JNU student Devangana Kalita denied bail in riots case
A Delhi court on Saturday denied the bail plea of JNU student and Pinjra Tod member Devangana Kalita, who was arrested in connection with the north-east Delhi riots conspiracy case, being probed by the Delhi Police’s special cell.
The court said the statement of the ‘protected witnesses’ reflect the role of many accused persons, including Kalita, regarding the protest sites and how everything was being planned.
The court also said the right to freedom of speech and expression as assured by the Constitution is subject to reasonable restrictions. Delhi Police in their submissions have maintained that the riots were orchestrated by a few anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protesters, such as Kalita.
Additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat said Kalita had planned and participated in road blockades as part of the plan. He said their statements clearly point to the role of Kalita as well as other co-accused persons and various actions taken by them in pursuance to the conspiracy.
Kalita, lodged in Tihar jail along with another JNU student and Pinjra Todh member Natasha Narwal, was arrested by Delhi Police on May 23 in connection with a protest against the CAA in north-east Delhi’’s Jafrabad area in February. Police have named her as one of the main conspirators of the violence. He submitted that her location is also found at protest sites in Jafrabad at the time of the riots. At least 53 persons were killed and 400 others injured after clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims in February.
The special cell has named many anti-CAA voices such as Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi, Safoora Zargar, Gufisha Fatima, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Tahir Hussain in the conspiracy leading to the riots. The arrested persons have denied the charges and accused the police of launching a witch hunt against anti-CAA protesters.
“Since the present case is of a conspiracy resulting in riots, there are various individuals, organisations and groups which are interlinked and from the statements working in tandem. Thus, the statements or acts by the other co-conspirators in furtherance of the common object of the conspiracy will be admissible against the present accused Devangana, and the statements and evidence will have to be read in entirety since it is a case of conspiracy. Moreover, the assertion that the accused herself physically and directly did not resort to violence as understood in common parlance would not be germane in the context of various acts committed by different individuals including accused in the commission of riots,” the judge said in his 12-page order dated August 28.
Appearing for Kalita, her counsel Adit S Pujari had told the court that his client’s expression of dissent is not an offence under the law. He said that his client had a history of resorting to cause-based peaceful expression of dissent. He said that even the apex court, with respect to the protest at Shaheen Bagh, had observed that right to protest against the legislature is not taken away.
To this, the court said, “The said assertion, is correct to the extent that freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution of India grants her the power and right to voice her opinion about any legislation and thus, to peacefully protest. However, such a right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India is subject to reasonable restrictions.”
Appearing for the special cell, special public prosecutor Amit Prasad had contended that during the course of the investigation, technical and manual evidence revealed that Kalita played an important role in the days leading to the riots by way of road blocks, hate speeches, and instigating protesters to get violent against the Union government.
Kalita’s lawyer had earlier told the court that Kalita had only protested against the citizenship law and was not linked to the riots.
The police said she belonged to the organisation, Pinjra Tod, and that it had actively participated in anti CAA/NRC protests as well as in instigating the riots. Her name was also revealed during the interrogation of accused Gulfisha.