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Monday, November 28, 2022

Gauhati HC grants bail to writer who questioned martyr status of CAPF jawans killed by Maoist terrorists

Gauhati HC (High Court) granted bail to Assam-based writer Sikha Sarma who had questioned 22 CAPF jawans, who were killed by Maoist terrorists, being accorded the status of martyrs reports Live Law. The HC while granting bail on 19 April observed that prima facie Sarma had expressed her personal views regarding the use of the term swahid (martyr) for CAPF jawans who lost their lives in the line of duty during anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh.

The bail was granted by the bench of Justice Ajit Borthakur who observed “Taking note of the apprehension of threat to the health of the prisoners due to the ongoing second wave of novel Covid-19 pandemic, this Court is of the considered opinion that further continuation of detention of the accused petitioner, who is a woman, may not be necessary for the interest of the ongoing investigation.”

The FIR against Sarma says that her Facebook (FB) post of 5 April 2021 was disrespectful of the martyrs and maligned and disregarded their sacrifice by urging media not to generate public sentiments in their favor and not to refer to them as Swahids as they were drawing salaries for their services.

Sarma’s FB post states:

“A person who draws a salary for his service cannot be considered to be a martyr/swahid if he dies on duty. If it is so, then, an electrical worker who dies in an electric shock should also be considered as Swahid. News media, do not make the public emotional.”

The FIR further pointed out that the above comment by Sarma drew widespread public outrage from social media users since the nation was mourning the martyrdom of 22 jawans killed during the deadly anti-Maoist terrorist operation that took place in Chhattisgarh on 3 April 2021.

Defending the writer, her counsel submitted in the court that Sarma was a reputed author of Assamese books and a radio artist and also contended that her comments were neither anti-national nor attempted to create hatred, enmity, contempt, or disaffection towards the Government established by law. He also added that the term hasn’t been defined by the Home Ministry (MHA).

Quoting the defense counsel, Live Law says:

“Swahid/martyr” was not defined anywhere and presently the Ministry of Defence is not issuing any such order/notification to this effect in respect of the defense personnel.

Lastly, it was submitted that no such order/notification to this effect was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in respect of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) personnel who are killed in action while discharging their duties.

On his part, the additional Public Prosecutor (PP) of Assam submitted that the accused had exposed her mentality of demoralizing armed and para-military forces who had laid down their lives in the line of duty by questioning the use of the term Swahid or martyr for the Bravehearts killed by a militant outfit.

The court observed that the accused was arrested for the offence of sedition punishable under IPC Section 124A. It further added “this Section of the IPC, it may be pointed out, is not inconsistent with the fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and as such, the intention of the offender has to be gathered from the language used.”

Granting bail, the court noted that the comments made by Sarma through her social media account were her personal views and directed her to refrain from committing similar offences in the future.

This judgement throws light on the ease with which people who make anti-national comments are able to get away. Can MHA not defining the term martyr be used as an excuse to get away with such blatantly hurtful comments against those who’ve laid their lives fighting Maoist terrorists. Shouldn’t the courts be questioning the way in which people like Sarma are demeaning the sacrifice of the forces by insinuating that they are being paid for the same?

Such judgements show how different arms of the Bharatiya republic – executive, legislature, judiciary – are not aligned in respect of what defines ‘national interest’. Which other nation in the world would allow such disparaging/flippant remarks against its soldiers waging a war against a deadly enemy which wants to overthrow the State, to go unpunished?

(Featured Image Source: Live Law)

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