Even as India struggles to contain a pandemic that has shown many a mighty nation its place, the state has been using its police force to arrest activists who had protested against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
A statement issued by the ‘Campaign against Witch-hunt of anti-CAA activists’, a concerned citizens’ group, has condemned the “unending witch-hunt of Muslim scholar-activists”. The arrests of eight activists between January and April this year, and also the notice served to over 50 members of the Jamia Coordination Committee by the Delhi Police, they say, forms part of the “vengeful prosecutions of anti-CAA activists.”
In their statement, they mention that the current regime at the Centre has “unleashed a war on young Muslims” and a generation of scholar-activists who faced a baptism by fire at a time of “systemic and systematic erosion”. They mention that the activists “vitalised the spaces of democratic protest by participating in a most remarkable protest against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act.”
“The anti-CAA protests mark a poignant moment of Constitutional recovery, and reclamation of the Republic from a turgid and toxic hyper-nationalism,” they wrote, mentioning that instead of engaging with them, the state predictably chose “to unleash its naked power on them: detaining, and arresting them under harsh penal provisions.”
Here is their statement in full:
Condemn the unending witch-hunt of Muslim scholar-activists;
Resist the vengeful prosecutions of anti-CAA activists
Sharjeel Imam, arrested, 28 January 2020
Dr. Kafeel Khan, arrested, 29 January 2020
Khalid Saifi, arrested, 26 February 2020
Ishrat Jahan, arrested, 26 February 2020
Sabu Ansari, 26 February 2020
Meeran Haider, arrested, 1 April 2020
Chingiz Khan, arrested, 8 April 2020 (granted bail on 15 April)
Safoora Zargar, arrested, 11 April 2020
Over 50 activists of Jamia Coordination Committee served notices by the Special Cell, Delhi Police, 15 April 2020
The present regime has unleashed a war on young Muslims. A generation of scholar-activists who have come to political baptism in the heat of systemic and systematic erosion of their rights as minorities, as citizens. Refusing to fall into despair, they have instead vitalised the spaces of democratic protest by participating in a most remarkable protest against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act. The anti-CAA protests mark a poignant moment of Constitutional recovery, and reclamation of the Republic from a turgid and toxic hyper-nationalism.
Instead of engaging with the protestors, the state has chosen, if predictably, to unleash its naked power on them: detaining, and arresting them under harsh penal provisions.
The charges under which they have been arrested constitute the full array of law’s mighty provisions: 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly), 124 A (sedition), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.) and 120 B (Criminal conspiracy), sections of the Arms Act, and even 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) Dr. Kafeel Khan has been arrested under the draconian preventive detention law, National Security Act, which would allow the police to keep him in jail for up to a year without even having to file a chargesheet.
The invocation of these very serious charges, which could result in equally severe penalties, is based largely on the alleged ‘inflammatory’ speeches that they are said to have made. Sharjeel Imam’s speeches at Jamia and AMU; Dr. Kafeel’s at AMU on 13th December 2019; Meeran and Safoora are said to have incited riots in Northeast Delhi; Chingiz Khan’s article is charged with being seditious.
For all the outrage that TV anchors vented on Imam, the sum and pith of Sharjeel Imam’s speech was to call for chakka jam or road blockage – a known, and yet to be outlawed mode of mass protest – so that the unresponsive government would withdraw the ‘unconstitutional’ law. He neither called for violence, nor did his speech result in any violence.
There are many other questions in his speech – the nature of leadership, the terms on which solidarity across different social and political groups is to be forged – but these are questions that all movements engage with, and cannot constitute sedition.
This is a sample of the incendiary statements made by Dr. Kafeel as quoted in the police FIR: ‘Mota bhai teaches us to become Hindu or Muslim but not human beings’. One wonders which part of the statement the police has taken umbrage to?
Sundry Rightwing channels broadcasting Safoora’s allegedly hateful speech, which police accuse led to rioting can only come up with halla bol slogans.
Chingiz Khan’e erudite article cites Constituent Assembly Debates, as well as Ambedkar’s anxiety about political representation of Dalits in the context of increasing political marginalization of Muslims. It ends by saying that:
“The fair representation of Muslim in Parliament is fruitful both for the community and the nation as a whole as complete integration of any group is determined by the extent to which ambitions and interests are attached to larger national interests.”
(See full article here: Muslim rights sans political representation)
Such has become the stuff of sedition these days.
