Days after having been bailed out by an Assam court, a magisterial court back home in North Gujarat’s Mehsana on Thursday convicted firebrand Dalit MLA Jignesh Mevani and nine others for holding a rally way back in July 2017 without police permission. Mevani, local NCP leader Reshma Patel and nine others were slapped with three-month imprisonment with a fine of Rs 1,ooo each.
Responding to the verdict, Mevani, who is an Independent legislator from Vadgam from Banaskantha district and is set to join the Congress party, told reporters, “I respect the decision of the court. We will challenge it in the Sessions Court.”
Thirteen persons were accused in the case, one of them died while the case of firebrand JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, who has joined the Congress, would be taken up later.
Issuing the order, the court of additional chief judicial magistrate J A Parmar passed the judgment and observed that “it is not an offence to hold a rally but it is an offence to hold a rally without permission”. The court also observed that “disobedience can never be tolerated”.
Mevani and his associates led an ‘Azadi Kooch’ from Mehsana to Dhanera of neighbouring Banaskantha district on July 12, 2017, to mark one year of the infamous public flogging of some Dalits in Una that had led to a large-scale agitation in the state.
Mevani’s Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) had planned the rally to Dhanera to coincide with the award of a piece of land to a Dalit family after a struggle of 50 long years and it was a result of Jignesh’s court cases.
Before the Una incident, Mevani, 42, a former journalist and lawyer used to fight long court battles for land rights for Dalits, while he has been a human rights activist standing up for all kinds of marginalised communities.
Kaushik Parmar, an associate of Mevani, had sought permission for the rally under the banner of RDAM, from the Mehsana executive magistrate and it was granted initially. Though the permission was withdrawn later, they went ahead with the rally.
Convicting the 10 accused, the court observed that they could have challenged the order of the executive magistrate before appropriate higher authorities and then held the rally after getting due permission.
After the rally, the Mehsana police registered a case of unlawful assembly against Mevani and others under Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) since they were not permitted to hold the march. The police submitted a charge sheet against 12 people in the case.
The rally was also attended by former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, who is now part of Congress. He is also one of the accused in the case.
But since Kumar was absent at the time of framing of the charge by the court against the accused in April last year, it had passed an order to hold a separate trial against him when he appears before the court.
The court commenced the trial against the 10, including Mevani, in April last year. It excluded another Kumar and another accused, who had died.
Last month, Mevani was arrested twice by the Assam Police on various charges. He was arrested from Gujarat’s Banaskantha district on April 20 and flown to Guwahati the next morning following a complaint filed by a BJP leader in Assam’s Kokrajhar district over a tweet against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On April 25, Mevani was granted bail by a Kokrajhar court, but was re-arrested in a fresh case filed in Barpeta district based on a complaint by a woman police officer who accused him of “assaulting” her and “outraging her modesty”. In the second case, he was granted bail last Friday and walked out of jail on Saturday and returned to Gujarat this week.