Addressing a joint online press conference, student activists, leaders and members of civil society said that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre has turned the pandemic into an opportunity for crushing the dissent manifested during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests across the country. The statement comes two days after the Delhi Police arrested two members of the women’s group Pinjra Tod, Davangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in connection with their alleged role in Delhi riots in February.
Jignesh Mewani, Dalit activist and MLA from Vadgam in Gujarat said that the latest series of arrests of students activists is “vendetta politics of the worst nature” and indeed a “ conspiracy by the government” to silence its critics. He said, “It’s a joint struggle for people like Khalid Saifi, Kafeel Khan, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde and Akhil Gogoi. What we are witnessing is the replication of the Bhima Koregaon model where the media outlets dear to the establishment ran consistent programmes on TV and mobilised opinion against people who were the victims in the violence. Later, the Pune police launched a successive campaign to arrest the activists. It is happening in connection with anti-CAA protests and Delhi riots.” He added,” I am a lawyer by profession and [I can] clearly say that the charges are not legally tenable. I remember an incident prior to Godhra riots where then Chief Minister Narendra Modi climbed on a charred S-6 bogey of the train and claimed that it was an act done by the supporters of Pakistan. Remember, the statement came out even before local intelligence units or local police could come out with preliminary findings.”
Former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid said, “The government not only used it [the opportunity by way of a lockdown] for arresting the activists, but demolished the labour laws, went on a privatisation spree and auctioned airports. The pandemic was announced for flattening the curve of the coronavirus cases, but indeed, flattened the protest. It is also a credibility crisis for Delhi Police, which did everything to silence the protesters. The activists were arrested in another case minutes after they were given bail in one case. It does not have the courage to question culprits like Kapil Mishra even after people produced impeccable evidence.”
Kanhaiya Kumar, ex Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president and leader of the Communist Party of India, said that when we should have been fighting the COVID-19 together, it is extremely unfortunate that the government is fighting against the students and youths. “When people accused of very heinous crimes are being given bail, then what is the urgency of accusing students and throwing them behind the bars? These students who have been arrested were not ordinary students. Along with studying, they were also raising extremely important questions regarding education, employment and livelihood; but, this government is constantly demonising and attacking students since it came to power to hide its own failures. The government is killing two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it is trying to do the politics of vendetta by targeting the activists who were in the forefront of the anti-CAA struggle. On the other hand, it is sending out a larger message of intimidation to everyone else with the threat of incarceration,” he said.
N Sai Balaji, national president All India Students’ Association, noted that the arrest of the student activists followed a peculiar trend in which some media organisations played a dubious role. He said, “The Delhi Police is following a script, which was drafted by the likes of Monika Arora, who is affiliated to the RSS and even contested DUSU elections from ABVP. She led a delegation to the MHA with a report that blamed AISA, PinjraTod and other student-youth organisations even before these arrests. The way the Delhi Police has subsequently acted shows that they have simply borrowed from the script. People read out the preamble of the Constitution at every anti-CAA protest and that is shown as ‘anti-national’ and a crime that requires invocation of UAPA. On the other hand, the BJP leaders shouted goli maaro saalo ko (shoot the traitors), but that is seen as nationalistic.”
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