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Will allow Sakal Hindu Samaj event if it commits to no hate speech, Maharashtra govt tells SC

Sakal Hindu Samaj organised rally at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park on 29 January where, according to petitioner, calls were made to boycott Muslims.

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New Delhi: The Maharashtra government Friday gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court that it will permit Sakal Hindu Samaj to hold its proposed meeting on 5 February, subject to the organisation giving an assurance that none of the organisers or attendees will make any hate speech, act in defiance of law or disturb the public order.

The Sakal Hindu Samaj is an apex body of Hindu-nationalist groups which has been organising protests against cases of inter-faith marriages and religious conversion.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made the submission on behalf of the Maharashtra government before a bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and J.B. Pardiwala hearing a petition which sought a ban on the proposed meeting. Filed by one Shaheen Abdullah, the petition drew the top court’s attention to a similar meeting organised on 29 January at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park where anti-Muslim hate speeches were made.

Apprehensive of a repeat of the incident, Abdullah moved the court with a request to direct the Maharashtra Police to invoke Section 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc) which empowers the police to make arrests to prevent the commission of a cognizable offence.

Upon getting an undertaking from the Solicitor General, the bench ordered the state to also videograph the event and submit a report to the court. The police inspector of the area should make a video recording of the meeting and make its contents available to the court, the judges stated.

The bench even directed police officers to invoke Section 151 of the CrPc to prevent a law-and-order situation if the need arose in case permission is given to Sakal Hindu Samaj to hold the event. This direction was given despite Mehta’s opposition to the plea made by the petitioner.

Warning against a repeat of the Dharam Sansads held in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh last year where speakers allegedly made hate speeches against Muslims, Justice KM Joseph told Mehta that the court “cannot allow a replica” of the Dharam Sansads.

During the hearing, Mehta criticised the petitioner for “selectively” taking up causes. He questioned Abdullah’s locus standi, considering that the latter was a resident of Kerala while the event is to be held in Maharashtra.

“Now these selective cases are being filed. Can this august forum be abused like this,” Mehta wondered. He claimed individuals were choosing causes and coming to the court, asking for bans on events in different parts of the country. “Can this (Supreme Court) be converted into an authority which grants permission for meetings,” the Solicitor General asked the bench.

Abdullah’s plea contended that calls for economic and social boycott of Muslims were raised in several rallies organised across Maharashtra. Such mass rallies also feature children which the state government knows about, he asserted.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Abdullah, alleged that the event held in Mumbai on 29 January by the Sakal Hindu Samaj featured open calls to kill Muslims by an MLA of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Though Mehta acknowledged the remarks made in the earlier events were distasteful, he advised the court to be very careful in passing an order that could amount to a “pre-censorship”. “If someone is prevented from voicing their view then there will be a prevention of Article 19(1)(a),” he argued.

In response, the bench told Mehta that the court “may be reluctant” to pass any prohibitory orders. However, the court said that the state government must ensure that no rash statements are made and steps are taken to maintain vigil during the planned meeting.

The court also asked Mehta to submit a response to Abdullah’s allegations regarding the alleged hate speech made on 29 January at the event organised in Mumbai by the Sakal Hindu Samaj. Mehta assured the bench that a statement would be filed as to what transpired at the event.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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