A Barnala court on Thursday discharged publisher Amit Mittar and poet-editor Jagjeet Singh Sahoke, who had been jailed for several days in September last year for reprinting works of legendary kavishari writer Babu Rajab Ali (1894-1979) that carried caste-denoting words.
Dharminder Kumar of Delhi-based Shiv Shakti Printers also got the clean chit in the case from additional district and sessions judge BS Sandhu. The court agreed with defence lawyer Rahul Gupta, who underlined that the texts had been printed by several publishers over the years and even prescribed in educational institutes run by the government. The use of caste words had been in the historical context, not as an intention to hurt feelings, he added.
The case had been registered under Section 153A (promoting enmity between groups) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and also under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act on a complaint by then Barnala deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Harmik Singh Deol on September 15, three days after some groups protested against the texts in Moga.
The Barnala court further noted that the mandatory nod from the state government to impose Section 153 had also not been submitted, if taken at all.
An identical case was registered at Samana (Patiala) against publisher Ashok Garg and poet-editor Sukhwinder Singh Swatantar. That case is still on.
While the editors and publishers were arrested and spent nearly two weeks in Barnala and Patiala jails, their common printer was named but not arrested.
HT had also reported that caste-denoting words were part of many historical texts, including some holy books. Experts had pointed out how the context held the key to usage of such words in texts of a certain time.
Also, the editors in both cases were from a Scheduled Caste (SC), thus not to be charged under the SC/ST Act - a fact stressed by the Punjab State SC/ST Commission right from the start of the case.
Talking to HT, Mittar reiterated that he was vindicated since he had merely done his duty as a publisher by printing historical texts already in public domain. "But this is no time to celebrate. The fact remains that innocent people were jailed and harassed by the state machinery. Now, the government and its wings have a lot to explain," he added, hinting at possible legal recourse.
The verdict gave hope to Samana publisher Ashok Garg, whose case is listed for next hearing in the Patiala district court for July 15. Garg and his co-accused have also moved the high court seeking quashing of the FIR; the next hearing is on July 10.
*Some groups protest in Moga on September 12 against caste-denoting words in texts of pre-Independence writer-singer Babu Rajab Ali
* 3 days later, cops file cases on complaints by own officers in Barnala, and also at Samana in Patiala (latter case still on); arrest editors, publishers and charge printer too
*Experts across region protest through media releases; underline how Ali's books are not new, historical texts including Guru Granth Sahib, have caste words
*Eight months on, court in Barnala refuses to even frame charges, seeing no merit in case