A magisterial court in Mehsana, Gujarat, on Thursday, 5 May, sentenced Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani and nine others to three months' imprisonment for holding a rally from Mehsana in July 2017 without prior police permission. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Reshma Patel was also among those convicted. All the convicts were also fined Rs 1,000 each.
This comes days after an Assam court granted bail to Congress' Mevani in a 'manufactured' assault case. The Gujarat MLA had first been arrested in connection with a case over tweets on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate JA Parmar, who passed the judgment, said, "It is not an offence to hold a rally, but it is an offence to hold a rally without permission," reported The Indian Express. The court further said that "disobedience can never be tolerated."
The court said while pronouncing the judgment that the 10 accused could have challenged the order of the executive magistrate before appropriate higher authorities and then held the rally after receiving due permission.
Mevani later issued a statement on his official Twitter account, saying, "The "Azadi Kooch" rally was supposed to be held to demand intervention of the Gujarat government to reclaim the rightful land allotted to Dalits which was illegally occupied by goons and anti-social elements."
More About the Rally
Mevani and his associates had taken out an 'Azadi Kooch' from Mehsana to Dhanera in the neighbouring district of Banaskantha on 12 July 2017 to mark one year of the public flogging of some Dalits in Una.
Kaushik Parmar, one of Mevani's associates, had sought permission for the rally from the Mehsana executive magistrate under the banner of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch. The permission was initially granted but revoked by the authorities later. However, the rally was still held by the organisers.
After the rally, the Mehsana Police registered a case under Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for unlawful assembly against Mevani and others as they hadn't been granted permission to hold the march. The police had also submitted a charge sheet against 12 people in the case.
Former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, who is now part of the Congress party, had also attended the rally.
The framing of charges by the court had taken place in April 2021. However, Kumar was absent during the same. The court had passed an order to hold a separate trial against him when he appeared before the court.
The trial against the 10 accused began in April 2021. It excluded Kumar and another accused, who had died.
Mevani's Full Statement on Twitter
"Along with my colleagues, I have been sentenced to three months of imprisonment by a magisterial court in Mehsana of Gujarat for holding a rally without permission in 2017.
"The "Azadi Kooch" rally was supposed to be held to demand intervention of the Gujarat government to reclaim the rightful land allotted to Dalits which was illegally occupied by goons and anti-social elements.
"As a result of the march, thousands of landless Dalits got possession of their rightful land after 49 years. Taking this forward, more than 1500 acres of illegally occupied land worth Rs 300 crore was reclaimed for Dalits of Gujarat. Land for Landless Dalits was Babasaheb Ambedkar's last unfulfilled dream, and it is an honour to have the privilege of making his dream for an equal India come true."
"It is an irony that despite laws like the Land Grabbing Act and Atrocities Act in force, instead of those illegally occupying the land of poor Dalits, the BJP government's priority is to go after those who fight for poor landless Dalits."
"We respect the judgement of the lower court, but we will challenge this in the higher courts. For the record, I have no regrets whatsoever, and I will readily do this all over again, if needed, for the rights of my Dalit brothers and sisters.
"I do hope, and hope is all I can, that the same vigour with which the anti-Dalit BJP government is targeting me case after case is also shown to 1. to give justice to lakhs of students whose careers are ruined because of paper leaks, 2. form a fair SIT to investigate thousands of crores of drugs worth drugs being peddled into our Gujarat, 3. catch scamsters who have fled the country with thousands of crores of hardworking Indians' money.
"Our fight for the allotment of rightful land to the landless Dalit will continue as ever, irrespective of where I am and if I am.
(With inputs from The Indian Express.)