Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekCourts took a break from being conservative this week. MJ Akbar, FB...

Courts took a break from being conservative this week. MJ Akbar, FB sedition cases show

While judge Ravindra Pandey favoured women speaking up against abuse by powerful men, judge Dharmendra Rana reiterated sedition law can’t be used randomly.

Text Size:

The Indian judiciary has come under much criticism in recent months for being too conservative. Whether it is in the aftermath of Bhima Koregaon arrests or Article 370 abrogation in Jammu and Kashmir or anti-CAA protest – senior judges have been reminded again and again about what the Constitution guarantees to citizens in matters of personal liberty and dissent. But this week, two judges in subordinate courts in Delhi gained many fawning fans with their ruling on sedition and workplace sexual harassment. Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey weighed in favour of women speaking up against abuse by powerful men like M.J. Akbar, and Additional Sessions Judge Dharmendra Rana reiterated that the colonial-era sedition law cannot be indiscriminately used as a tool to muzzle dissent.

The two rulings came like a breath of fresh air from ‘the temple of justice’ amid a prevailing atmosphere of despondency. The two judges are, therefore, ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: ‘Seriously debatable’ — full text of Delhi court’s bail orders in sedition case for FB posts

Judiciary: the last bastion of hope

‘I will see you in court’, is not just an angry threat in India. The judiciary is literally seen as the last bastion of hope for beleaguered citizens seeking protection of their fundamental rights.

Despite the Supreme Court asserting several times the principle of “bail, not jail, is the rule,” courts have, in many recent cases, not shown alacrity in adhering to this legal proposition to decide bail petitions and safeguard civil liberty of individuals.

As such, the two recent judgments have been widely hailed as “a beacon of hope amid growing despair in the country,” “pathbreaking,” “landmark” and “judicious” by various voices on social media.

Also read: What is toolkit? Document key to tech-era protests that has landed Disha, Nikita in trouble

‘Right to reputation’ vs ‘woman’s right to dignity’

The judgment by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey, acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by M.J. Akbar, we can hope, will act as a deterrent to powerful men.

Judge Pandey, who in the past had convicted Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Somnath Bharti for obstructing a public servant in carrying out his duty, relied on the Supreme Court’s 1997 Vishakha judgment to extend a legal shield to women who have been sexually harassed at their workplace.

Through his judgment, he seems to have laid down a precedent for women to speak up against sexual harassment — irrespective of the time elapsed since the incident or the platform a woman chooses to raise her voice.

The verdict, although lacking in sufficient legal reasoning, is a winner for having declared that “the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman”.

Defamation suits are often employed as legal strategies against women who dare to speak out against sexual abuse — acting as a deterrent for the woman involved as well as for the women watching. It also discourages a woman from mustering courage to speak out against her perpetrators for want of adequate evidence, in case the matter reaches the court.

But judge Pandey’s verdict is a ray of hope, for it acknowledges that a woman who is a victim of sexual harassment will speak nothing but the truth, even if it is after decades.

Also read: Here’s the text of Justice Deepak Gupta’s speech on sedition law being abused and misused

Law cannot be used to ‘quieten the disquiet’

The judgment by Additional Sessions Judge Dharmendra Rana, who was hearing bail applications filed by two men charged with sedition over an allegedly fake Facebook video related to the farmers’ agitation, has also come as a hope for those raising their voice against institutional suppression.

While granting them bail, Judge Rana asserted that the sedition law cannot be used to “quieten the disquiet under the pretence of muzzling the miscreants”. He cited the Kedar Nath Singh judgment by the Supreme Court and held that since there was no incitement to disturbance of public peace in this case, it did not think sedition can be invoked.

The order is significant for two main reasons.

First, while the very existence of the colonial era sedition law is highly questionable in itself, its usage as a favourite weapon of governments to target opponents and critics is a well-known fact by now. But for a court to say that the law should not be used to “quieten the disquiet” is an acknowledgment that does not come through very often.

Second, the misuse of the sedition law often stems from ignoring the Supreme Court’s insistence on ‘incitement’ as a prerequisite to charge anybody with sedition.

In fact, the Supreme Court in 1995 even ruled that raising slogans such as ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ at a public place does not constitute any threat to the government and hence cannot attract the sedition charge.

So, at a time when sedition is being invoked against people for holding ‘Free Kashmir’ posters, raising slogans like “azaadi le ke rahenge” and even having a private phone conversation about the Army, judge Rana’s application of the judgment comes as a relief.

This is not the first time the Additional Sessions Judge has stuck to the rulebook. In January last year, he had stayed the execution of death warrant of one of the convicts in Nirbhaya gangrape case “till the path for the hanging of all four had not been cleared through the exhaustion of all available options.”

“The Courts of this country cannot afford to adversely discriminate against any convict, including death row convicts, in pursuit of his legal remedies, by turning a Nelson’s eye towards him,” he had noted in his order.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. There is something wrong with the title. Supporting freedom of speech is being ‘conservative’ – in the traditional sense. The notion that people should be silenced if they hold the ‘wrong’ opinions is the new liberalism aka being woke.

  2. I don’t see the dichotomy between conservative and liberal in these judgements. What I see are proper application of the mind. The well thought out statements put forth by the judges should be able to convince a conservative or liberal about the merits of the judgement and not just as the leanings of the judges or courts.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular