A New Delhi court on Saturday granted bail to Delhi University Associate Professor Ratan Lal, arrested for alleged objectionable remarks on social media related to claims of a 'Shivling' at Varanasi's Gyanvapi mosque, saying his post, though reprehensible, does not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities.
The court directed Lal to 'strictly refrain from posting any social media posts or interviews regarding the controversy which resulted in the present FIR', while allowing his release on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and one surety of the like amount.
Lal was arrested on Friday night by the Delhi Police under Indian Penal Code sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 295A (deliberate act to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion).
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Siddhartha Malik said that the feeling of hurt felt by an individual cannot represent the entire group or community and any such complaint regarding hurt feeling has to be seen in its context, considering the entire spectrum of facts and circumstances.
The court said that the Indian civilisation is one of the oldest in the world and is known to be tolerant and accepting of all religions, adding that the presence or absence of intention to create animosity by words was subjective in nature as was the perception of the recipient who reads or hears a statement.
'India is a country of more than 130 crore people and any subject can have 130 crore different views and perceptions,' it said.
The court noted that the social media post of Lal, who teaches History at the Hindu College, may appear to be a failed attempt at satire regarding a controversial subject that has backfired, resulting in the FlR.
It further noted that the accused, in personal life, was a proud follower of the Hindu religion.
'For another person, the same post can appear to be shameful but may not incite the feeling of hatred towards another community. Similarly, different persons may consider the post differently without being enraged and may in fact feel sorry for the accused to have made an unwanted comment without considering the repercussions,' the court said.
It noted that it was true that the accused did an act that was avoidable considering the sensibilities of persons around the him, and the public at large.
'However, the post, though reprehensible, does not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities,' the court said.
The judge, meanwhile, said that the anxiety of police could be understood as the police are tasked to maintain peace and order and at the slightest hint of unrest would come into action to prevent the situation from going out of hand.
However, the court has to employ higher standards while considering the need to send a person to custody, it said.
'The present accused is a person of good repute with no criminal antecedent and there is no likelihood of the accused fleeing the course of law.
'In view of the aforesaid, the court sees no need to send the accused to judicial custody,' the judge said.
During the argument, the defence counsel told the court that the accused had no intention to hurt the religious feeling of any person or group and he had simply made a light-hearted comment on a matter which was still pending before various courts in the country.
The prosecution opposed the bail plea and sought his judicial custody, saying that the Facebook post was 'clearly meant to incite hatred between religious groups'.
It said the accused had given various interviews after the post where he has again made the same derogatory remarks.
An FIR was lodged against Lal on Tuesday night based on a complaint filed by a Delhi-based lawyer.
In his complaint, advocate Vineet Jindal alleged that Lal had recently shared a 'derogatory, inciting and provocative tweet on the Shivling'.
Left-affiliated All India Students Association (AISA) activists on Saturday staged a protest outside Delhi University's Arts Faculty against the arrest of Lal.