New Delhi: After spending two years in jail, facing three charge sheets, getting married, developing ‘Covid symptoms’, allegedly being beaten up by fellow inmates and claiming that the prosecution was deriving “sadistic pleasure” by increasing the duration of her incarceration, former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan was granted bail Monday in connection with an FIR over a conspiracy to hatch the Delhi riots.
Jahan was initially arrested under another FIR related to the February 2020 riots but was granted bail in that case on 21 March 2020. On the same day, however, she was arrested in this conspiracy FIR, which alleges that “the riots that took place in Delhi were a pre-planned conspiracy” and that “the conspiracy to spread these riots was hatched by JNU student Umar Khalid and his associates”.
In September 2020, an over 17,000-page charge sheet was filed in the case. This charge sheet said Jahan has a “mass base” in her constituency and that under the label of “a leading female face for mass mobilization”, she allegedly “occupied the highest local pedestal”.
Another 197-page-long charge sheet was filed in October 2020, building the case against Khalid and JNU student Sharjeel Imam. A third charge sheet was filed in the case in February this year.
However, additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat Monday asserted that “as per the chargesheet and the statement of witnesses, accused Ishrat Jahan is not the one who created the idea of chakka-jam”.
“She is also not a member of any of the organizations or incriminating Whatsapp group which plays a role in the entire conspiracy. She not a member of Muslims Students of JNU (MSJ) or Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) or any of the four Whatsapp groups created by JCC, or Pinjra Tod, or Students of Jamia (SOJ) or Alumni Association of Jamia Milia (AAJMI), or DPSG. It is also not the case of the prosecution that she attended any meetings called by any of these organizations,” the court further noted.
‘Sadistic pleasure’: Why it took a year for bail order
In the two years since she was arrested, Jahan was granted interim bail for 10 days to get married in June 2020. On completion of her interim bail period, she had sought an additional seven days’ bail on the ground that she had “developed symptoms” after her husband came in contact with a Covid-19 positive person.
However, the court denied her request, referring to “doctor’s opinion and nature of offence” to hold that a case for extension of bail was not made out in Jahan’s favour.
In December 2020, she told the court that she was beaten badly by inmates at Mandoli jail and was continuously facing harassment in prison. According to the court order, Jahan told the court “that she has been beaten today badly by other inmates and she is facing harassment and regular beatings at the hands of inmates. She has mentioned the name of one lady Pooja @ Golden and Gulshan and it is stated that she is a lesbian and her activity are very obnoxious. She fears her safety from the said inmates (sic)”.
Judge Amitabh Rawat had then directed the jail superintendent to file a detailed reply on the allegations and the steps taken by him. “The Jail Superintendent shall also ensure that all safety and security measures for the present accused are taken, in view of the allegations of threat, harassment and physical harm by other ladies inmates,” the court directed.
She then approached the court with a regular bail application on merits in March 2021. In response, additional public prosecutor Amit Prasad argued that her bail application was not maintainable, claiming that it was filed under the wrong provisions of law.
During a hearing in August 2021, Jahan’s lawyer told the court that the prosecution was deriving “sadistic pleasure” by increasing the duration of her incarceration by arguing that her bail application was filed under the wrong provisions. Her lawyer pointed out that the prosecution had failed to raise this technical objection earlier and was now raising it after the court had already heard his arguments on the plea.
However, after having argued the plea for months, Jahan, along with a few other co-accused, had to file fresh bail applications in September owing to the prosecution’s objections.
‘Not physically present in NE Delhi for riots’
In the order granting her bail, the court now noted that according to the charge sheet, “taken at face value, there was a premeditated conspiracy of the disruptive chakka-jam and a preplanned protest at 23 different planned sites in Delhi which was to escalate to confrontational chakka-jam and incitement to violence and resulting in riots”.
It said that the “weapons used, manner of attack and the destruction caused shows it to be preplanned”.
Judge Rawat observed that the entire conspiracy case allegedly involves “various groups and individuals, who coordinate with each other in carrying out the confrontational chakka-jam in the guise of protest”, which resulted into the riots.
He then went on to point out that Jahan was involved in the protest site at Khureji, which was one of the protest sites against Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens, but is not located in Northeast Delhi, where the riots took place.
“It (Khureji) does not appear to be contiguous to North-East Delhi,” the court said. “Even if it is accepted that she had connectivity with the other accused persons, yet the fact remains that she was neither physically present in North-East Delhi for riots nor was she was part of any group, organization or Whatsapp groups or her name cropped up in flurry of calls or in any CCTV footage or in any of the conspiratorial meetings,” it said.
She was, therefore, granted bail subject to her furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000, along with two local sureties.
The court also directed that she shall neither leave Delhi without the court’s permission, nor indulge in any kind of criminal activity. Among other things, the bail conditions also include a bar on her tampering with any evidence or contacting any witness.
First bail by trial court
Filed on 6 March 2020, this FIR No. 59 of 2020 was initially registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 147, 148, 149 and 120(B), which relate to rioting, armed with deadly weapons and unlawful assembly. All of these sections are bailable.
After the case was transferred to the Special Cell, IPC sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 124 A (sedition), and 153A (promoting enmity between different communities on grounds of religion) were also added to the FIR, along with sections under the Arms Act.
On 21 April 2021, the police added sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to the FIR. These sections pertain to offences of unlawful activity, commission of a terrorist act, collecting funds for a terrorist act and conspiracy for committing a terrorist act, respectively.
A total of 18 people have been accused in this FIR. These include Jahan, Imam, former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain, Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, Jamia Coordination Committee Media Coordinator Safoora Zargar, and activists Gulfisha Fatima and Tasleem Ahmed.
Jahan is the first person in the case to get bail on merits by the trial court. In June last year, the Delhi High Court had granted bail to Kalita, Narwal and Tanha. However, within days the Supreme Court intervened. While it did not interfere with the bail order, it said that the high court’s interpretation of UAPA “shall not be treated as a precedent” until it hears the case.
Zargar was also granted bail in June 2020. However, this wasn’t on merits but on purely “humanitarian grounds”, since the 27-year-old was pregnant at the time.