A sessions court in Mehsana district on Wednesday overruled a lower court’s order of three-month jail term for Dalit rights activist and Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani and nine of his associates in a 2017 case. They had been booked for taking out “Azadi March,” a public rally, from Mehsana town to Dhanera in Banaskantha without police permission. The court termed the prosecution’s case “baseless” and acquitted all.
Additional sessions judge C.M Pawar exonerated Mevani and others by citing Article 19 of the Constitution, which confers the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression on citizens.
“Right of freedom enshrined in the Constitution is not only for academic purposes but in fact it is the founding stone of a democratic nation. In a democratic set-up, deliberations, discussions, debates and bona fide dissent against the policies of the government and even bona fide criticism of government inaction are essential to the existence of democracy in the nation,” the judge noted in the order.
The court further said, “But when the people of a nation are restrained from using their freedoms and their voices are suppressed by misusing the state mechanism, then such acts would defeat the core objective of the right of freedom enshrined in the Constitution of India.”
On May 5, 2022, a judicial magistrate in Mehsana held Mevani and others, including NCP functionary Reshma Patel and members of Mevani’s Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, guilty of being party to an unlawful assembly under Section 143 of the IPC. The magistrate had also imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 on each of the 10 convicts.
The cops had named 12 persons in the FIR, one of whom died, and one was absconding at the time of the trial. Setting aside the lower court’s order, the judge noted that there was no restriction imposed by the authorities by invoking Section 144 of the CrPC prohibiting gathering in public places and therefore the case of unlawful assembly is baseless.
Commenting on the high-handedness of the ruling dispensation, the court observed, “It would be worth to note that nowadays the misuse of power of statutory authorities and misuse of process of law to suppress the voice of people, and show dominance of power, is not unknown in every democratic set-up. Therefore, this court reminds all that it is the pious duty of the ruler of every democratic nation to protect the citizens’ right to freedom without any fear of criticism for survival of the ethos of democracy in the nation. In a democratic set-up, the elected leaders are not meant to rule over the people of the nation but in fact they are meant to serve the people of the nation.”
The court also held, “If in a democratic set-up, every dissent and peaceful protest is branded as an offence then the right to freedom will have no place in it.”
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