Varanasi: Fourteen-month-old Champak hasn’t been breastfed for over 10 days. She has become weak, irritable and is now increasingly aware of her parents’ absence even as the rest of the family tries to help her cope.
Her parents, activists Ekta (who only goes by one name) and Ravi Shekhar, were arrested, along with 54 others, on 19 December when they sat in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Varanasi’s Beniya Bagh.
On Monday, 30 December, Ravi Shekhar’s mother Sheela Tiwari filed an application and submitted it before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office in Varanasi — which is his constituency — urging him to release Ekta and Ravi.
“The only crime of this 14-month-old child, who has been deprived of her mother’s milk, is that her parents were part of the peaceful protest along with several other social activists,” the application read.
It added that given the extremely cold weather and the potential allergies, the family has not been able to take Champak to the jail where her mother could breast feed her.
“Besides being the Prime Minister, Modiji is the MP from Varanasi as well. We are hoping he will pay heed to this and will ensure Champak can be with her parents again,” Tiwari told ThePrint.
Ekta and Ravi Shekhar have been working as environmental activists for nearly 10 years, fighting for causes like climate change awareness and anti-air pollution policies.
‘Every time there is a knock…’
With Champak’s parents under arrest, their family members are trying to make up for their absence — but they say it is a real struggle.
Debadrita Bhattacharjee, Ravi’s sister-in-law, said Champak is scared that the other family members “will be taken away too”.
“She wakes up in the middle of the night to check if we are still around her. Sometimes she starts crying even if we leave the room just for a minute. She is acutely aware of the fact that her parents haven’t been around,” Bhattacharjee told ThePrint.
She added it is especially difficult to take care of her at night.
“Champak is used to sleeping with her mother next to her. Every time there is a knock on the door, she asks if it is her mother,” she said.
BHU students arrested
Besides the 56 activists arrested for the 19 December protest, at least 12 Banaras Hindu University (BHU) students, too, were arrested the same day by the police.
Rajat Singh, a BHU student, had refused to accept his graduation degree at the convocation on 24 December in solidarity with the arrested students. A video of Singh refusing to take his degree has gone viral.
Speaking to ThePrint, Singh said he couldn’t imagine taking the degree while his classmates were in jail.
“Twelve of my classmates are under arrest. There is no way I would have taken my degree while they missed their convocation,” Singh said.
Of the 12 arrested, some were pursuing Masters in Political Science, while others were pursuing their PhD. Some other students were also taken into police custody under Section 151 (preventive arrest) of the CrPC even before the protest began. They have been released now.
Vivek Kumar, one such student, said the police stopped his auto-rickshaw on the morning of 19 December and asked him if he is a BHU student.
“My friends and I were in an auto on our way to the protest. A police officer asked us if we are from BHU and the minute we said yes, they arrested us,” Kumar told ThePrint.
Kumar, who has been studying in BHU for the last 5 years, comes from Bihar. He said local newspapers tried to defame the protesters by calling them “outside elements”.
“I have been studying in BHU for the last five years and those who have been arrested are also BHU students. How can they call us outsiders?” he said.
Meanwhile, Anil Kumar, chief officer of Chetganj police station, which registered an FIR against the arrested activists and students, said all the arrests were “required”.
“Those arrested under (Section) 151 (of CrPC) have already been released. The rest were booked under graver offenses,” Kumar told ThePrint.
“Their release is now the court’s decision, not ours,” he added.