The Karnataka Police on Wednesday, 28 December, registered a First Information Report (FIR) against controversial BJP leader Pragya Singh Thakur for allegedly making a hate speech in Shivamogga three days ago.
Thakur, the BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Bhopal, is an accused in the Malegaon blast case and is out on bail on medical grounds.
The FIR came after much delay, with the Karnataka police entangling the complainants in bureaucratic red tape.
The two complainants in the case — political analyst and Congress sympathiser Tehseen Poonawalla and Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale — took to Twitter to explain the pushback they allegedly encountered from the Shivamogga police in getting the FIR registered against Thakur.
The Shivamogga Police registered the FIR under sections 153(A), 153(B), 268, 295(A), 298, 504, 508 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The sections deal with promoting enmity between groups on grounds of identity, including religion; imputations or assertions prejudicial to national integration; public nuisance; malicious acts intended to outraging religious sentiments; wounding religious feelings; intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace.
The FIR was finally booked on the basis of a complaint filed by Shivamogga District Congress leader HS Sundaresh.
This is a police complaint filed by my colleagues in Bengaluru against the latest hate speech by the habitual offender Pragya Thakur, the BJP MP from Bhopal. We urge the police to take action as per the law. If the police ignores we will petition the courts. pic.twitter.com/RIztP8YzMA
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) December 28, 2022
With the FIR finally registered, the police, which was present during Pragya Thakur’s Shivamogga event, said action would be soon taken.
“We will investigate now and verify the complaint. We have the videos of the speech and through them will probe whether anything objectionable was said,” Balaraj, Deputy SP, Shivamogga, told South First.
The Shivamogga speech
Addressing the south region annual convention of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, Thakur had urged to “respond to ‘Love Jihad’ in the same language. Keep your women safe and cultured. Keep weapons at home”.
“If nothing, then at least keep the knives you use to cut vegetables sharp,” she added, insisting that Hindus have the right to react against those attacking them and their dignity.
While referring to the alleged “killing of Hindu activists”, Thakur, 52, called upon the members of the majority Hindu community to keep their weapons ready.
“Let us also keep knives sharp. You never know what situation or when an opportunity arises. When our vegetables are chopped well, heads and faces of enemies too will be chopped well,” Thakur said.
She made the remarks while repeatedly referring to “Love Jihad”, a strategy that Hindutva leaders and followers accuse Muslim men of employing to lure non-Muslim women by feigning love and converting them to Islam.
Despite an outcry over the alleged hate speech, the police did not register a case against the lawmaker for three days.
Talking to South First on Monday, 26 December, Shivamogga district Superintendent of Police (SP) GK Mithun Kumar said no complaint had been received.
The FIR was registered based on Poonawalla’s complaint after he authorised a representative to personally appear before the police on his behalf.
Struggle to file a case against Pragya Thakur
The Shivamogga police initially insisted that no case would be registered unless there was a complaint.
After the two complaints were lodged via email, the police reportedly asked the complainants to appear in person for “verification”.
While Poonawalla complained against Pragya Thakur on Monday, 26 December, Gokhale lodged a separate one the next day.
While the Shivamogga police initially denied receiving any copy of the complaints till Tuesday evening, they sent notices to both Poonawalla and Gokhale, asking them to appear in person to complain by Tuesday night.
“After multiple follow-ups and sharing verified details of my identity and digital signature, Shivamogga SP still insisted that no FIR could be filed based on my complaint via email because they needed to verify my identity,” Poonawala told South First.
“This happened when he was speaking to me on my registered phone number and the complaint was sent via my verified email ID and I have a verified account on social media. I then authorised District Congress President HS Sundaresh Pavanagiri to meet the SP on my behalf and file a complaint,” he said.
“If this is the struggle someone like me — an educated, aware person from a decent background — has to go through to get an FIR registered, imagine the plight of a poor, hapless citizen,” Poonawala added.
Speaking to South First Shivamogga SP GK Mithun Kumar said the police had followed due process. “Under 154 CrPC a complainant has to appear in person and sign. There are no provisions to file an FIR based on e-mails without physical presence of the complainant. Whoever visits the police station with the complaint is named as ‘victim’ in the FIR,” he said.
Senior advocate refutes police version
According to Section 154 CrPC, the police should register an FIR without a magistrate’s permission, enter it in the general diary and launch an immediate probe once complaints against cognizable offences are received.
The IPC sections pointed out in the two complaints pertain to cognizable offences.
The CrPC also empowers the police to arrest the accused without a warrant by the First Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
K Diwakar, a Senior Advocate of the Karnataka High Court said the complainant’s physical presence is not required for registering an FIR.
“Even a letter to the SP by registered post or e-mail would suffice. In absentia communication can also be taken as FIR,” he told South First.
“These days, the Bengaluru police are even registering FIR based on complaints received through WhatsApp. What the Shivamogga police is telling is incorrect under provisions of the CrPC,” he added.
Update : the Shivamogga police sent me an email last night asking me to come down to sign the complaint I made against #PragyaThakur ji. Anyway I have authorized the Congress President Shri HS Sundaresh Pavanagiri to meet the @Shivamogga_SP & file the complaint on my behalf. pic.twitter.com/vVRaDnGBhz
— Tehseen Poonawalla Official 🇮🇳 (@tehseenp) December 28, 2022
Police accused of avoiding an FIR
Earlier, accusing the Karnataka Police and Shivamogga SP of protecting Thakur, Gokhale said on social media that the police had asked him, too, to appear in person to register an FIR.
Gokhale added that the complainant, who had flagged a cognizable offence, was not required to be present physically for registering the FIR.
“FIRs are registered even on anonymous tip-offs if an offence is disclosed,” he said.
The Trinamool Congress leader added that he had informed Shivamogga SP of approaching the Supreme Court “if the FIR isn’t registered against Pragya Thakur today (28 December)”.
There is no requirement for presence of complainant when a cognizable offense is disclosed.
FIRs are registered even on anonymous tip-offs if an offense is disclosed.
Have informed @Shivamogga_SP that I'll approach SC if FIR isn't registered against Pragya Thakur today.
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) December 28, 2022
A controversial figure
Thakur, aka Sadhvi Pragya, is an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts that had killed 10 people and injured more than 80 others. She is now out on bail on medical grounds.
She had deemed Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Godse a “patriot”, inviting condemnation even from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP MP had also mocked the death of former Maharashtra ATS chief Hemanth Karkare, who laid down his life in the line of duty during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
While she expressed regret in both instances, the BJP did not initiate any action against the Hindutva leader.
She courted controversy during the hijab row in Karnataka, saying only those feeling unsafe in their respective homes should wear the head covering.
The parliamentarian added that there was no need for a hijab when in the company of Hindus.
Thakur supported former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma after the latter’s controversial comment on Prophet Mohammad.
During the 2021 Covid-19 wave, the MP told BJP workers in Bhopal that consuming cow urine would help them recover from the infection.
She also made a controversial comment in December 2020, saying Shudras — lower castes — do not like to be called so because of their ignorance.