Ratan Lal, a history professor with Delhi University's Hindu College who was arrested last night over a social media post that appeared to question claims of a 'Shivling' found inside Varanasi's Gyanvapi mosque complex, has been granted bail. Calling the post a failed attempt at satire, the court said, "The feeling of hurt felt by an individual cannot represent the entire group or community and any such complaint regarding hurt feelings has to be seen in its context considering the entire spectrum of facts/circumstances," the court said in its order. However, it also ordered Mr Lal to "strictly refrain from posting any social media posts or interviews" regarding the controversy which resulted in the present FIR.
"It is true that the accused did an act which was avoidable considering the sensibilities of persons around the accused and the public at large. However, the post, though reprehensible, does not indicate an attempt to promote hatred between communities," the order said while denying the police's request for judicial custody.
Mr Lal was arrested by officers of north Delhi's Cyber Police Station. He is accused of promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion and committing "acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony". He was produced in court this afternoon and his advocate moved a bail application.
The Delhi police were seeking 14-day judicial remand of Mr Lal to investigate the case, claiming it has received six complaints against him so far.
"It was not expected from such an educated person," the counsel for Delhi police said, claiming that the professor was also defending the posts in YouTube videos.
Mr Lal's counsel called his arrest an "abuse of law". "Jails will be thronged by intellectuals," he said. There was no case here, he said adding that the FIR should also not have been filed. He also demanded a departmental enquiry against the police for directly arresting him, without issuing any notice. "It's electronic evidence. If notice was issued, the evidence could have been deleted within a click," the police argued.
Defending its action, the police side said that it can make an arrest to prevent the accused from committing further offences.
"A wrong message will go to society if bail is granted. Any scrupulous person will get encouraged for such posts if he is enlarged on bail now," the Delhi police counsel said.
"No evidence to date to show that there was violence because of his social media posts. In that case, how can the police invoke Sec 153 A (promoting enmity between two groups) against him?" the defendants argued.
"If a person's tolerance is low, how can I be held responsible? India is a democratic country. Freedom of expression? This FIR ought to be quashed," Mr Lal's counsel argued while seeking bail.
The FIR against Mr Lal was registered Tuesday night following a police complaint by a Delhi-based lawyer. In his complaint, advocate Vineet Jindal said Mr Lal recently shared a "derogatory, inciting and provocative tweet on the Shivling".
The statement made by Mr Lal in a tweet is "instigating and provoking", the lawyer said in the complaint. The issue is very sensitive in nature and is pending before the court, he added.
Defending his post earlier, Mr Lal had said, "In India, if you speak about anything, someone or the other's sentiment will be hurt. So this is nothing new. I am a historian and have made several observations. As I wrote them down, I have used very guarded language in my post and still this. I will defend myself."
Last week, Mr Lal had tweeted that his 20-year-son was receiving threats on Facebook messenger after his tweet on the Gyanvapi mosque issue.