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Hate Speech: Why no Action Against BJP Leader Vikram Pawaskar, Asks Bombay HC

Sabrang India |
The high court bench also directed the police to ensure protection of petitioner, witness in the cause after concerns of safety were raised in the hearing

On January 19, a bench of the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra public prosecutor to file a response within two weeks to a writ petition demanding action against senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vikram Pawaskar for his alleged role in an attack on a mosque in Satara in September.

Even after reporting hate speeches, filing complaints and lodging First Information Reports (FIRs) against speakers, ensuring that action is taking in pursuance to the said FIRs is as big a task as one can imagine, evidenced by the number of hate offenders and hate speakers roaming freely even after having multiple FIRs against their names for making provocative speeches. Repeated hate speaker and Maharashtra state BJP Vice-President Vikram Pawaskar is one such influential leader of the ruling BJP party who has been benefitting from the sleepy process of “justice” being employed by the police. The situation is such that the petitioners have had to approach the Bombay High Court by filing a criminal writ petition to urge the courts to direct the state of Maharashtra to take immediate action against Pawaskar in view of the FIRs lodged in 2023 and investigate, arrest and prosecute all the accused.

It is highlighted here that the final chargesheet filed in the case on December 18, 2023, does not include Pawaskar’s name. Regarding the same, in its order, the Bombay High court bench had directed the Satara police and the Sangli police to submit responses on the FIRs related to speeches made by Pawaskar in Sangli and on the chargesheet where his name remains missing.

With this, the petitioner has also demanded the transfer the investigation of the case to a court monitored Special Investigation Team if the court feels pertinent. The petitioners have specifically prayed that Vikram Pawaskar, who enabled the hate speech event by conspiring to commit communal violence and made at least two hate speeches, be arraigned.

It is essential to note that the High Court bench comprising Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Manjusha Deshpande have also directed the police to ensure protection for the petitioner and witnesses in the case.

Details of the anti-Muslim riot:

In the month of September of 2023, anti-Muslim violence had taken place in the erstwhile quiet and harmonious Satara district of Maharashtra. On September 10, two posts/comments allegedly surfaced from the social media accounts of Altamash and Muzzamil Bagwan. While Muzzamil’s alleged post contained derogatory references to Shivaji, Altamash’s alleged comments contained derogatory comments about Sita. As both the aforementioned individual were by the police for investigation, on September 10 itself, a mob of approximately 200 to 250 people, some from neighbouring villages like Wadgaon gathered in Datta chowk at around 9.30pm. The mob was allegedly “enraged” by the alleged posts of Altamash and Muzammil.

To showcase their “anger”, the said mob attacked shops owned by Muslims on their way from Datta chowk to the Jama Mosque. As per a fact-finding report of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), a small mosque which fell in the way of the mob was also attacked and the Quran in it was burnt. When the mob reached the Jama Mosque around 9.45 pm, the mob torched seven to eight vehicles parked outside the Mosque as well as pelted stones on the shops near it owned by the Muslims. There were around 14 devotees in the Jama Mosque, all of whom were beaten up and sustained serious injuries. Nurul Hasan Shikalgar, an engineer who owned an earth moving machinery (JCB), was present in the mosque and was attacked on his head fatally leading to his death on the spot. According to eye witnesses, there were not more than 5 to 6 police personnel present at the sites of violence and didn’t help in protecting the property or lives of the Muslims.  From 9.30pm to 11pm, the Muslim residents were attacked brazenly. The mob was equipped with sticks, iron rods, petrol, bricks and stones.

The FIRs, chargesheet filed in the anti-Muslim violence case:

The initial FIR filed by the Satara police on September 11 named 28 accused. Nine more names were added later. In the said FIR, sections 302, 307, 324, 141, 143, 147, 148, 149, 427, 435, 449, and 450 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 were used. Among the ones booked are Rahul Kadam and Shriram Joshi who were accused of having hit civil engineer Hassan on his head, leading to injuries that caused his death.

On September 13, a supplementary statement was recorded by the Satara police in which they had cited a complainant who had stated that a meeting had been held by BJP leader Pawaskar on August 21. The said meeting had been organised at the house of another accused, Sangram Dadaso Mali, in Karad, 28 kms from Pusesavali. The same is important to note as at least 27 of those accused of rioting on September 10 were present for this particular meeting as per the petition. As per the petition, the supplementary statement provides that Pawaskar directed those in the meeting to target Muslims and planned an attack to damage vehicles and property, cause communal violence and lynching. Notably, the police had added Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code after the statement related to Pawaskar was added in the FIR.

However, as pointed out by us above, Pawaskar’s name cannot be found in the final chargesheet or in the list of accused. A report of Scroll provides that when contacted, Satara superintendent Sameer Shaikh declined to comment. A police official told Scroll that Pawaskar’s name has not been officially added to the main FIR.

The role played by Vikram Pawaskar as per the writ petition:

As per the writ petition filed at the Bombay High Court, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, the petitioners have shed light upon the two instances of hate speeches delivered by the BJP leader. As per the petition, on January 24, 2023, Pawaskar made a hate speech targeting the Muslim community and uttered derogatory words against the religious minority community. These speeches were made in front of an audience of 3000 to 3500. As per the submission made by the petitioner through the petition, the speeches of Pawaskar incited hate, enmity, and violence by using derogatory words against the Muslim community. It is pertinent here to highlight that the FIR filed at Vita Police Station in the case on May 11, 2023 records that Pavaskar repeatedly used the derogatory word “Landya (meaning circumcised)” while referring to the Muslim Community and gave calls to communal violence and killings of Muslims in his speeches. The said FIR booked Pawaskar under sections 153A, 295A and 34 of the IPC.

