Uttar Pradesh: On Tuesday, Uttar Pradesh Police arrested half a dozen young Gandhian activists for organising a march to Delhi for promoting communal harmony. The activists were marching from the iconic Chauri Chaura to Varanasi in the wake of protests over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the brutal repression by state police resulting in deaths of 23 people. Activists allege the police arrested them without citing any reason.
Speaking to NewsClick, Dhananjay Tripathi, a student of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) said the activists were arrested when they entered Ghazipur district from Mau district. He said that police officials police were accompanying them during the march. “This does not happen usually. When they inquired, they were told the police was deployed for their security. Soon, officials took them to the police station,” said Tripathi. He added that when he and his colleagues asked for reasons for detention, “we were told that they are being interrogated. Later in the evening, the police informed us that our colleagues had been formally arrested."
Tripathi said that activists were arrested by the police because they could have disrupted the peace in Varanasi ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in February. “We conducted the march in a manner which even does not breach Section 144, forming groups of three who would go to colleges, religious sites and other public places to raise awareness about the hatred bifurcating society on communal lines. Which government feels scared of non-violent persons following the Gandhian Path?” asks Tripathi.
He said he met his friend Pradeepika Saraswat, a journalist, in custody. “She told me that she was kept in a cell where she could not lie down or rest. What sort of behaviour is this? If they have been arrested on political grounds, they should have accorded necessities for political prisoners,” he adds.
Curbing Dissent: The new normal in U.P.
Activists allege that the state has witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on civil liberties. The recent crackdown was seen when scores of cultural, political, Dalit and student activists were arrested for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Sadaf Jafar, actor and Congress Leader, narrated her ordeal in custody. Speaking to NewsClick after her release, she said that she was put into a corner-cell where from “I could hear screams of other male protesters and abuses hurled by the police personnel. I quietly awaited my turn to be thrashed. After a while, female constables came to my cell. One of them was angry as her two-wheeler was burned down by some protesters. One of them hit me on the head; I instinctively covered my head. They began thrashing me, kicked me in my stomach and even dug their nails in my face. When they left, I stood in horror still telling myself that I would be home soon with my children.”
Dalit activists narrate similar stories about curbing the dissent in western Uttar Pradesh. Sushil Gautam, who has been arrested multiple times for protesting against the CAA, alleges that activists from marginalised communities are being consistently silenced. He had said that it is quite apparent that the U.P. police and administration “is working overtime to muzzle our voices. When the police came to know that we will be organising a march to protest against CAA, I was detained and taken to several places before being formally arrested. Then, they took my father into detention and kept him overnight in the police station without citing any reason. Since my arrest was shown under Section 151 of CrPC, I was entitled to bail on the same day of arrest but not only we were sent to jail, the administration is also demanding bonds worth Rs 2 lakh. We are being made to pay for raising our voices."
Commenting on the arrest activists, senior journalist Sharat Pradhan said that the message that those dissenting should be taught a lesson “has been already been delivered by people seated in power. We witnessed that several activists were charged with attempt to murder. They were only released later on the orders of the court… This is atrocious. They are law abiding citizens and they must be released.”