A Sessions and District Court in Mehsana, Gujarat acquitted Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani, former Hardik aide Reshma Patel and nine other Dalit activists in a case pertaining to a rally in July 2017.
Passing the judgement, the court of Additional District Judge CM Pawar observed, “This court is of the view that right of freedom enshrined in the constitution is not only for academic purpose but in fact it is the founding stone of democratic nation. In the democratic set up, deliberations, discussions, debates and bonafide dissent against policies of government and even bonafide criticism of in action of government are essential for existence of democracy in nation. It would be worth to note that nowadays misuse of power of statutory authority and misuse of process of law for suppressing voice of people and showing dominance of power is not unknown even in democratic set up.
“Therefore, this court reminds that it is the pious duty of ruler of every democratic nation to protect right of freedoms of citizens without any fear of criticism for survival of ethos of democracy in the nation because in democratic set up elected leaders are not meant to rule over the people but in fact, they are meant to serve the people of nation. Moreover, this court is also of the view that if in democratic set up every dissent and peaceful protest is branded as offence then right of freedom no place in democratic set up.”
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“Hence in view of aforesaid factual background of case this court is of the view that entire case of prosecution is baseless and without any substance or evidence. In the result accused are required to be acquitted from offence and thus the judgement of conviction passed by learned trial court deserves to be set aside aside.” the court further held.
Noticeably, the case was filed after a rally was organised by Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), a Gujarat based dalit rights organisation floated by Mevani in the year 2016. The ten day rally called ‘Azadi Kooch’, had commenced from Mehsana on On July 12, 2017 and culminated at Dhanera, Banaskantha district in North Gujarat.
The rally was to protest a year of inaction against the accused of Una flogging case where seven Dalits of a family in Una taluka, Gir Somnath district were flogged, paraded and filmed for skinning a dead cow by a group of upper caste men who were self-proclaimed cow vigilantes. The incident had eventually gained the attention of international media as Dalits across the state erupted in protests lead by Jignesh Mevani, then a lawyer and an activist.
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“We initially had the police permission from Mehsana police for organizing the rally but it was revoked last moment citing law and order issue and a case filed against us in Mehsana when we decided to go ahead with the rally,” Subodh Parmar, one of the RDAM members who was accused in the case, told The Federal.
The Mehsana police had filed an FIR under Section 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code against 12 persons including Reshma Patel, the former aide of Patidar leader Hardik Patel , Jignesh Mevani, the Convenor of RDAM and some members of RDAM, the Dalit rights organization.
The Mehsana Sessions and District Court termed the case baseless stating that the citizens have the right to debate and discuss issues in a democracy.
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“The march had caused no harm to citizens or the police, and no prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure were in force at the time of the incident, the court further observed. Misuse of power and process of law for suppressing people’s voice is not unknown even in democratic setups and it is the duty of rulers of every democratic nation to protect freedoms without any fear of criticism,” the court observed while acquitted all accused in the case.
Additional Judge Pawar added, “If in a democratic setup, every dissent and peaceful protest is branded as an offence, then the right of freedom has no place there. He called deliberations, discussions, debates and bonafide dissent against the government’s policies and criticism of its inaction essential for democracy.”
Noticeably, a Magistrate’s Court in 2022 had sentenced Mevani and ten others to imprisonment up to three months and fined them Rs 1000 fine each under Indian Penal Code’s Section 141 (unlawful assembly) for organising a rally without police permission.
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IPS officer turned advocate Rahul Sharma along with advocate Mahesh Gurjar, advocate Taslim Ali and advocate Manoj Parmar argued the case in the Mehsana court.