New Delhi: After nearly two months of political hibernation, young leader Kanhaiya Kumar held a press conference Tuesday along with Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and some student leaders against the arrests made in connection with the Delhi riots that took place in February.
Kumar raised questions over why the Delhi Police has been arresting activists who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and slapping the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on them.
Since March, the Delhi Police has arrested Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Shifa Ur Rehman and Asif Iqbal Tanha, with all of whom booked under the UAPA for “inciting the mob” before the riots. On Saturday, two Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested in connection with the riots, for organising an anti-CAA protest in Jafrabad. Both are students of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“These arrests are being made to teach a lesson to those who raised their voice against CAA. It’s to send out a message that whoever questions the government will be put in jail,” said Kumar.
Couldn’t speak up actively due to lockdown: Kumar
Kumar blamed the lockdown for not having spoken up as actively thus far against the arrests.
“I haven’t been able to speak up as actively due to the lockdown. We are bound to respect the lockdown and cannot violate it,” Kumar said.
Kumar rose to national prominence in 2016, when he was the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union, and was slapped with a sedition case for raising “anti-national slogans” at an event.
Responding to a question asked by ThePrint, what what explains his silence on students being arrested when he has always actively participated in movements, Kumar said it was due to his “majboori (helplessness)”.
“Hamari majboori hai lockdown ka paalan karna (We have to follow the lockdown. We are helpless),” said Kumar, who has maintained a relative silence on social media as well against the arrests.
“But we can’t afford to be divided in these times. Any one of us sitting here can potentially be arrested tomorrow, so we must be united,” he added.
Kumar also said it’s the government that should be blamed, and not “dissenters” like him.
“The government knows that we can’t come out on streets right now, so they are using this lockdown as an opportunity to target anyone and everyone who has questioned BJP’s policies,” Mevani said.
He called the students’ arrests “political vendetta of the worst kind”.
“Blaming them for the riots is a conspiracy hatched and executed by the central government. Anyone who has ever spoken up against the BJP will be put in jail,” Mevani said.
The Dalit leader is an independent MLA from Gujarat’s Vadgam constituency, and had emerged as a leading anti-BJP political voice in the last five years.
Kumar contested and lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai on a CPI ticket.
Instead of Covid curve, dissent is being flattened: Umar Khalid
Umar Khalid, activist and student leader, was also part of the press conference held over Zoom. Khalid has also been booked under UAPA in connection with the Delhi riots, but hasn’t been arrested yet.
“The lockdown was brought in place in order to flatten the (Covid) curve, but instead it’s the dissent that is being flattened,” Khalid said.
Khalid accused the Delhi Police of “blindly obeying its political masters” and not filing a case against BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra. “This is just tarnishing the credibility of the Delhi Police,” he said.
While Thakur gave an inflammatory speech in January, weeks before the riots, chanting “Goli Maaro, Sa***n ko (shoot them)”, Mishra has been blamed for inciting the Delhi riots with his speech.
“On close scrutiny, everyone will realise that there is no real case against any of the students. But by slapping them with UAPA, they are making sure that the process becomes the punishment,” Khalid added.
Jamia student Aysha Renna, who had led the university’s anti-CAA protests, said the protests will resume once the pandemic is over.
“Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, we will be back and occupy the streets with our protests. They cannot silence us,” Renna said.