SC quashes case against academic for denouncing abrogation of Art 370, greeting Pak citizens on I-day

NEW DELHI — The time has come to enlighten and educate the police machinery about the concept of freedom of speech and expression, the Supreme Court has said and set aside an order of the Bombay High Court against an academic accused of criticising the abrogation of Article 370 that bestowed special status on Jammu and Kashmir and greeting the citizens of Pakistan on the country’s Independence Day.

The Maharashtra Police had registered an FIR against professor Javed Ahmed Hajam at Hatkanangale police station in Kolhapur under Section 153A (promotion of communal disharmony) of the Indian Penal Code for posting WhatsApp messages that denounced the abrogation of Article 370 and congratulated the people of Pakistan on their Independence day.

“August 5-Black Day Jammu and Kashmir” and “14th August-Happy Independence Day Pakistan,” he had written on WhatsApp.

“Now, the time has come to enlighten and educate our police machinery on the concept of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the extent of reasonable restraint on their free speech and expression. They must be sensitised about the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution,” a bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan said.

If a citizen of India extends good wishes to the citizens of Pakistan on 14th August, which is their Independence Day, there is nothing wrong with it, the apex court observed.

“Our country has been a democratic republic for more than 75 years. The people of our country know the importance of democratic values. Therefore, it is not possible to conclude that the words will promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups.

“The test to be applied is not the effect of the words on some individuals with weak minds or who see a danger in every hostile point of view. The test is of the general impact of the utterances on reasonable people who are significant in numbers,” the bench said.

Merely because a few individuals may develop hatred or ill will, it will not be sufficient to attract Section 153-A of the IPC, it said.

The court said continuation of the prosecution of the appellant for the offence punishable under Section 153-A of the IPC will be a “gross abuse” of the process of law.

“Accordingly, we set aside the impugned judgment dated April 10, 2023 of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay and quash the impugned FIR,” the bench said. — (PTI)