The Delhi High Court on Wednesday, while hearing the bail application of student activist Umar Khalid in the larger conspiracy case of the northeast Delhi riots, asked whether it was proper to use the term ‘jumla’ in respect of the Prime Minister of India, and said that when it comes to criticism of the government, there must be “a line” or a “Lakshman rekha.”
“What he says about the Prime Minister in the speech? Some ‘changa’ word was used and after that … this ‘jumla’ is used for the Prime Minister of India. Is that proper?” asked the court after listening to the speech given by Khalid at Amravati in February 2020.
In response to the court’s observation, Khalid’s lawyer, senior counsel Trideep Pais, contended that criticising the government was not unlawful.
“Criticism of the government cannot become a crime. 583 days in prison with UAPA charges was no envisaged for a person who speaks against the government. We cannot become so intolerant. At this rate, people will not be able to speak,” Pais said adding that the FIR against Khalid is a result of intolerance against freedom of speech.
While hearing the application on April 22, a division bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar said Khalid’s speech in Amravati, which is part of the chargesheet, was disrespectful, obnoxious, and hateful.
The division bench comprising Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar said: “This is offensive, obnoxious. Don’t you think? These expressions being used, don’t you think they incite people? You say things like aapke purvaj angrezun ki dalali kar rahe the, you don’t think it is offensive? It is offensive per se. This is not the first time that you said so in this speech. You said this at least five times. It is almost as if we distinctly get the impression that it was only one particular community that fought for India’s independence,”
The court made the remark when the counsel for Khalid read the section where he is reported to have said that Mahatma Gandhi launched a non-cooperation movement against the British in 1920, and Jamia Millia Islamia University was one of the first educational institutes to be established in response to Gandhi’s call. Khalid is also claimed to have said in his speech that the same university was now facing gunfire, was being insulted, and was being dubbed a den of anti-nationals.
“Hum inko itihas batana chahte hai. Jab aapke purvaj angrezun ki dalali kar rahe the, tou Jamia Millia Islamia ke chathar, teachers, angreji hukumut se lad rahe the. (We want to remind them of the history. When your ancestors were brokering for the English, the Jamia Millia Islamia students, its teachers were fighting the British government),” Khalid was quoted as having said in the speech.
Earlier in the speech, Khalid, while referring to the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha as “ancestors” of “current rulers,” allegedly stated that the organisations were carrying out “dalali” of the British, and that since they want people to prove their ancestry, questions about their ancestors should be asked as well.
“Don’t you think it foments religious ferment between groups?” the court had asked.
Pais told the court on Wednesday that in December 2019, there was considerable violence against students at Jamia Millia Islamia University, and that the speech was given in that setting.
“It does not refer to the communities. It refers to an organisation when the speech says that the ideological ancestors of the persons who inhabit this organisation did not participate in the freedom struggle, whereas the Jamia students were an active part of the freedom movement. He is not playing one community against another, that is what I wanted to clarify,” he submitted.