Safoora and UAPA
By: Navyanjali Bajaj
"I love her even more, she is the source of strength to me even though she is the one in jail," said Sirwal, husband of Jamia's daughter, Saforaa Zargar. For the keepers of the law, Zargar was an anti-nationalist and a rioter whose words flowed in the veins of mob causing communal vandalism in the capital city. For family and friends, she is a strong woman and a responsible citizen who stood against the HINDU NATIONALIST AGENDA and the new citizenship law specifically discriminatory towards the Muslim community as per the critics.
April 10th, when the country fought a deadly pandemic, Zargar had something bigger to deal with. The Delhi Police's Special cell arrested her for the roadblock case FIR (48/2020). Three days later, the Magistrate in Mandoli jail granted her bail. However, this was followed by a draconian turn of events, when she was arrested again under FIR (59/2020) subsequently charging her of murder, sedition, causing enmity between communities on the grounds of religion. Finally, on April 21, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), Safoora Zargar, FIRs and continuous interrogations were all knotted together.
"We will answer all your questions, but don't arrest her, she is three months pregnant was all I could speak when they held me in the interrogation room. My wife is an expectant mother", Sirwal added in his interview. As of June, the 27-year old sociology student from Jamia Milia Islamia University who had to face the brunt of the hypocrisy of Indian politics is five months pregnant and suffers from Poly Cystic Ovarian Disorder. The refusal to grant bail to Zargar had yet again reminded us that not all motherhoods are equal. Not in the eyes of the state, the political classes, or society. As the liberals of our nation stood together to fight the arrest of Safoora, along with her family, the courts of Delhi kept on rejecting the case, denying her bail. While dismissing the bail petition, Judge Dharmendra Rana said “When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire. The acts and inflammatory speeches of the co-conspirators are admissible u/s 10 of the Indian Evidence even against the applicant/accused.” The court argued that the alleger’s speech delivered on 23rd February at Khureji had a direct link to the violence that broke out at Chand Bagh as her words were “inflammatory speeches” and could cause “disruption of such an extent and such a magnitude that it would lead to disorderliness and disturbance of law and order at an unprecedented scale”. Zargar’s counsel, however, acknowledged that the speech did not stimulate any violence and her mere presence at a protest held at Chand Bagh cannot be sufficient to invoke provisions of the UAPA.
The complexity of the case was heightened as the entire world suffers from a pandemic while a practitioner of ‘free speech’ against CAA, a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) fought for her freedom in the most overcrowded prison at her most vulnerable state. The animosity evident in denying Zargar bail had once again compelled the citizens of India to note the concerns surrounding national politics, gender and religion.
Hyderabad Muslim Women’s Forum (HMWF) spoke about the entire situation, labelling it as ‘TARGETED ARRESTS’ condemning the actions of the ruling party and Delhi police. “We think that these arrests were an undue and authoritarian use of power”, the forum added. Considering the whole situation, it was hard not to draw a parallel between Zargar and Soni Sori targeted by the Delhi police for no other reason than suspicion and conjecture. During her (Soni Sori) imprisonment, she was tortured sexually, assaulted, stripped naked, ill-treated by electric shocks, verbally abused etc. She wrote to her lawyer that she had been forced to stand naked while “(Superintendent of Police) Ankit Garg was watching me, sitting on his chair… While looking at my body, he abused me in filthy language and humiliated me.” She added that he sent three men to sexually assault her. Sori was later hospitalized where doctors removed stones that had been inserted into her vagina and rectum. The knowledge of brutality faced by women inmates in Indian cells is not hidden, yet it was systematically neglected by the Delhi courts for Safoora’s case. Adding to the lack of humanitarian grounds of the court’s decision against the bail of Safoora earlier was the hypocrisy around the narrative of motherhood. Zargar’s family also commented on the trolls she has to face saying that they’re appalled and upset about the internet brutality. With this dimension to the case, we are left thinking about the role of gendered-mistreatment during protests and misogynistic online politics. While analyzing the whole situation, we cannot choose to ignore the prison conditions, which have worsened due to the coronavirus crisis and the fear of mass outbreaks of the disease inside facilities which surfaces with it. Zargar's lawyers had repeatedly raised concerns about the activist's health and pregnancy-related risks in their bail pleas that were dismissed. The fate that a young female protester had to face for voicing her principles and opinions left us with uncertainty about the democratic guidelines, if not fear.
During the protests against CAA and NRC, Safoora played the role of a responsible citizen who belongs to India’s largest minority. She risked her life to save the true soul of our country. Various student activists stated, “Modi’s surgical strike against the protesting Muslims puts India at war at itself“.”It shows the cynical approach the government has taken to silence dissenting voices”, Harsh Mander, a prominent rights activist quoted in his interview. Critics say that the Citizenship Amendment Act discriminates against the country’s 180 million Muslim minority and runs against the country’s secular constitution. The ongoing protests led to the arrest of various student activists, due to the clash between the Hindu and Muslim community in the capital city. When a Muslim-woman challenges the right Hindu pre-conceived notions, the latter goes to an immoral extent to silence her. The response of the BHARTIYA JANTA PARTY to the protesting voices against CAA and NRC demands a clear inquiry of how Muslims experience their membership in Indian society. The instances faced by students like Safoora Zargar, Farhan Zuberi, Ashu Khan, Meeran Haider and many others hint towards the deep-rooted Islamophobia, that allows the State to systematically discriminate, marginalize and criminalize Muslims who do not agree with the dogmatic Hindu principles. Muslims are aware that their existence is under attack and they are coming on streets with their identities and slogans unapologetically, however, the brutality and ruthlessness they face indicates the aim of the ruling party; to reduce them as second-class citizens in their Hindu-Rashtra.
“Humanitarian grounds concession" was continuously emphasized by the Delhi police and the high court while granting bail to Zargar on 23rd June furnishing a bond of Rs 10,000. Adding to this are the certain conditions of no travel without permission, no influencing witnesses, no engagement in activities for which she is being investigated and she cannot leave Delhi without the trial in court. As advocate Gautam Bhatia points out, bail is granted on humanitarian grounds owing to the personal circumstances of the applicant—such as old age, illness, pregnancy, a wedding—and not the merits of the case; several uncertainties rise in the air. Given that the arguments made earlier while denying bail in three hearings were under the same circumstances, the release of Safoora NOW raises several eyebrows. Though the temporary release of Zargar sets some relief, critics argue that this should not be applauded as “protesting in a democratic country cannot be and should not be anti-nationalist”.
Outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment is the leading trait of a totalitarian government portrayed in Orwell’s book ‘1984’. The immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom, are the bureaucrats who, in the long view desire the weakening of liberty. The incarceration of student activist Safoora Zargar and the obduracy of courts in refusing her bail before are far graver than a violation of Article 21, which protects life and liberty. Equating dissent with criminality is as pernicious as it is dangerous, and a trend that must be most strongly opposed. It forces us to question the integrity of our judiciary. It forces us to question the legitimacy of our government. It forces us to question our fundamental rights. It forces us to question the transparency of our media and ultimately forces us to question the true element of the nation. These questions when go unanswered leave us sombre
and patriotically burned out.