A Delhi court on Tuesday granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, saying there was nothing on record to suggest she had subscribed to any secessionist ideas. In his order, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana also called the evidence against Ravi “scanty and sketchy”, adding that he found no reason to breach the general rule of bail.
As the day began at the court, journalists hung around, straining their ears to catch whispers about the time of the hearing. An occasional distraction would come by in the form of a dancing peacock, but the tension was palpable. Nobody in the assembled crowd was ready to speculate on the most obvious question: will Disha get bail today?
The verdict finally landed at 3.55 pm. No sooner had the words “Disha Ravi has been granted bail” left the judge’s lips that the journalists ran downstairs to get her reaction. Disha was seated between her lawyers, wearing a black mask with a rainbow on the outside. She may have smiled, but we could not see it. Her eyes looked tired as she slowly scanned the room. She wore a grey sweater with sleeves extending over her hands. She cracked her knuckles throughout, even as she shared a brief laugh with her lawyer. She lay her head on her relative’s shoulder for a moment before being escorted away.
The prosecution had argued that the main intention of the toolkit tweeted by Swedish climate advocate Greta Thunberg that Disha is accused of “editing and sharing” was to “incite disaffection towards the government established by law in India and was directly linked to a secessionist group involved in seditious activities against India”.
But the court said in its order that there was “absolutely no link established” between Disha and Sikhs for Justice, alleged by the police to be a secessionist group based in the United States, and neither had the prosecution proved Kisan Ekta Collective, a volunteer group of people in the US, UK and Canada, was a group with any “seditious agenda”.
Additionally the additional solicitor general had admitted that the Poetic Justice Foundation was not a banned organisation and that no criminal action was pending against its founders Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal.
“In my considered opinion, it is not mere engagement with persons of dubious credentials which is indictable rather it is the purpose of engagement which is relevant for the purpose of deciding culpability,” the judge said in his order. “As long as the engagements or interaction remains within the four corners of law, people interacting with such persons, ignorantly, innocently or for that matter even fully conscious of their dubious credentials, cannot be painted with the same hue.”
The judge also stated that there was nothing on record to suggest that “there was any call, incitement, instigation, or exhortation on the part of the applicant and the above said organizations and its associates to foment violence on 26.01.2021”.
He added, “In my considered opinion, citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic Nation. They cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree with the State policies. The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments...Even our founding fathers accorded due respect to the divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right. ”
Regarding Disha’s role as the editor of the toolkit, the judge unequivocally said the mere creation of a WhatsApp group or the editing of an innocuous toolkit was not an offence. He said,
“Since the link with the said toolkit or Poetic Justice Foundation has not been found to be objectionable, mere deletion of the WhatsApp chat to destroy the evidence linking her with the toolkit and PJF also becomes meaningless.”
The court further added that any attempt by Disha to conceal her identity seems to be nothing more than an anxious effort to stay away from unnecessary controversies.
While the court acknowledged the difficulty in collecting evidence for cases of conspiracy, it said, “The investigating agency made a conscious choice to arrest the applicant accused upon the strength of material so far collected and now they cannot be permitted to further restrict the liberty of a citizen on the basis of propitious anticipations.”