Stop the witch-hunt of activists! Condemn the arrests of Pinjra Tod members Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal!

Stop the witch-hunt of activists!
Condemn the arrests of Pinjra Tod members Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal!
Release all political prisoners!

May 25th 2020

On the evening of 23rd May 2020, the Delhi Police arrested Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, activists of Pinjra Tod and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Charged under FIR 48/2020, both were initially interrogated by the police at their home.

They were then taken into police custody and presented the next day before Duty Magistrate in Mandoli Jail who ordered the granting of bail stating that the FIR’s charges under IPC Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) were “not maintainable”, and that they were “merely protesting against NRC and CAA”. Foiled in its attempts to incarcerate the activists, the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police immediately moved a fresh application under FIR 50/2020 with grave charges including attempt to murder, conspiracy, rioting, obstruction of public servant and several sections of the Arms Act. Devangana and Natasha have now been sent to two days of police custody.
The arrest of these two activists is not an isolated incident but part of a larger operation orchestrated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Delhi Police since mid-February 2020. This has been done to bludgeon and break the vibrant struggle for democratic rights that emerged in response to the communally charged and anti-people Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registry of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). Even the arrival of the COVID-19 virus and imposition of the country-wide lockdown has not deterred the onward march of this anti-people operation. Commencing as open police support to the Hindutva mobs that assaulted, murdered, looted and ransacked their way across North East Delhi between 23rd and 26th February, the operation then morphed into mass interrogations, detentions, arrests and other forms of police harassment of persons associated with the protests against CAA, NRC, NPR. In fact, the Additional Commissioner of Police has acknowledged over 750 FIRs and over 1300 persons have been arrested in relation to the Hindutva violence in North East Delhi while refusing to divulge details of the FIRs filed. These open-ended and secret FIRs have aided the police in intimidating and threatening various members of the Muslim community and activists involved in the struggle against the CAA, NRC and NPR thereby creating a chilling effect among those so intimidated and others.
While many of those detained or arrested in the immediate aftermath of the Hindutva violence in North East Delhi have been released, some like Ishrat Jahan and Khalid Saifi continue to languish in jail. Others like Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Asif Iqbal Tanha were arrested during the lockdown under FIR 59/2020 which includes sections of the notorious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Another activist, Gulfisha Fatima, too has been in jail since 9th April. In her case as well, the police reacted to initial granting of bail by lodging further charges to guarantee incarceration. In the case of Safoora, multiple appeals for bail on account of the impact that incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic may have on her pregnancy, have all been summarily rejected. Simultaneously, Safoora has been subjected to vile and misogynistic attacks on social media. Besides these persons, numerous others have been called for interrogation and questioning, with the police often seizing mobile phones without a seizure memo. Through this seizure of mobile phones of several activists including Kawalpreet Kaur, a member of the All India Students Association, and Mohammed Tasleem, a journalist running the online portal Jamia World, the police aims to identify key activists involved in the struggle against the CAA, NRC and NPR for future harassment.
According to numerous statements of the police in court and several media reports, the interrogations, detentions and arrests are part of the efforts to identify and charge the perpetrators of the Hindutva violence in North East Delhi. The sheer absurdity of this rationale is only exacerbated when juxtaposed with the fact that the Delhi Police has done absolutely nothing to persons like Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra and Ragini Tiwari. The three, all leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have been caught on camera instigating violence against those who protested the CAA, NRC and NPR but continue to roam free. This only reiterates that the series of the police actions commencing from mid-February seek to terrorise the Muslim community, the motive force of the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR and all those activists, students and people that supported and stood in solidarity with that struggle for democratic rights.
The arrest of Devangana and Natasha, activists of Pinjra Tod, in many ways depicts the entire spectrum of this conspiracy hatched by the State through the Delhi Police and Ministry of Home Affairs. Since the initial days of the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR, members of Pinjra Tod actively participated in protest sites at Jaffrabad and Seelampur, which were among the most assertive in Delhi. This drew the ire of the Delhi Police which lodged FIR 48/2020 on 22nd February, incidentally a day before Kapil Mishra made his notorious speech and the Hindutva mob made its first appearance in North East Delhi.
The State’s continuing crackdown on those who protested against the CAA, NRC and NPR, despite protests being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is indicative of the polarisation in the balance of forces underway in India. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the country was characterised by an accelerating economic slowdown resulting in worsening material conditions for the masses and a vibrant struggle for democratic rights. Encapsulated by the Prime Minister’s call to transform the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity, the State by imposing an abrupt lockdown, undertaking negligible relief efforts to alleviate the deplorable conditions of the masses and declaring an insignificant stimulus package coupled with the suspension of labour laws by multiple state governments, has in effect disciplined the masses into accepting a new and harsher reality. Similarly, the Muslim community’s struggle against discrimination in citizenship has been bludgeoned and broken with many of its most assertive voices incarcerated or facing the threat of incarceration. This coupled with the State sponsored demonisation of the Muslim community, during the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR as “desh ke gaddaaron” and during the lockdown via the narrative of “Corona Jihad”, actions in which the media has gleefully participated, are to affect a submission of the Muslim community to a second-class status. In fact, any Muslim who even speaks against these developments faces attack as witnessed in the case of Delhi Minority Commission Chairperson, Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan who was charged with sedition for raising concerns about the targeting of the Muslim community even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The attack on the masses to the benefit of the owners of property and the attack on the Muslims to the benefit of increasing Hindutva’s hold on society mark an intensifying turn towards Brahmanical Hindutva Fascism.
This necessitates immediate and sustained responses from all democratic and progressive forces. The on-going witch-hunt of activists is part of the programme to ensure that those speaking against the CAA, NRC and NPR are silenced. The consequences of this witch-hunt are likely to be long-lasting if it is not countered by the spirit of democratic assertion the country has witnessed since December. It is more urgent now than ever that democratic forces across the country unite to fight against the systematic assault on the people of this country. Consequently, the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) call on all democratic and progressive organisations and individuals to unitedly denounce the arrest of Devangana, Natasha and all other persons arrested, detained or interrogated in connection with the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR. Furthermore, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, CASR calls for the release of all political prisoners whose continued incarceration in jails filled beyond capacity constitutes a threat to their life and health.

Campaign Against State Repression
(Organising Team: AISA, AISF, APCR, BCM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, BSCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, IAPL, IMK, Karnataka Janashakti, KYS, Lokpaksh, LSI, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, NCHRO, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Satyashodak Sangh, SFI, United Against Hate, WSS)

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