Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal was put behind the bars last year under the false suspicion of being a part of the northeast Delhi riots that took place in February 2020 but the police themselves didn’t register or had evidence of her participation in any sought of violence. The government however, highlighted their priority by making forceful arrests of those who had been involved in the Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest in between the surge of a deadly pandemic. India during this time was facing the biggest migrant workers crisis; millions of people lost their jobs, headed back home walking several miles and the seeds of communal hatred were sown by targeting religious groups for spreading the coronavirus. 

Natasha Narwal along with another activist Devangana Kalita was initially charged under Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for attacking a police officer. Even though later on Narwal was granted bail on May 24, she was again arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police and this time under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Many more activists such as Safoora Zargar, Umar Khalid, Ishrat Jahan were arrested by this cell during the very emerging stages of the pandemic. 

Also read: In Posters: Unconstitutional Arrests During Lockdown

Was slamming the peaceful protestors under UAPA justified?

Detention is of two types; Punitive Detention and Preventive Detention as given under Article 22 of the Indian Constitution. In case of Preventive Detention a person is detained without trial and conviction. The government amended Section 35 of the UAPA, the result—on mere ‘belief’ an individual now can be labeled as ‘terrorist’ and thrown into jail. The Act before amendment itself had the power to declare organisations ‘unlawful’ however, till date there is no proper definition given making it very vague and stringent.

When the Delhi Riot 2020 charge sheet was released that of 17,000 pages, it consisted of only those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Involvement of police brutality, negligence by the Prime Minister occupied in welcoming former President Donald Trump when his own country was burning due to ingrown conspiracy and communal hatred was a scenario that the protesters and civilians had to go through. Not even once did the government hold an appropriate and systematically organised meet before the pandemic to address the questions of the people. It was more like falling onto ears that chose to ignore to listen. 

Natasha Narwal’s father Mahavir Narwal who succumbed to Covid-19 on Sunday May 9, 2021 wasn’t allowed to speak to his daughter for the last time.

Mahavir Narawal always supported and encouraged his daughter to fight against the complicit cruel regime. A proud father who took pride in seeing his daughter’s will to fight against the oppression and atrocities faced by women. Even when Natasha was rearrested, he showed full faith in her and said, ‘jail is nothing to be feared of and that his daughter will manage.’ He believed if women don’t rise then the injustice will always continue to conquer.  

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A proud father who in an interview said, he had much to learn from his daughter. “She is in fact not feeling jailed, she is feeling she is like all other people. Those outside are also suffering, just like those in jails. Nobody in my family is demoralised or intimidated. We are all part of your resistance.”

According to the Press Trust of India (PTI) report Natasha Narwal’s father Mahavir Narwal who succumbed to Covid-19 on Sunday May 9, 2021 wasn’t allowed to speak to his daughter for the last time. This kind of stubbornness and cruelty by the government raises a question on humanity and the functioning of the system. She was granted interim bail only after the court realised there’s no one to perform the last rites of her father. It hurts to even think of not being able to talk to your only parent for the last time.

Right To Dissent is not a crime

Political prisoners are in jail for questioning the government and have to prove their ‘loyalty’ and ‘nationality’ to the country. One who asks for accountability suffers by the power of those who are privileged; associated with big politicians and goons. 

According to the Minority Commission Report no charges were made against politicians like Kapil Mishra for raising communal slogans during his pro Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rally but activists like Safoora Zargar were kept in solitary confinement for 38 days. She was more than 3 months pregnant during the time of her arrest and what couldn’t be defined as more insensitive and inhumane was how people questioned her individuality and made misogynistic remarks on her pregnancy. 

The mechanism that our country follows focuses on how well a person can be punished for a crime rather than focusing on how to tackle the problem first. The judgements are always based on societal privilege and the status of the person, it does nothing but exploit the marginalised and the less privileged more because they don’t have the resources or ‘power’. 

The judgements are always based on societal privilege and the status of the person, it does nothing but exploit the marginalised and the less privileged more because they don’t have the resources or ‘power’. 

Activists like Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi are still in jail, journalist Siddique Kappa who was charged under sedition has struggled to get basic human rights; after being tested positive for Covid-19 he was transferred to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi on Supreme Court’s order, however he was taken back to Mathura jail despite his deteriorating health condition without any official notice given to his family.  

The circumstances today in India are such that draconian laws are slammed upon protestors and civilians with an intention to suppress their voice. In times when health and humility needs to stand before construction of government buildings and political fights amongst the parties, we common people are facing the dire challenges to cope with it alone. Decisions are taken in long weeks for verification of foreign aid and release of wrongfully detained political prisoners due to emergencies. The realisation today is just one, that we need each other to sensitise and make people aware of the wrongs just so that we can stand united and confront.

Also read: ‘Take Out The Insects From Your Food And Eat It’: Women Political Prisoners Recount Jail Horror Stories

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About the author(s)

Mumtaz is a post graduate mass communication student at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, who’s always been passionate towards learning more about human rights and finding solutions for societal issues. According to her concerning matters should be discussed and debated in a way that is easy to understand for a fruitful and constructive change; she wishes to do the same through her writings. She believes in speaking up for what rightfully belongs to each and every human being.

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