Statement against the arrest of Pinjra Tod Activists, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal: Students Against Fascism, Johns Hopkins University

Statement by Students Against Fascism, Johns Hopkins University, USA. Students Against Fascism is a group of international students at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA), which aims to build solidarities against fascism across borders.

We have been deeply saddened by the recent arrests of Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, the founding members of the Feminist group, Pinjra Tod. At a time, when the entire country has been dealing with the pandemic of COVID-19 and the economic hardships of the lockdown, it is of extreme concern to see that the Indian state is selectively targeting the human rights activists who have been raising their voices against the pro-Hindutva fascist policies of the Indian state.

It is abundantly clear that these arrests are a part of the series of the crackdown on the activists, who have particularly been vocal against the CAA and anti-Muslim violence in north-east of Delhi, including Umar Khalid, being threatened with sedition charges alongside other protestors like Shifa-ur-Rahman, President of Jamia Alumni Association and Zafarul Khan, Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission. In connection with this, it is also extremely disturbing to see the arrest of student activists Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Asif Iqbal Tanha of Jamia Milia Islamia University and activists Gulfisha Fatima, Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This arbitrary branding of students and activists, particularly Muslim and women student activists, as “terrorists”, instead of investigating into the anti-Muslim violence in north-east Delhi and bringing the perpetrators to justice indicates the deepening of authoritarian tendencies in the Indian state. Pinjra Tod’s Natasha and Devangana’s arrests are the latest examples of this dangerous trajectory.

Originally, started as a group to protest against the curfew in women’s hostel in university campuses across the country and to challenge the institutionalized patriarchy in educational spaces, Pinjra Tod has challenged the right-wing forces, such as Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), in their attempt to build Hindu Rashtra at the cost of Indian women’s autonomy. Over the last few years, as the state repression against the poor, Muslims, and the Dalit-Bahujans has increased, Pinjra Tod has been at the forefront of the protests against theses injustices even beyond university spaces, including the recent anti-Muslim state pogrom in North-East of Delhi.

The Delhi Police has made the arrests on the charges of  ‘their alleged role in the anti-CAA Jafrabad sit-in protest in February this year’. In Jafrabad, the sit-in, involving mostly Muslim women, who were protesting against the discriminatory CAA directly affecting their community, was inspired by the women’s iconic sit-in in Shaheen Bagh. After the so-called “riots” broke out in the Jafrabad area, the right-wing forces, including the BJP, blamed the women’s protests for provoking religious sentiments. This was not only a blatant lie on the part of the establishment, but it also belied the on-record evidence of the ruling party leaders’ provocative speeches, such as Kapil Mishra’s, right before the anti-Muslim violence in North-East Delhi in February 2020. Starting with the revoking of article 370 in Kashmir last year, the current regime has used intimidation, police violence, and imprisonment as the common response to dissent in Indian society. The current government has repeatedly used draconian laws like the UAPA and sedition to criminalize dissent, which is the democratic right of every Indian. There is no doubt that deeply misogynist in its essence, the Hindutva forces see militant women in university spaces and in marginalized communities as a serious threat to their authoritarian fantasies. They specifically continue to target activists, academics and thinkers, particularly from marginalized backgrounds, as well as journalists who are doing their duty of upholding the fourth pillar of democracy.

We unequivocally condemn these arrests which represent Modi-regime’s ongoing efforts to crush dissent coming out of university spaces in India, and stand with the activists, academics and journalists who are facing persecution from the government for exercising their rights as free-thinking citizens of a democratic state. Instead of fulfilling its duties of safeguarding the Indian people’s social and economic well-being at a time of the global pandemic, the Indian government is using COVID-19 as a distraction while it pursues its agenda of stifling dissent. As a part of the larger student community, we demand:

  1. Charges must be withdrawn immediately against all anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protesters, who have been arrested merely for expressing dissent, including Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Gulfisha Fatima, Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, Umar Khalid, Shifa-ur-Rahman must be dropped immediately.
  2. Discriminatory CAA, NRC, and NPR must be withdrawn immediately.
  3. Civil Liberties and Article 370 must be restored in Jammu and Kashmir.
  4. Draconian laws like the UAPA, AFSPA, and sedition law must be repealed.
  5. Arrest Kapil Sharma, Anurag Thakur, and others for inciting anti-Muslim violence in Delhi.

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