On 12th December 2019, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was passed by the Indian Government. The Act grants fast-track citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians coming to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, on or before 31 December 2014. This Act excludes only the Muslim community. To peacefully protest against this discriminatory law, thousands of Muslim women gathered in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. The protest which continued till the advent of COVID-19 was disrupted on 23rd February 2020 due to a clash between anti- and pro-CAA groups. This clash eventually turned into a communal riot in which more than 50 people lost their lives.
Post the communal clash, the Government of India arrested multiple students, activists and critics under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). While BJP politicians Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra who instigated gave provocative speeches are free and pro-CAA shooter, Kapil Gujjar was granted bail in no time, many Defenders of the Constitution continue to locked up in jail. Following are the profiles of a few notable arrests.
A MPhil Student at Jamial Millia Islamia, Safoora Zargar was pregnant with complication at the time she was arrested. In one of her bail application hearings, a Delhi Court said “A pregnant criminal is still a criminal” while denying her bail. A victim of right-wing propaganda, Safoora and her family were mentally harassed since there were false claims that she is an unmarried. Safoora hails from the militarised state of Jammu and Kashmir. In June 2020, she was granted bail by the Delhi High Court on Humanitarian Grounds.
A student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Meeran Haider is the a member of the Jamia Coordination Committee that organised the peaceful protests against CAA in Delhi. He is also the President of the Rashtriya Janata Dal youth wing’s Delhi unit. Before being arrested in April, Haider had been involved in providing food to the poor people facing hardships due to the sudden lockdown. He was denied bail and is still in jail.
A women’s right defender and a student activist hailing from a marginalised community, Gulfisha Fatima is also a community educator. She is a MBA student at Jamil Millia Islamia who stood firm in the fight against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. She was kept in prison for about nine months, at a time when cases of COVID-19 were on a rise in prisons. She was granted bail in November 2020 after she furnished a bail bond of Rs. 30,000.
An activist, Khalid Saifi was arrested by the Delhi Police for merely accompanying Umar Khalid inside a building. He was granted bail in November 2020. The Court said that the police arresting him without any evidence is “vindictiveness”.
A former Democratic Students’ Union leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Umar Khalid is a human rights activist who had been charged for allegedly conspiring against the State in 2016 by BJP and the JNU Administration. While the matter is still in court, Khalid was granted bail a few days after his arrest. In September 2020, he was arrested in connection with the Delhi Riots. Surprisingly, his charges even concerned the Bhima Koregaon incident happened in 2018. A former PhD student at JNU, Khalid was wrongfully fined by his college administration and was denied his PhD, despite Court’s contrary orders.
The president of Jamia Millia Islamia’s Alumni Association, Shifa-Ur Rehman was arrested for conspiring and articulating the Delhi Riots along with Umar Khalid. He has been arrested on unsubstantiated and vague claims of the police, such as unverified CCTV footage and WhatsApp chats.
Former Congress councilor, Ishrat Jahan has been arrested under the UAPA in connection with the Delhi riots. She was released on bail for just a week to get married in June. However, six months later, she still continues to be in jail.
Asif Iqbal Tamha
A third-year student of BA in Persian language in Jamia Millia Islamia University, 24 year old Asif Iqbal Tamha was arrested in May 2020. He is a member of the Students Islamic Organisation and also a part of the Jamia Coordination Committee. He was denied bail as the Court concluded that there is a prima facie case against him. He was given permission to appear for his exams in December 2020, however, he still remains to be locked up due to his close association with other student activists.
A student at JNU, Natasha Narwal is a an Activist who co-founded the Pinjra Tod collective which literally means ‘breaking the cage’. The collective aims to do away with any and every restriction put on women in the name of safety measures, such as curfew timing, dress code etc. She was granted bail in September after furnishing a bond of Rs. 30,000.
A peasant leader and an RTI activist, Akhil Gogoi is the founder of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti. His organisation helps peasants retain their land, enforce their land rights and exposes corruption by way of RTIs. In 2017, Gogoi was arrested under another security legislation. He has been a constant target of the government as he has been charged in more than 100 cases to date. He was rejected bail in January 2022 and still continues to be in jail.
An activist and human rights defender, Devangana Kaliita is the co-founder of Pinjra Tod. Currently out on bail, it was found by the Delhi High Court that the police did not have any evidence to show Kalita caused the communal violence. The Court said that she was involved in a “peaceful agitation”, yet she had to spend her time in jail!
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