A city court on Saturday granted bail to University of Delhi associate professor Ratan Lal, who was arrested for alleged social media misconduct related to allegations of a ‘Shivling’ at the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, saying his message, while objectionable, does not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities.
The court ordered Lal to strictly refrain from posting any social media posts or interviews regarding the controversy that resulted in this FIR, while allowing his release on the posting of a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and a bond of a similar amount.
Lal was arrested on Friday night by Delhi police under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. , and performing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony) and 295A (deliberate act of outraging the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion).
Metropolitan Chief Magistrate Siddhartha Malik said that the sense of hurt experienced by an individual cannot represent the whole group or community and any such complaint about the sense of hurt must be seen in context, considering all the facts and circumstances.
The court said that Indian civilization is one of the oldest in the world and is known to be tolerant and accepting of all religions, adding that the presence or absence of intention to create animosity by words was subjective in nature, as is the perception of the recipient who reads or hears a statement.
India is a country of over 130 million people and any subject can have 130 million different opinions and perceptions, he said.
The court noted that the social media post of Lal, who teaches history at the Hindu College, may appear to be a failed attempt to satirize a controversial topic that has backfired, dragging down the FlR.
She further noted that the defendant, in his personal life, was a proud follower of the Hindu religion.
For another person, the same message may seem shameful but cannot incite feelings of hatred towards another community. Likewise, different people may view the message differently without being furious and may actually feel sorry that the accused made an unwanted comment regardless of the repercussions, the court said.
She noted that it was true that the defendant had committed an act that was avoidable given the sensitivity of those around him and the general public.
However, the message, while objectionable, does not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities, the court heard.
The judge, on the other hand, said that the anxiety of the police could be understood because the police are responsible for maintaining peace and order and that at the slightest sign of unrest they would spring into action to prevent the situation does not get out of control.
However, the court must apply higher standards while taking into account the need to send a person into custody, he said.
The current accused is a reputable person with no criminal history and there is no likelihood that the accused will flee the course of the law.
“In view of the above, the court sees no need to commit the defendant to custody,” the judge said.
During oral argument, the defense attorney told the court that the defendant had no intention of hurting the religious sentiment of any person or group and merely made a light-hearted comment about a case that was still pending in various courts around the country.
The prosecution objected to the bail plea and requested his custody, saying the Facebook post was clearly intended to incite hatred between religious groups.
He said the accused gave various interviews after the post where he again made the same derogatory remarks.
An FIR was filed against Lal on Tuesday evening based on a complaint filed by a Delhi-based lawyer.
In his complaint, attorney Vineet Jindal alleged that Lal had recently shared a “derogatory, inciting and provocative tweet about the Shivling”.
On Saturday, activists from the left-wing All India Students Association (AISA) staged a protest outside Delhi University’s Faculty of Arts against Lal’s arrest.
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