Lies and Torture:
The police story against Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi and Sabu Ansari is so riddled with holes that one does not know where to start.
According to the FIR filed against them, when the police reached the anti CAA protest site in Khureji Khas, apprehending communal tension, and in the hope of dispersing the protestors, Saifi, Jahan and 12 others incited the protestors to pelt stones at the police, with someone even firing at a head constable who allegedly had a fortuitous escape.
Eyewitness have rubbished the police version, as does incidentally this video, which shows the police dismantling the protest site with no resistance at all.
This video from the time of Saifi’s arrest – which shows an unarmed, composed and calm Saifi trying to reason with the police when they were trying to end the protest, completely calls the bluff of the police claim that Saifi was violent or instigating violence.
To make matters worse, Saifi’s appearance in the court was in the wheelchair, with both his legs in cast – unimpeachable evidence of custodial torture if there ever was one. And yet, the court – both the remand magistrate and the sessions’ court – in its wisdom decided to more or less ignore it. Questions will naturally be raised about the level and quality of judicial scrutiny that is being exercised in these cases.
The Curious FIR number 59/2020:
Interestingly, while the violence in Jaffrabad (Northeast Delhi) is being investigated by the local police, and the murder cases are being investigated by the Crime Branch, an overarching FIR (no. 59/2020) has fallen into the jurisdiction of the Special Cell, Delhi Police.
F.I.R. means First Information Report, i.e. the receipt of information that a cognizable offence has been committed. However, FIR no 59/2020, shows a glorious absence of any information. It has conjectures, yes, even a theory of what the complainant, a sub inspector of the Delhi police thinks, has transpired, but certainly no information. By hypothesizing that Muslims did not sent their children to schools on the day violence broke out, it attempts to elevate prejudice and conspiracy theories typical of Whatsapp bilge to ‘legal fact’.
The original FIR names only two accused while listing offences that are wholly bailable. But overtime, the Special Cell has been expanding its pincer grip, arraigning more and more anti CAA activists – from Khalid Saifi, to Meeran, to Safoora, at the same time invoking very serious sections that were absent initially.
This FIR has enabled the stitching together of a political narrative where a direct link is sought to be made between anti CAA protests and the widespread violence that rocked Northeast Delhi in the end of February. Yes, lives from both communities were lost but the worst brunt was borne by the Muslims, and the loss of property and business was almost exclusively Muslim. It allows simultaneously the criminalization of the peaceful and democratic protests, while granting full immunity to the perpetrators of anti-minority violence. It blanks out even a whisper about the purveyors of hate speech who led angry mobs and gave ultimatums to the police to clear out protests.
This FIR does not speak of any specific act of violence but creates a grand theory of inflammatory speeches, and links these speeches to the outbreak of violence. Ergo, you need not demonstrate at all any participation of the accused in violence.
It is not a question of what Saifi, Kafeel, Ishrat, Meeran, Sharjeel, Safoora and others have spoken, their speech acts are inconsequential – for if it were a question of instigating violence through their speeches, it would be members of Parliament, ministers and aspiring leaders of the ruling party who would be behind bars. Only the identities of the accused are of significance here.
The old maxim that justice should not only be done, but seen to be done has been thoroughly perverted. For now injustice must not only be done, its very purpose is the demonstration of its cruelty and utter unfairness. A lesson for all Muslims. Fall silent. Be afraid. Learn to accept to live on the terms dictated by a majoritarian state.
Aakar Patel, columnist and writer
Alok Rai, Professor (Retd.), University of Delhi
Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker
Chander Uday Singh, Senior Advocate
Ghazala Jamil, Academic, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Jairus Banaji, Professor, SOAS, University of London.
Maitrayee Chaudhuri, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Manisha Sethi, NALSAR University of Law
Mansi Sharma, activist
Mukul Kesavan, writer and historian
Nandini Sundar, Professor, Delhi School of Economics
Radha Kumar, academic and author; former interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir, appointed by the Government of India.
Radha Khan, Development Specialist
Rupa Viswanath, Professor, University of Gottingen
Saeed Mirza, filmmaker
Sanjay Srivastava, Professor, Institute of Economic Growth
Shaunna Rodrigues, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University
Shohini Ghosh, Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia
Tanweer Fazal, Professor, University of Hyderabad
Yug Mohit Chaudhry, Advocate, Mumbai
Released by Campaign against Witch-hunt of anti-CAA activists