The Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom have released a statement condemning the Modi Government’s continuous attack against students, activists, journalists and all other dissenters of the government even as India reels under a ruthless lockdown to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. They have extended their solidarity with those who are being targetted by the current ruling regime through a spate of charges, arrests and harassment under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967 and demanded the release of all those arrested.
The statement has been signed by the South Asia Solidarity Group, Indian Muslim Federation, Sri Guru Ravidass Global Organisation for Equal Rights, SOAS India Society, Coordinating Committee of Malayali Muslims, Indian Workers Association GB, South Asian Students Against Fascism and the Ghaddar International.
The statement mentions the attacks against journalists Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq, student activists Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Sharjeel Imam, civil rights activist Gautam Navlakha, Dalit Marxist scholar Anand Teltumbde, amongst others. It adds that the government’s actions reveal that “the BJP government is clearly using this moment to repress a political movement which emerged at the end of the last year and swept across India in resistance to their far-right Hindu supremacist policies, in particular, the Islamophobic and exclusionary changes to Citizenship rules which are clearly the first steps towards ethnic cleansing.”
The full text of the statement is given below.
We stand in solidarity with those being targeted by the Modi regime in the recent spate of charges, arrests and harassment under India’s draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967.
While the draconian lockdown in India continues to impoverish millions, the Indian state has continued to intensify its programme of targeting activists, journalists and dissenters. The last month has witnessed a huge spike in the arrests of student leaders, journalists reporting on Kashmir, authors, academics and those involved in relief efforts following the Delhi pogroms – Muslims have been specifically targetted.
The BJP government is clearly using this moment to repress a political movement which emerged at the end of the last year and swept across India in resistance to their far-right Hindu supremacist policies, in particular, the Islamophobic and exclusionary changes to Citizenship rules which are clearly the first steps towards ethnic cleansing.
Under cover of the lockdown, the Modi regime is bringing charges under the repressive Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (UAPA). Ostensibly an ‘anti-terrorism’ law, the UAPA has been used to target and silence critics of the government for decades. It gives the police enormous discretion about who they choose to prosecute, an unusually long period of detention in police custody, and six months before the police are required to file charges. Bail is so difficult to obtain under the UAPA that it may as well not be available, and an organization can be designated ‘terrorist’ merely because the government says so. In 2019, the UAPA was amended by the Home Minister Amit Shah, to make the government designations of who is ‘a terrorist’ and under what process even less accountable. The latest slew of charges shows that the UAPA is being used quite blatantly—to silence and intimidate those who criticize the ruling party. As Seemi Pasha noted in The Wire, the charges under the UAPA function like a ‘blank cheque’—for the government to cash in on against activists whenever most convenient. The following are some of the cases of those arrested, charged and harassed.
1.) On April 2, Meeran Haider, a PhD student at Jamia Millia Islamia, a university which was attacked by the Delhi Police after students protested about the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019, was arrested. He is President of the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Delhi unit, and a social worker who was actively helping people affected by the lockdow.
2.) On April 9, Gulifsha, an MBA student was arrested. She was one of the coordinators of the peaceful women-led sit-in against the new Citizenship laws at Seelampuri- Jafrabad. She is being held in Tihar jail.
3.) On April 12, Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student at Jamia Millia Islamia, was arrested. She is the media communicator for the Jamia Coordination Committee, and is also now incarcerated in the overcrowded Tihar Jail despite being three months pregnant. Both Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar have been accused of conspiring to incite communal violence in Delhi in February.
4.)April 14 saw the arrest of Anand Teltumbde, a noted Dalit Marxist and anti-caste scholar, and Gautam Navlakha, a prominent civil liberties activist, charged under the UAPA in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case .
5.) On April 20, The Jammu and Kashmir police filed an FIR under the UAPA against Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra on April 20. This was in relation to a nineteen-month old photograph, the property of Getty Images. As has been noted in a statement issued in her support, her social media only documents the ongoing and lived realities of those living in the Valley.
6.) Also on April 20, the Jammu and Kashmir police filed a FIR against Peerzada Ashiq, the Hindu newspaper’s Kashmir correspondent, accusing him of reporting ‘fake news’. This was done instead of following the usual practice of asking the newspaper to issue a clarification.
7.) On April 21, the Jammu and Kashmir police charged author and journalist Gowhar Geelani of ‘glorifying terrorism’ and indulging in activities ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India’. The previous day he had written in support of Masrat and Peerzada.
8.) Also on 21 April, the Delhi Police charged Umar Khalid, a noted activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University who has stood up against injustice and against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act, under the UAPA. Selective editing of Umar Khalid’s speeches has been used to accuse him of inciting the pogrom.
9.) On 26 April Shifa-Ur Rehman, the president of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI) was arrested on charges of conspiracy, again to do with inciting the Delhi pogrom.
10.) On 27 April, the Delhi police raided the residence of the Delhi unit President of the All India Students Association (AISA), Kawalpreet Kaur. She also had been actively involved in relief efforts after the pogrom in February. Her phone was seized by the police with no apparent reason. The seizure memo given to her listed an FIR with UAPA charges on it.
11.) On 29 April, months after arresting Sharjeel Imam, a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University on charges of making provocative speeches and inciting communal violence, the Delhi police have invoked UAPA charges against him.
12.) On 30 April the Delhi government’s Minorities Commission Chair Zafarul Islam Khan was charged with sedition for allegedly making "provocative" remarks on social media. Ironically his post had referred to the "persecution" of Muslims in India.
These relentless attacks, one following the other, make it quite clear that anti-terrorism laws and sedition are now being used shamelessly to intimidate, harass and detain students, activists, dissenters, journalists and those providing relief to the survivors of the Delhi pogrom. The accusations against a number of them of having instigated the Delhi violence flies in the face of extensive evidence of the pogrom being a targeted attack on Delhi’s Muslim community initiated by the ruling BJP and its student wing the ABVP, in collaboration with the Delhi Police. In fact these accusations appear to be an attempt to divert attention from the Delhi Police’s own culpability.
At the same time, the police claims that it is not yet the right time to bring charges against Kapil Mishra, a BJP ex-MLA whose hate speech against Muslims is widely regarded as having instigated the pogrom.
As Anand Teltumbde warned us on the eve of his arrest, ‘In the name of the “nation”, such draconian laws that denude innocent people of their liberties and all constitutional rights are constitutionally validated.’ The police continue to make sweeping arrests and are counting on the lockdown to paralyze civil liberties activists; they expect that the conditions around us will make us avert our eyes to injustice.
We stand in solidarity with all those facing repression in these dark hours and with the struggles for justice for the many brave activists who have been jailed by the Modi regime over the years and are now facing heightened dangers in prison as a result of the spread of COVID-19. We call on all those who support freedom of expression, democracy and justice to join us in demanding their release, and an end to the witch-hunting of activists in India.
Shruti Iyer (South Asia Solidarity Group)
Shamsuddin Agha (Indian Muslim Federation)
Monty Singh (Sri Guru Ravidass Global Organisation for Equal Rights)
SOAS India Society
Shaheen Moidunny (Coordinating Committee of Malayali Muslims)
Dalwinder Atwal (Indian Workers Association GB)
South Asian Students Against Fascism
Salvinder Dhillon (Ghaddar International)