul said.