Claiming that the complaint filed against him in Pune at the behest of a BJP Yuva Morcha leader was a ‘political gimmick’ aimed at cheap publicity, former Aligarh Muslim University student leader Sharjeel Usmani, who was booked for making a provocative speech at Elgaar Parishad on January 30, has moved the Bombay High Court seeking quashing of the FIR against him.
Pradeep Gawade, a lawyer who is also the regional secretary of the BJP’s youth wing, had submitted a complaint application at the Swargate police station. Based on his complaint and a preliminary probe, Pune Police, on February 2, booked Usmani under IPC Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony).
It was alleged in the FIR that Usmani made offensive statements against ‘Hindu community’, ‘Indian judiciary’ and the Parliament.
The Elgaar Parishad was organised in the city to mark the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyaan on January 30, which is also the birth anniversary of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar at the University of Hyderabad whose suicide led to an uproar in 2016.
Apart from Usmani, other key speakers at the conference included author Arundhati Roy, former IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan, journalist Prashant Kanojia, Dalit activist Satyabhama Suryawanshi from Latur, retired High Court judge BG Kolse Patil and retired IPS officer SM Mushrif, among others.
Usmani (24) had been arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police last year for his alleged role in the clashes that broke out following protests against the amended citizenship law on the AMU campus on December 15, 2019. He is currently out on bail.
Usmani, in his petition filed through advocate Aditi Saxena, stated that the FIR is ‘frivolous and baseless’ and has been registered on the basis of a select few statements taken out of context.
The petition stated, “The petitioner in his speech has identified a problem in the social construct of this day, and has concluded with a solution to the problem”. It said the gist of his speech was to “fight hatred with constant dialogue with people who do not share the same ideological views”.
“The FIR does not disclose intention to cause disorder or incite people to violence to attract offence under section 153A of IPC. FIRs of this nature are a protracted modus operandi of misrepresenting what is said, beginning with social media and culminating by initiating the criminal justice system,” the petition further read.
It said, “This modus operandi is targeted at those who, within the construct of constitutional protection, seek to identify the ills that plague our nation and offer course correction. This is largely designed to vitiate communal harmony in society and in effect curb free speech by initiating the juggernaut of the criminal justice system to redefine the contours of acceptable free speech.”
“The FIR needs to be quashed as it is ‘utterly baseless’ and is to violate (the) petitioner’s right guaranteed under section 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution related to freedom of expression and speech,” the plea stated.
Usmani said the FIR is based on isolated statements from the entire speech and does not disclose any intention to promote enmity, and therefore, no offence is made out. “Even if taken true, the same would not make out any cognizable offence against the petitioner”, his plea stated.
“The speech is mostly based on the facts which are available in the public domain of academic literature and prima facie does not have any intention to cause any disorder or incite the people to violence. However, it demands combat against hate in the society and not against any particular community. The FIR is filed by the complainant for political gain and is no more than a political gimmick,” it added.
Usmani demanded that the FIR filed at Swargate Police station in Pune be quashed and any investigation arising out of it be stayed, pending a hearing. He also sought protection from coercive action.
While Usmani’s petition was listed before a division bench of Justice SS Shinde and Justice Manish Pitale on Friday, it could not be taken up due to paucity of time and will be heard in due course.