Ninety four retired civil servants belonging to the Constitutional Conduct Group have written to the media, highlighting the “misrepresentation and mischaracterization” of social activist Harsh Mander’s speech at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 16, 2019. They allege that Mander was wrongly accused of inciting violence, committing contempt of court and that his words of peace were misconstrued as hate speech.

The Group had also written an open letter ‘In Defence of Harsh Mander’, with 95 signatories, on March 22, 2020, alleging that the Solicitor General (SG) of India, Tushar Mehta, had “sought to mislead the Honorable Supreme Court (SC) in the matter of Harsh Mander’s speech”.

In their recent letter, they highlighted that Mander had sought action against political leaders for reportedly using hate speech and inciting violence that led to the North East Delhi riots and the death of over 50 people. However, the Supreme Court had refused to hear Mander’s petition until the matter of his alleged “derogatory remarks” on India’s judiciary were cleared up.

The Delhi Police had filed an affidavit that Mander had not only incited violence but was also guilty of contempt of court. A video was used as evidence which has since been reportedly found to be a selectively clipped video.

“We argued that if the full video had been presented, it would have proved that neither had he incited violence nor had he been contemptuous of the SC,” reads the civil servants’ latest letter.

The video-recording submitted by the SG and the Delhi Police was an edited version, clipped in a manner to convey the impression that Mander both instigated violence and committed contempt of court, the group claimed in their open letter. They further added that the speech needs to be “read in context, in sequence and in full to appreciate Mander’s message”.

They quoted from his speech at Jamia Millia, which reportedly emphasised the equal rights of each citizen in the country: “What will be the future of this country - you all are the youth - what sort of country do you want to leave for your kids - where will this decision happen? One, it will happen on the streets, we have come out on the streets, but even beyond the streets, there is another place where this decision will take place. Which is the place in which this fight will eventually be decided? That is in our hearts, in my heart, in your heart, we have to give a response - if they want to fill our hearts with hate, if we respond with hate, hatred will become deeper”.

The civil servants further state that the Delhi Police has filed a charge sheet in the Dayalbagh Ankit Sharma murder case, wherein the stance of the Police on Mander’s speech remains the same. The charge-sheet names Mander, stating that he “instigated the protestors to not have faith in the Supreme Court and to fight their battle on road to get justice.” It further adds that Mander used a “facade” of peace in a part of his speech.

While the signatories allege a “possible misuse of law” against Harsh Mander, they also state that meanwhile, “those political leaders who publicly used hate speech and incited violence roam free with impunity.”

Signatories to the letter include: