Pinjra Tod Activists Re-arrested. Is the Delhi Police Exploiting the Lockdown?

Social Commentary

Pinjra Tod Activists Re-arrested. Is the Delhi Police Exploiting the Lockdown?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The ongoing coronavirus lockdown has seen most of the country confined to their homes, but for a few, the location of their confinement has been updated to prison. In Delhi, the police has been making a string of arrests of activists who were involved in the protests against the government’s Citizenship Amendment Act. The latest arrests have seen Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, two leaders of the student movement “Pinjra Tod”, which fights for the rights of women students, be arrested by the Delhi Police not once, but twice. After the duo received bail for the first arrest, they were held again.

The first time the Delhi Police picked up Kalita and Narwal was on May 23, due to an FIR registered against them under the charge of “assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty” for their involvement in a peaceful protest against the CAA in Jaffrabad in February. After the local magistrate held that the case against them was “non-maintainable”, the court refused to grant the police custody of the two Pinjra Tod activists on May 24. The magistrate said that the women were not involved in any violence and were protesting peacefully.

However, hours later, the police re-arrested Kalita and Narwal, this time under the more serious charges of attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy in connection to the riots that took place in Delhi in February. This time, the court granted the police custody of the two activists until May 26, when the next hearing in the case would be held.

The Pinjra Tod movement, to which both Kalita and Narwal belong, was founded in 2015 to act as a platform for women students in Delhi to challenge patriarchal institutions like unfair curfew timings. Kalita and Narwal were arrested in connection to the Delhi riots, but the organisation and their many supporters claim that the arrests were made more because of their anti-CAA stance.

The two members of Pinjra Tod are the latest to be arrested by the Delhi police, but not the only ones. Delhi Police have also held Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar following a similar procedure, where Zargar was first arrested for being involved in a sit-in, granted bail, and then rearrested in connection with the February riots, where bail was denied.

Sociologist Nandini Sundar also found similarities between the approaches followed by the government in the case of the arrests of the anti-CAA activists in Delhi, and the Dalit activists in the Bhima-Koregaon case. While outlining six motives for why these arrests are being made, Sundar points out the first reason being the Centre’s desire to “delegitimise all constitutional protests, as well as efforts to invoke the Constitution”.

“Blaming student groups like the Jamia Co-ordination Committee (JCC), All India Students Association (AISA) or Pinjra Tod for organising peaceful protests is also a clear attempt to break links between students and society,” she added.

The Delhi police, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Union Home Ministry, has once again received flak for prosecuting those raising their voice against the government’s controversial citizenship laws.

Many say the lockdown has been used to curb the rights of protesters, especially since courts are not easily accessible.

Even as the threat of the coronavirus pandemic threatens to keep the country in an extended lockdown, it appears that the Delhi Police are more focussed on targeting dissenters.