‘Govt trying to crush opposition to CAA-NRC-NPR’: Letter to NHRC seeks help for women activists

Stop ‘political vendetta and malicious prosecution of women activists and human rights defenders like Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Gulfisha Fatima and Ishrat Jahan,’ says letter

(Left to right)- Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal
(Left to right)- Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal

NH Web Desk

More than a hundred citizens who are members of various women's movements, feminist activists, journalists, filmmakers etc have written to the National Human Rights Commission Chairman Justice HL Dattu (retd) seeking his intervention in stopping "political vendetta and malicious prosecution of women activists and human rights defenders" like Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Gulfisha Fatima and Ishrat Jahan, legal news website LiveLaw.in has reported.

"We seek your urgent intervention in the continuing persecution and criminalisation of women activists who have supported and participated in the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the announcement that it would be followed up with a National Register of Citizens (NRC) and a National Population Register (NPR)," the letter states.

Furthermore, it is urged in the letter that the pattern of targeted arrests and prosecutions over the last two months, bear out the contention that the Government of India is treating the COVID-19 lockdown as an opportunity to crush the movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR. Among the primary targets of this political vendetta are the young women student-activists who have participated in dharnas at various locations in Delhi, the letter states.

Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal are members of Pinjra Tod, a feminist collective that campaigns for the rights of women hostellers and students in Delhi University. They are also research scholars at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and participated in the Seelampur protest. Safoora Zargar, is an M.Phil student and human rights activist who was part of the protest at Jamia University. Ishrat Jahan, is a lawyer and former Municipal Councillor, was involved in the protest at Khureji Khas and 28-year-old Gulfisha Fatima is a 28-year-old MBA student. She was one of the several hundred local women who participated in the protest in the Seelampur area.

The letter states:

"These young women represent the latest generation of political activists who stand in defense of women's human rights. In joining the movement against the CAA-NRC-NPR, they have asserted their rights and freedoms, protected under the Constitution and international human rights laws, of participating in the political life of the country and exercising their freedom of political action as full and equal citizens.

The arrest and incarceration of these young women is completely unjustified. They have been named in one or more generic FIRs citing an assortment of charges including conspiracy under UAPA. It is noteworthy that they are not accused of participating in violence. In addition, they have been cooperating with the investigation and presenting themselves for interrogation by the police. The insistence on keeping them in custody is disproportionate and illogical."

The letter points to hateful speeches given by both Home Minister Amit Shah and Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur during Delhi elections apart from hateful speeches made by other members of the ruling party.

The commission is told in the letter that there is also a systematic attempt to distort and obfuscate the facts around the riots and arrests, says the report published by LiveLaw.in.

"The Delhi Police, which reports directly to the Union Home Minister, has taken advantage of the lockdown to carry out this sweep with impunity, facilitated by the shift in media and public attention and the constraints imposed on the functioning of the courts.

According to reports in the media, more than 800 anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protesters have been detained or arrested during the Covid-19 lockdown. They have had little or no access to lawyers and legal aid. They have been denied contact with their families, who have had to run from one thana to another in order to get information of their whereabouts."

Referring to the fact that all the aforesaid women activists who were arrested have been booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the letter states, "It is clear that the Delhi Police is trying to prejudice the public against these young women as dangerous criminals, based purely on the concocted narrative of a terrorist conspiracy behind the riots."

Finally, the letter seeks following directions from NHRC-

1. Direct Delhi Police to make public all FIRs against CAA protestors and FIRs filed in relation to the violence in Delhi between Feb 23-27, along with the status of investigations.

2. Recommend re-consideration of bail pleas of the women activists and granting of bail with any conditions that apply.

3. Recommend unconditional bail on health grounds for Safoora Zargar in view of her pregnancy and aggravated vulnerability to COVID 19.

4. In accordance with your powers under Section12(a)(i) of the NHRC Act, institute an immediate enquiry into the handling of cases against CAA protestors by Delhi Police, to determine whether they involve violation of human rights through partisan investigation and malicious prosecution.

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Published: 18 Jun 2020, 7:22 PM