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Cops Using Pandemic as Ploy: Pinjra Tod Activists After 2 Arrested

Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were connection with the Jafrabad sit-in protest held in February.

Updated
Women
4 min read
Pinjra Tod activists. Image used for representational purposes. 
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Almost 90 days after an FIR was registered against Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, for their alleged role in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, they were arrested. Without any indication, from their homes in Delhi, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For the student activists of Pinjra Tod – a group that was formed in August 2015 to predominantly oppose the patriarchal rules, curfew timings for women students in Delhi’s universities and colleges – the arrest hardly came as a shock.

But there is simmering anger with the new FIR, that implicates Kalita and Narwal for attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy.

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“This is just criminalisation of dissent. The police is simply trying to intimidate people who are supporting the anti-CAA protests, using the pandemic as a ploy. Everyone is distracted by coronavirus. So, the cops might be thinking why not use this time to flex our muscles,” said a Pinjra Tod activist, who has been a member of the student group since its inception.

Who Are Kalita & Narwal? Why Were They Arrested?

Thirty-year-old Kalita and thirty two-year-old Narwal, currently students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, were among the founding members of Pinjra Tod in 2015. While Kalita is pursuing her MPhil degree at the Centre of Women’s Studies in JNU, Narwal is a PhD student at the Centre for Historical Studies.

Before joining JNU, both women students graduated from Miranda House and Hindu college, respectively – both colleges under Delhi University.

On Saturday, 23 May, they were arrested for obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions, in connection with the Jafrabad sit-in protest.

“It was this very protest that prompted BJP leader Kapil Mishra to give a provocative speech, where he demanded that protesters leave at once. Peaceful protests had been going on in Jafrabad for almost 70 days. Then, just says after Mishra’s speech, communal violence broke out in northeast Delhi. No action has been taken against Mishra – but women students who merely protested against draconian laws are put behind bars,” lashed out an undergraduate student of Delhi University and a Pinjra Tod member.

The undergraduate student further added that charging Kalita and Narwal for “attempt to murder” and “ignoring the instigating remarks made by Mishra was a mockery of democracy.”

At least 60 people were killed in the northeast Delhi violence that broke out earlier in February.

‘Govt Threatened by Student Movement’

A Delhi court granted the two activists bail, a day after they were arrested. However, within minutes of the bail being granted, the Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch moved an application seeking the arrest of the two women again – on charges of attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy.

“The charges on all the recently arrested anti-CAA activists are completely baseless. The government clearly feels threatened by a strong student movement critical of its neoliberal policies, privatising education and the democratic mass movement against CAA, NRC and NPR.”
Pinjra Tod member who does not wish to be identified

She added that the people of India “will not bow down to such repression tactics” and these “tactics” by police will only strengthen the opposition to anti-people policies and sentiments.

Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) – an independent body – called for the release of the activists, stating that their arrest depicts the spectrum of conspiracy against democratic struggle.

“The arrest of Devangana and Natasha, activists of Pinjra Tod, in some ways depicts the entire spectrum of the State’s efforts to create a conspiracy against the democratic struggle opposing the CAA, NRC and NPR. Since the initial days of the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR, Pinjra Tod actively participated in protest sites at Jaffrabad and Seelampur, which were among the most assertive in Delhi.”
CASR Statement
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Are Women Students Being Targeted?

Just about a month before Kalita and Narwal were arrested, the Delhi Police held Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar in connection with the same Jafrabad sit-in. Zargar, who is pregnant, has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and is currently in jail since 10 April.

On 27 April, Delhi president of All India Students Association (AISA) Kawalpreet Kaur took to describe how her phone was seized by the cops, to “investigate” her alleged connection to the Delhi violence. So, are women students being targetted?

“Not just women students but peaceful protests by Muslim women who had come out against CAA are also being criminalised. They are being blamed for the violence that was unleashed upon them. So, that is the state of affairs. Attacking women students demonstrates the nexus between patriarchy and state. That women students and Pinjra Tod have stood against and spoken out against (such policies).”
Pinjra Tod member

A former member of the women’s rights group, who is now working in PR and advertising, said that while women students were being targetted, so were people from the minority communities.

“Anyone who is active, anyone who is challenging them and anyone who is simply speaking out is being criminalised right now to send a larger message to people who are opposing and to send a larger message to the protesters,” she said.

However, beyond the simmering anger, there is also apprehension.

‘Patriarchal Forces Rattled By Women’

After the news of the arrest of the two women, people took to Twitter demanding that Kalita and Narwal be released immediately, and stating that Pinjra Tod “redefined resistance” by scores of women students.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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