ON May 25, several activists and organisations issued a press statement condemning the recent arrests of two activists of Pinjra Tod, a feminist collective that has been active in the capital since 2015. On Friday evening, May 23, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested by policemen attached to the Jaffrabad Police station, Delhi for the ostensible role they played in the anti-CAA sit-in protests. The statement also calls attention to the draconian laws under which a number of activists, predominantly Muslim, have been charged and incarcerated.
Full text of the Statement:
We have been in a state of lockdown for two months. It has been a very harsh time for many of our citizens, who have lost work, possessions, and been left hungry and homeless. Dalits, adivasis and the working Bahujan poor are the worst affected, with women amongst all communities having to bear the brunt of hunger, unemployment, illness, death and persistent family violence.
Throughout this period, we have seen the capital city of Delhi reeling under another sort of violence: the continuing action of the Delhi police against those it considers as having been responsible for the violence that erupted in Delhi in end February and took toll of over 53 lives. As we know the violence followed and effectively ended weeks of peaceful protests led by women from across the city, against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and the creation of a National Registry of Citizens, and a National Population Register.
Police action since then has led to the arrest and incarceration of, among others, a large number of young people, studying in various Delhi colleges and universities. The latest in this list are two activists of Pinjra Tod, a feminist collective that has been active in the capital since 2015. On Friday evening, May 23, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested by policemen attached to the Jaffrabad Police station, Delhi for the ostensible role they played in the anti-CAA sit-in protests. Both are students of JNU and play a leading role in Pinjra Tod. Their arrest came at the end of three hours of interrogation. The two young women have since been charged under IPC sections 186/188/353/283/341/109/147/34…
They join a group of other young women, who have also been arrested in connection with the Delhi violence and have been charged under even more draconian laws. Gulfisha, an MBA student is languishing in jail since April 9 on charges of sedition. Safoora Zargar, member of the Jamia Coordination Committee and Ishrat Jahan, former Municipal Councillor are in jail for the past one and a half months. Safoora is pregnant and stands in danger of being infected with Covid1-19, given her vulnerable condition, and petitions for her release have gone unheeded. She continues to be in Tihar jail.
These young women, along with several others were inspired by the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. Begun in December 2019 by a group of intrepid and peace-loving Muslim women from the locality, against the CAA-NRC-NPR triumvirate, the protests inspired similar protests in Delhi and across the country. All protests were peaceful, spontaneous, and leadership everywhere was largely female and local, with all decisions made in a decentralized manner.
A number of women’s groups, feminist and queer activists, students and citizens from all walks of life, including members of Pinjra Tod, have been part of the protests in Delhi. The presence of women was especially striking, especially of young women, and this was unprecedented. Their mode of protest was also unique. Peaceful and persistent, they challenged the unequal citizenship laws by redefining nationalism. They have made it clear that nationalism has to do with the Constitution and the rights guaranteed all citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, religion and ethnicity. They have also made it clear that they will stand by their fellow citizens, from minority and marginal communities who stand to be disenfranchised by the new Act, and whose very existence is in threat of being criminalized.
Scores of protesters have asserted the citizenship rights of all protesters in unique ways: by reading out the Preamble to the Constitution in marches, rallies, and sit-in protests that raged on from mid December to February. This has been in stark contrast to those who are given to angry and violent rhetoric in the name of the nation, and who are disinterested in constitutional morality.
Rather than engage in dialogue with the protesters, the authoritarian regime of the BJP-led government has resorted to punitive and repressive measures. Protesters have been lathicharged, met with water cannons, stopped by barricades and subject to random arrests. Yet they persisted in peaceful resistance. However, on May 23, matters took a violent turn, when BJP MLA Kapil Mishra led a pro-CAA demonstration, which was followed by systematic attacks on Muslim households by hired masked goons. Many Muslims were killed and houses and shops attacked. Tragically, the recently elected AAP government in Delhi maintained a stony silence.
Since the attacks, hundreds of Muslims are languishing in makeshift camps while protesters continue to be arrested by the Delhi police. On the other hand, perpetrators of the Delhi violence are yet to be brought to book.
In this context:
– We condemn these arrests and the attempt to malign young peoples’ democratic protest campaigns, especially the charge that the arrested young women were responsible for the violence and disruption that unfolded on May 23 and thereafter.
– We object to the criminalisation of the right to protest. It is not only unconstitutional, but also effectively deprives the citizen of her rights to free expression and criticism.
– We are aghast at and oppose this deliberate targeting of young women who have made a choice to be part of the democratic life of this country. We think that this sends out a wrong and malicious signal to other young women that they ought not to step outside the confines of their homes and take to public causes.
– We find it inadmissible that in the present moment, when all other business of government, except that related to the pandemic and related emergency measures, remains suspended, the Delhi police appear to be in an indecent hurry in dealing with the Delhi violence.
– We demand an immediate end to the deliberate targeting of students and members of the Muslim communities in the name of prosecuting those who engaged in the violence. We also demand that all those arrested be set free and that provisions of the law such as the UAPA, which allows for detention without trial for a year, be revoked.
– We demand the repeal of CAA_NRC_NPR.
V Geetha, Writer and Feminist, Chennai
Ranjana Padhi, Feminist Activist and Writer, Bhubaneswar
Jhelum Roy, Student, Jadavpur University, Feminists in Resistance
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Feminists in Resistance, Kolkata
People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Maharashtra
Progressive Democratic Students’ Federation, West Bengal