Her name: Safoora Zargar; 27-year old Kashmiri woman; student doing M.Phil in Jamia Millia university; three months pregnant. And she is now in a solitary cell in Tihar jail in this month of Ramadan. It is ten days since she was caught by the police and put in jail. Safoora is the media co-ordinator of the body Jamia Co-ordination Committee (JCC) which led the protests spurred by Jamia students.
This is the time when the country and the entire world is focused on the struggle for survival against the Covid virus. Day to day life has been thrown out of gear due to the lockdown everywhere. Government machinery is either immobile or only partially operational. But none of this has deterred Delhi police from its 'vigilant performance of duty'. Safoora was originally arrested on charges of hate speech. By the time she obtained bail for that arrest, she was again charged under UAPA for participating in Delhi riots and arrested. She has been slapped with 18 charges including possesing arms, attempt to cause riot, attempt to murder, sedition and spreading hatred.
Ten days have passed since her arrest. The home minister under Amit Shah may not feel any qualms about jailing a pregnant young man with political motives or torturning her. But it calls for an introspection whether our democratic, civil-rights-conscious society has reacted to such a ruthless act in a way it should have done. It is true that during the lockdown period, organising direct street protests will not be workable. But voices that should have been raised have not been heard. Nor do we see feminist movements having come out against going after a female political activist in this manner. This silence is alarming. This apathy will only make it easy for the central home ministry to pursue its agenda of hatred and of hounding as if no pandemic is a hurdle for it. Safoora's arrest is not to be taken as an isolated instance. Another student leader of Jamia itself, Meeran Haider was also arrested together with her and put in jail. But since Meeran happens to be the leader of the students' wing of RJD, at least RJD leaders were there to speak for her. But arresting a pregnant student is an incident absolutely extra-ordinary – something that is bound to affect the country's image at international level.
It was only two days ago that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report in which it has made strong recommendations before the US administrationn such as to include India in black-list for violating religious freedom and working against minorities and recommending imposition of visa ban on resonsible Indian officials. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the way the anti-CAA protests were suppressed have been the main reasons for the USCIRF recommendations. India is included in the list of countries of particular concern. The arrest of Safoora should have taken place after the report was prepared. Such reports or observations by international media or criticisms by human rights bodies are unlikely to disturb even a bit the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team. They are people riding on a chariot of hunting and revenge.
The Centre is continuing to show its real colour as a body of people who made the spread of Covid as a means for anti-Muslim propaganda and who arrest activists en masse even during the lock down period. That is not entirely unexpected either. But at the same time, defenders of democracy should not lose morale at the face of such repeated hounding. What is incumbent on them is to keep raising voice against such onslaughts.