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Bombay HC Rejects Professor’s Plea to Quash FIR Over WhatsApp Status on Article 370

The Bombay High Court has ruled that critical or dissenting views on sensitive matters that affect the emotions of different groups of people should be based on proper analysis and reasoning.

The court said this while rejecting a plea by a professor to quash an FIR against him for posting a WhatsApp status on Article 370.

The professor had posted a status message about the revocation of Article 370, which removed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

The court observed that the professor had done so in a very casual manner without giving any reasons or making any critical analysis.

The petition was filed by Javed Ahmed Hajam, a 26-year-old professor from Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, who was working at a college in Kolhapur.

He was booked by Hatkanangale police station in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district under section 153 A of the IPC for promoting enmity.

According to the FIR, Mr Hajam had put a status on his WhatsApp between August 13 and 15, 2022 saying ‘August 5 Black Day Jammu & Kashmir’ with a message below saying ‘Article 370 was abrogated, we are not happy’ and ‘14th August Happy Independence Day Pakistan’.

Mr Hajam had argued in his petition that he had not circulated any messages that would create enmity or disharmony or hatred between religions. He claimed that he had only expressed his view on his WhatsApp status.

However, the bench of Justices S B Shukre and M M Sathaye did not agree with him. The court said that the first status message on Article 370 amounted to an offence under section 153A of the IPC, but the second status message on Pakistan’s Independence Day did not.

The court said that in a democratic country like India where there is freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, every word of criticism and every view of dissent is important for maintaining democracy.

But the court added that in sensitive matters, any criticism or dissent should be done after evaluating the pros and cons of the situation and providing reasons for it.

The court said that this is more important when the emotions and sentiments behind a particular thing or aspect being criticised are strong and varied among different groups of people.

The court said that in such cases, the criticism or dissent should be based on logic and rationale rather than emotions.

The court said that when the appeal is to reason, there is less possibility of stirring up emotions, but when the appeal is to emotions, reason becomes the casualty.

The court said that when reason falls victim to emotions, it leads to ill-will, hatred, public disturbance and negativity.

The court refused to quash the FIR and dismissed Mr Hajam’s petition.

The court stated in its order that the petitioner (Mr Hajam) had posted a message on WhatsApp about the central government’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution without giving any justification or critical assessment.

The court observed that this message could provoke the emotions of various groups of people in India who have different opinions and feelings about the status of Jammu and Kashmir in India and hence, one has to be careful in such a domain.

The court said that any critique should be based on a thorough evaluation of the situation and its advantages and disadvantages and supported by reason.

The court acknowledged that in a democratic country like India where freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 is a fundamental right, every expression of criticism and dissent is vital for keeping democracy healthy.

However, the court also said that in sensitive matters, any criticism or dissent should be made after a proper analysis of the entire situation and should explain the reasons behind it.

The court said that this was especially important when the criticism involved something or some aspect that evoked strong emotions and sentiments among different groups of people.

The court said that in such a scenario, the criticism, disagreement, difference of opinion, dissent, or whatever one may call it, should be made after a deep analysis and with reasons so that the critique appeals to the reason, logic and rationale of the groups of people and not to their emotions.

The court added that when the appeal is to the reason, there is less chance of stirring up emotions, but when the appeal is to the emotions, then the reason suffers.

The high court said that when emotions overpower reason, it leads to animosity, hatred, public disorder and negativity everywhere.

The court, however, observed that the second status congratulating Pakistan on its Independence Day did not fall under section 153A of the IPC as “no sensible person with a strong mind would find anything wrong in wishing other countries on their Independence Day without rejecting the celebration of one’s own country’s Independence Day”.

The bench did not cancel the FIR and rejected Mr Hajam’s plea.

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