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Umar Khalid’s speech ‘obnoxious, inciteful, unacceptable’: Observes Delhi HC

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: The Delhi high court ruled on Friday that one of former JNUSU president Umar Khalid’s statements during anti-CAA/NRC rallies in Maharashtra’s Amravati was “obnoxious, inciteful, and inappropriate.”

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The remark is included in a charge sheet submitted by the police against Khalid and many others in connection with a conspiracy case in the 2020 Delhi riots in the north east.

While asking the police answer to Khalid’s bail application, a bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar stated that such remarks had been made before.

“This is offensive, obnoxious. Don’t you think? These expressions being used, don’t you think they incite people? You say things like aapke purvaj angrezon ki dalali kar rahe the, you don’t think it is offensive? It is offensive, per se. This is not the first time that you have said so in this speech. You said this at least five times. It is almost as if we distinctly get the impression that it was only one particular community that fought for India’s independence,” the court said.

The court questioned if such utterances “foment” religious divisions between communities, and whether Mahatma Gandhi would have said something similar.

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“Don’t you think it foments religious ferment between groups? Did Gandhiji ever employ this language? Did Shaheed Bhagat Singh ever employ such language, even against the English? Did he? Is this what Gandhiji taught us that we can use intemperate language about people and their purvaj? We have no qualms about permitting free speech, but what are you saying?” the court said.

The comments were made while Khalid’s lawyers read aloud the words of the Amravati speech in an attempt to overturn a trial court’s refusal of bail.

A trial judge refused Khalid bail on March 24, stating that the charges against him are “prima facie true.”

The court asked whether the right to free speech extends to making “obnoxious statements,” and whether it does not attract the provisions of 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code, when Khalid’s counsel said these were individual opinions of a person and were in no way intended to incite hatred among people.

“All we can say is that prima facie this is not acceptable… Everything else may be acceptable within the four corners of democracy and free speech, this is not acceptable,” justice Mridul said.

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The police have three days to file a response, and the case has been set for hearing on April 27.

Khalid has been charged with being the suspected “mastermind” of the February 2020 riots, which left 53 people dead and over 400 injured, under the anti-terror statute known as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

In addition to Umar Khalid, activist Khalid Saifi, JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia coordination committee members Safoora Zargar, and former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain have been charged.

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