After the Delhi Police Special Cell interrogated Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand on Monday in connection with his alleged role in the riots that broke out in North-East Delhi in February, a group of 1,337 activists, academics, journalists, former bureaucrats and members of civil society have released a statement condemning his interrogation.
Among the signatories are former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, social activist Aruna Roy, Prof Amit Bhaduri, former Planning Commission member Sayeda Hameed, former civil servant MG Devasahayamand author Ramchandra Guha.
The violence in North-East Delhi between February 24 and February 26 had claimed 53 lives. On August 3, the special cell of the Delhi Police interrogated Apoorvanand, a Professor at the Hindi Department, Faculty of Arts, Delhi University. The police reportedly questioned him for five hours and seized his phone.
While the police told The Indian Express that it did not find any incriminating evidence against him, it said that he was questioned about his association with Pinjra Tod and the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC).
“A day when authorities feel free to haul in the nation’s leading public voices to police stations, merely because they speak against the policies and ideology of the ruling government, is a day we must all be deeply concerned,” the members of civil society write in their statement.
They mentioned that Indian democracy currently faces its “most serious crisis since Independence, far more critical than Indira Gandhi’s Emergency...” They write that while it is routing for the police to question and ask citizens to cooperate while investigating a crime, they bring to notice the “context and manner” in which the professor was summoned.
“Like dozens of others in the past two months, Prof. Apoorvanand has been summoned under section 43F of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA. This is not all – the summons mentions 19 sections of the IPC; two sections each of the Prevention of Damage of Public Property (PDPP) Act; two sections of the Arms Act; and, finally, four different sections of the UAPA. This is not a normal enquiry or police business as usual. It is part of a clear strategy by the Delhi Police to present protests against the CAA as a conspiracy to plan and stage the communal riots that shook Delhi in late February. This, in turn, is part of the larger design to shut down all dissent in the country so that no one dares question authority,” the statement mentioned.
The concerned citizens further mentioned that students, activists, journalists, writers and other public persons who participated in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests have been “targeted for repeated inquiries, and many have been arrested.”
The statement mentioned that the “omnibus FIR 59 of 2020” has resulted in arrests under different sections of the Indian Penal Code and the UAPA.
“The intense activity of the Delhi Police in pursuing this line of inquiry is in marked contrast to their inaction in investigating leaders associated with the BJP who were seen inciting violence on public television. This pattern is identical to that in the Bhima-Koregaon case, launching a nationwide hunt against alleged ‘Urban Naxals’, while those who were so clearly responsible for instigating riots after the Elgar Parishad meeting in January 2017 are being allowed to go scot-free,” their statement said.
The citizens mentioned that the “crusade to silence all of us” has been picking up steam over the past two years. The latest attempt, they write, is targeting the likes of Apoorvanand by framing them as “masterminds” behind the Delhi Riots. “By attempting to silence people like this, the government intends a chilling effect on all democratic dissent and discourse; if this is permitted, the chilling effect will be nationwide and it could be irreversible,” the statement mentioned.
Ending with an appeal to citizens committed to Constitutional values, the citizens called to “resist this attempt to turn India into a police state where dissent is criminalised under the most draconian laws.”