Goa Professor allowed anticipatory bail, court frowns on police response to ‘hurt religious sentiment’

Goa based academic Shilpa Singh, Assistant Professor at the VM Salgaocar College of Law has been granted anticipatory bail by the Additional Sessions Judge, Panaji

Goa Professor allowed anticipatory bail, court frowns on police response to ‘hurt religious sentiment’

Sanjukta Basu

Dec 1, 2020,

North Goa, E-Courts

Case number 280/2020

Goa based academic Shilpa Singh, Assistant Professor at the VM Salgaocar College of Law has been granted anticipatory bail by the Additional Sessions Judge, Panaji. In the judgment the Court observed lapses by ABVP and other complainants and the State police.

Singh was booked under section 295A of Indian Penal Code for allegedly “hurting religious sentiments” in her Facebook post made on 21st April 2020 where she said the following:

“I don’t know since childhood I see chained dog when I see women in mangalsutra and I see covered electronics in Indian middle class households when I see woman in Hijab/Burkha.”

The FIR was registered against her more than six-months later on the basis of a complaint dated 29th October 2020 by one Rajiv Jha of Rashtriya Hindu Yuva Vahini. Jha’s complaint came weeks after RSS’s student wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had lodged complaint with Salgaocar College alleging Singh of promoting “socially hateful thoughts” “hate speech” during her online lectures. The ABVP had also threatened the college with serious consequences if she was not terminated from her job within 24 hours.

The College however stood by her and asked ABVP to produce evidence as to how and by whom was her online lecture illegally recorded and passed on to ABVP. Unable to get their way with Singh, who remained defiant and unapologetic, and with her College also standing by her, the right wing groups dug out an old post of April 2020 citing which fresh complaint was lodged with the police.

Singh then moved the Court for anticipatory Bail.

Granting relief in her favour vide Order dated 1st December 2020, the Sessions Court observed that Shilpa Singh is a Professor in a Law College, a Goa resident for last many years and a case for her likelihood of jumping bail was not made out; the offence she was charged with is not of grave nature; she is willing to cooperate with the investigation; and custody is not required to investigate her motives.

On the Investigating Officer’s submission that Singh’s post (even though it was deleted) may disturb communal harmony of the state and might create law and order problem the Court said:

“The post is of the month of April 2020 and today we are in the month of December. Till now no such incident has taken place of law and order problem.”

The mechanical ways in which such cases are being filed by right wing groups and police following a standard format was evident to the Court which observed, “It appears that the Investigating Officer has just pasted the say of some other bail application in this matter or maybe there is a typographical error by addressing applicant as ‘his’ instead of ‘her’ in his say.”

Another observation made in the judgement also shows how right wing groups with ABVP at the forefront have been trying to harass Shilpa Singh without substantial evidence. The Order notes,

“The Akhil Bharathi Vidyarthi Parishad(sic) have not furnished the said evidence sought by the college nor have replied to the letter of the college dated 31.10.2020. However, the Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad have lodged the present complaint dated 29.10.2020 on the post that was posted on the Face Book by the applicant in the month of April i.e. on 21.04.2020 (sic).”

The Salgaocar College has reserved their right to take appropriate legal actions against ABVP for threatening violence, noted the Order.

The anticipatory bail Order is definitely a relief, and a positive feeling that the voice of a strong woman and political dissent cannot be silenced,” said a close aide of Prof Singh.

Speaking about the ordeal Prof Singh had to face, Prof Rahul Tripathi, Head of the Department of Political Science, Goa University said, “The first time this happened, when ABVP created an issue, we instantly knew we had to stand by her side. She is part of our fraternity, we are teachers of political science, politics is about change, you have to encourage young minds to engage in critical thinking. ABVP had no locus standi to comment upon what is taught in a classroom and how.”

Prof Tripathi has been part of a group of academics and civil society members who mobilized support for Singh when the FIR was filed against her and wrote a petition to the Goa Governor. “The College, University, Academics all stood by her the first time, they probably did not anticipate the support. Then they came back again with an FIR. Things like police and FIRs, gave us a pause, but we fought our fears and changed our strategy, we knew a civil society message have to go out. These are methods to create fear psychosis upon young impressionable minds. Fear is seeping in too. But we have to fight our internal fears,” he said.

“Right wing vigilante groups are misusing laws. They just shoot and scoot, scary headlines are splashed all over creating a chilling effect, but there is no follow up. We need such empowering headlines too, that she got relief,” said a lawyer expressing relief on her bail.

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