Published: 26th May 2020
We are not enemies of the state: Youth leaders condemn arrests of student leaders, denounce false charges
Students from across the country condemned the arrests and false framing of students leaders and accused the police of taking advantage of the lockdown to do so
Ever since the lockdown started, besides the migrant exodus which is now being referred to as a humanitarian crisis, our newspapers and timelines have also been filled with stories of arrests. Arrests of students and activists, several under the UAPA or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Calling the arrests a ‘witch-hunt’ of students who had merely dissented against the government, several student leaders organised a press conference to condemn the same.
AISA President and former President of the JNU Students’ Union, Sai Balaji, CPI member Kanhaiya Kumar, MLA Jignesh Mevani, Umar Khalid and several others participated in the discussion on the issue. The most recent arrests have been of the women’s collective Pinjra Tod’s founding members - Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. The two JNU students were granted bail by the court on the grounds that the police had not found any evidence against them, only to be arrested against for ‘attempt to murder’.
“The government cannot ensure that a train reaches the correct destination (in reference to the train carrying migrants ending up in the wrong station) and they want us to believe that the investigation conducted by the Delhi Police is fair? Migrants labourers, farmers are all hungry and the government is unable to even give them transport. And instead of focusing on that, the government is after arresting people who chose to read the preamble at a democratic protest,” Sai Balaji argued. “Their script is doing a twin job here - use the arrests to divert attention and also harass and intimidate activists when courts aren’t functioning and people are afraid to go out due to the pandemic, with minimum scope for resistance amidst lockdown,” he added.
Balaji questioned why the police had not taken any action against Kapil Sharma, Anurag Thakur and Komla Sharma, who was one of the accused in the JNU mob attack incident, “Why has there been no UAPA charge on Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Jamia-shooter and other hate-mongers? At the same time Manish Sirohi who provided weapons for the violence is given bail but Safoora who is pregnant and has no evidence against her, has been kept in Tihar? Why no action against Komal Sharma and other ABVP cadres, caught on camera violently attacking JNU students and teachers? And instead, Kawalpreet Kaur who was peacefully protesting is being harassed and her phone has been seized?”
The problem is manifesting at many levels, apparently. “The ‘chronology’ is clear: first, the right wing will name the targets, then their supporters will name the same targets, then the Delhi Police will harass the same targets without any evidence,” he alleged. Umar Khalid, who was also recently booked under the UAPA also demanded to know what the government’s priority was during this time. “The government seems to be using this lockdown as an opportunity to sell aeroplanes and arrest people. Instead of flattening the curve of COVID, they are flattening dissent. If the Delhi police is, in fact, conducting a fair investigation, why are they not doing the same in the cases of Komal Sharma or the Jamia shooter,” he questioned.
“When the government should be prioritising on daily-wage earners and the health crisis in the country, they are instead taking out their frustration on students. There seems to be a different set of rules for people like Komal and Kapil Sharma and another set of rules that apply to people like Safoora,” he said. However, Umar believes that the students who are being falsely charged under these ‘draconian’ laws will be acquitted as the police will not be able to find even a shred of evidence, “The students will find justice but by the time they get there, a lot of time will have passed. Months, years.” He pointed out that the Delhi police seems to be creating a ‘cock and bull story’ just to put people behind bars, “But the story is going to collapse like a house of cards.”
Jignesh Mevani echoed the words of the other speakers as well and drew comparisons of these arrests to the one that took place in the Bhima Koregaon case. “This is pure witch-hunting of students and vendetta politics being practised by the government. This is utterly disgusting. In the same way, that the Bhima Koregaon activists were arrested, the students are getting arrested in a similar pattern. Nobody launched an investigation into the incident of the flag being hoisted on the mosque during the North East Delhi violence or the youth who were forced to sing the national anthem as they were being tortured. This is what is called fascism,” he accused.
Former JNUSU President, Kanhaiya Kumar pointed out to the fact that during this time, students are worried about completing their courses and are gearing up to enter their careers at a time when there are devastating job losses across the country. “People who have jobs have lost them, and for new graduates there are barely any jobs available. At a time like this, the police are arresting students who simply chose to oppose the government. What is this urgency that the police feels that they are rushing to arrest these students? This morning, I saw news about a girl who had been burnt alive, another had been raped. How are we not worried about these cases?” he asked. Umar Faruq, President Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Students’ Union said that the students were merely following the path of Ambedkar, Gandhi and Maulana Azad, “We are not the enemies of the state, in fact no one loves the country more than we do. Which is why as long as we are here, we will raise our voices against injustices,” he said.