Hyderabad: At a time when the country is consumed by the fear of deadly coronavirus pandemic resulting in an unprecedented nationwide total lockdown, the Indian government has been accused of pursuing an agenda of targeting Muslim student activists who were at the forefront of the agitation against the controversial citizenship law just before the virus broke out.
Delhi police, which comes under the direct control of the central government, has been arresting the student leaders of Jamia Millia Islami university on the charges of rioting, sedition, making inflammatory speeches and even attempt to murder. While police alleged that these activists were involved in violence in parts of national capital in February, their real fault, critics allege, appears to be their role in the months long campaign against the discriminatory laws aimed at country’s 200 million Muslim minority.
While some of them like Sharjeel Imam were arrested in January, with the lockdown kicking in, the targeting of other Muslim scholar activists picked up momentum. As many as six activists, including pregnant 27-year-old Safoora Zargar, were arrested during last two months, evoking a condemnation from the human rights and civil rights organisations.
Zargar, the latest to be arrested, was charged under the draconian anti terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
That more of it was in the offing was obvious from the noticed the Special Cell of Delhi police have served notices on 50 members of Jamia Coordination Committee.
The list of those arrested includes Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan and Sabu Ansari, all arrested on February 26, Meeran Haider on April 1, Chingiz Khan on April 8 and Safoora on April 11. Only Chingiz Khan was later released on bail by the court.
Hardcore Hindutva leader
The students of JMI, a premier Muslim minority institution in the heart of the capital, had played a major role in organising the protest to save country’s secular constitution from the grave threats posed by the controversial laws like Citizenship Amendment Act and proposed National Citizenship Register (NRC) to identify and expel the alleged foreign infiltrators.
In Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party and its hardcore Hindutva leader Yogi Adityanath, Dr Kafeel Khan, a prominent activist, was also arrested and slapped with another draconian law, the National Security Act. He cannot hope to come out on bail for at least a year under the act.
Like Sharjeel Imam in Delhi, Kafeel Khan was also charged with making inflammatory speech in Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.
Muslim families targeted
In the large sale violence, which broke out in North East Delhi in last week of February, thousands of Muslim families were targeted. More than 50 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims. Hundreds others were injured and thousands were rendered homeless and were still living in temporary camps. While their shops and small business were looted, burnt and plundered, there were allegations that Delhi’s police largely remained silent spectator or actively colluded with the armed gangs.
But now the same police has been accused of targeting the victims’ families and activists who tried to come to their help while the real culprits were roaming around freely.
Zargar has been charged with being one of the key conspirators of the violence. Adding to her woes, she is being kept in solitary confinement in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, access to her has also been restricted in the name of lockdown against COVID-19 virus.
Atmosphere of fear
Her case is reminiscent of another Lucknow-based activist and film personality Sadaf Jafar, who was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police for her role in anti CAA stir. She was brutally beaten up in police custody leading to bleeding. She later said, “They took me to a civil hospital though the doctors did not attend to my wounds inflicted during the beating. The same night I started bleeding. They didn’t even give me sanitary napkins. I was scared to even ask for water because I felt that I would be beaten up again”.
Such was the atmosphere of fear that even Zargar’s husband and her lawyer are unwilling to make any public comment and were speaking to the media off the record highlighting her miserable condition in the overcrowded prison in the face of Coronavirus infection.
However some rights activists have condemned the arrests an act of “witch-hunt”. Vrinda Grover, a human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer expressed grave concern over Zargar’s health. She is now in ther second trimester of her pregnancy.
On the victimisation of the student leaders she said, “This case shows the diminished access justice during the lockdown is being used to implicate and imprison student activists who led the peaceful anti CAA-protests”, said Vrinda. “This is pure witch hunting by the establishment. Look at their priorities in times of a crisis,”, commented another prominent activist Hasiba Amin, convenor of social media cell of opposition Congress party.
A group of 20 prominent writers, academicians and intellectuals also issued a statement raising the questions about the motives behind the targeting of the Muslim student scholars. They said that the cruelty and utter unfairness was being deliberately demonstrated though such acts. “(It is) A lesson for all Muslims. Fall silent. Be afraid. Learn to accept to live on terms dictated by a majoritarian state”, the statement said.