by Sruthisagar Yamunan
Published Jan 18, 2017 · 09:56 am. Updated Jan 18, 2017 · 10:52 am.
The Big Story: Taking hate crimes seriously
On January 12, the Bombay High Court granted bail to three men accused of murdering a Muslim engineer in Pune in June 2014. Apart from the murder charges, Vijay Gambhire, Ranjeet Yadav and Ajay Lalge, along with 17 others, were also booked for hate speech under section 153 A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits the promotion of enmity between groups on the basis of religion, race or language.
The accused men, who were members of the fringe Hindu Rashtra Sena group, had beaten engineer Riyaz Shaikh to death as he was on his way to dinner with a friend. As per the police chargesheet, the assailants had been provoked by a speech by Dhananjay Desai, the leader of the group, in which he wanted Hindu youth to take revenge on Muslims for the desecration of a Shivaji statue.
Granting bail to the accused is a normal procedure in any criminal case. In fact, time and again, the higher judiciary, and many human rights organisations, have argued that bail should be the rule and not the exception. Usually, the court imposes certain restrictions and grants the accused bail. The circumstances in which a person should be denied bail have been elaborated upon many times by the Supreme Court, including in 2010 in the Prasanta Kumar case, where it listed eight reasons. This included the existence of strong preliminary evidence against the accused, the gravity of the crime and the possible interference in the process of justice delivery if the accused is released.
In the case under consideration, the fact that the crime was fueled by religious hatred has been established strongly by the prosecution. It was a premeditated hate crime that targeted a member of a minority community. However, in what seems to be a bizarre justification to grant bail, this religious hatred behind the crime has been used as a sort of a mitigating factor.
“The applicants/accused had no other motive such as any personal enmity against the innocent deceased Mohsin,” the order stated. “The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused.”
By saying so, the judge has made hate crimes motivated by factors like religion and caste less heinous than those committed due to personal enmity. In fact, any society should treat hate crimes more seriously than those committed for personal motives as they pose a special threat to peace. If the lack of a personal motive is treated as a mitigating circumstance to grant bail or award a lenient sentence, it will only embolden groups that play with religious and caste emotions and render hate speech laws irrelevant.