The writ petition also mentions another instance of hate speech that took place on June 2, 2023. As had been reported by Sabrang India, on June 2, a gathering was arranged by Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan in Islampur. During this event, in the presence of police officers, Pawaskar made an incendiary speech that had anti-Muslim sentiments. He mentioned historical figures such as Tipu Sultan, and made derogatory comments about their lineage. Additionally, he also made remarks about the so-called bogey of “love jihad” as he called for unity among Hindus and also asserted that India should become a Hindu Rashtra. An FIR against the said hate speech delivered by Pawaskar was registered at the Ialampur Police stated under sections 153A, 295A and 298 of the IPC.It is essential to highlight here that in regards to the hate speech delivered by Pawaskar in June,

A detailed report of the hate speeches along with the videos of the same can be accessed here.

As mentioned above, the writ petition also emphasised upon the role played by Pawaskar in instigating the mob to indulge in anti-Muslim violence.

Issue of inaction by the police against Pawaskar:

Through the writ petition filed by the petitioner in the High Court, the issue of inaction by the police in furtherance to the FIRs filed had been emphasised by the petitioners. The petitioner has also highlighted that even after the first FIR was filed against Pawaskar, no preventive action was employed by the police prior to his future speeches as has been directed by the Supreme Court through multiple orders given in the Shaheen Abdullah case. The petitioner has also pointed out in the plea that even after sending letters to the police officer concerned, marking the DGP Maharashtra as well, demanding prosecution of Pawaskar, no replies were received by the petitioner.

The petitioner has sharply pointed out in the petition that had any action been taken against Pawaskar by the police, the riots of September and “incidents of inciting hate would not have arisen.” (Para 13)

The petition states that even as some individuals were arrested in connection with the September anti-Muslim violence, no action was taken against Pawaskar, who has been accused of committing grave crimes such as incitement of violence, criminal conspiracy. Conspiracy to commit offences such as murder etc. these offences form cognisable and non-bailable offences, and yet no action has been taken by the police against the BJP leader.

The petitioner has also termed it to be “shocking” that Pawaskar’s name has not even been included in the accused list in the chargesheet. The petition stated “It is shocking that in spite such serious charges and in spite of being clearly named as the conspirator of targeted violence and murder, no steps have been taken to arraign Mr. Vikram Pavaskar as am accused for the heinous crime of instigating and organising a communal riot to commit killing and breach the peace in the city.” (Para 16)

The petition then elaborates the statements given by six witnesses, recorded under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which highlight the role that Pawaskar played in the happening of the said violence, including in directly conspiring to plan the mob violence that took place on September 10 and assuring the mob that no consequences would befall them.

It is the case of the petitioners through the plea that the failure of the police officials to act in accordance too all the three FIRs filed against Pawaskar “permitted him to continue engaging in hateful rhetoric against the Muslim community on several occasions. As per the petition, the said inaction by the relevant police violates several fundamental rights and constitutional principles, including the right to life, equality, non-discrimination, secularism, fraternity and religious tolerance.

It is also essential to highlight here that in regards to the hate speech delivered by Pawaskar in June, several citizens and social organisations had submitted a memorandum to Police Inspector Shashikant Chavan of Islampur police station raising demands of immediate criminal charges and investigation into the provocative statements by Pavaskar and the organisers of the event, Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan in Islampur on June 2. The memorandum had relied on recent orders of the Supreme Court, wherein the police administration has been directed to keep a close watch, videography of such events, ensure no hate speeches are given and if they are, they should be prosecuted. It is the duty of all citizens to ensure that no hate speech or violation of law or disturbance of public order takes place, they stated.

Order of the Bombay High Court (January 19, 2024):

In the said order, the bench noted the submissions made by the petitioner of the case. The main arguments forwarded by the bench highlight the lack of action taken by the police despite two FIRs being filed on the incidents of hate speech.

“The Petitioner submits that despite two incidences of hate-speech having taken place on 24 January 2023 and 2 June 2023, at Sangli, no steps have been taken by the police to arrest the person who gave the hate-speech. She submitted that as far as the incident of 24 January 2023 is concerned, the case was registered by the police only on 11 May 2023, after making several representations to the police for registration of an FIR.” (Para 2)

Referring to the role of Pawaskar in incitement of anti-Muslim violence in September, the court noted the submission of the petitioner as: “According to the counsel for the Petitioner, one Vikram Pavaskar had incited/instigated Sangram Mane and others to vandalize the mosque and to fuel communal violence. She submits that the police have arrested only Sangram Mane, in whose house the alleged conspiracy took place, however, have not taken any steps vis–a–vis Vikram Pavaskar.” (Para 3)

The court noted that no action has been taken by either Vita Police Station or Islampur Police Station in the hate speech FIRs filed against Pawaskar. Furthermore, the court noted that “The counsel for the petitioner also submits that despite the police having video recorded the incident of June 2, 2023, as directed by the Apex Court, no steps were taken for immediate the arrest of the persons under Section 151 of Cr.P.C.” (Para 4)

In its order, in view of the observations made, the Court asks Mr. Venegaonkar, the Public Prosecutor, to submit their response by February 2, 2024.

Recording the apprehension of danger to life of the petitioner and the life of the witnesses who have given their statement in the said case, the bench urged the public prosecutor to speak to the superior authorities and take the appropriate steps to provide protection to the petitioners.


Courtesy: subrang india

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