At a time when Indian doctors are battling coronavirus on the frontlines, journalists are putting themselves at risk to document stories of Covid-19 and citizens are in the midst of the turmoil caused by the pandemic, the Delhi Police has chosen to engage its time and personnel by either clamping down on those who dissent or by singing birthday songs for upper-class children.
Having angered many, but surprising none, the Delhi Police Saturday arrested two young women activists from Pinjra Tod — a women-led rights collective. Its members Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal were arrested for protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Jafrabad, New Delhi in February.
The anti-CAA protest in Jafrabad is the same one that prompted BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s inflammatory speech days before the northeast Delhi riots. Needless to say, Mishra emerged unscathed from the controversy, while many student activists have found themselves at the receiving end of the Delhi Police’s massive witch hunt.
Currently, India is staring at 4,021 coronavirus-led deaths across the country and more than 77,103 active cases. In light of these unprecedented times, Indians need and deserve a caring, benevolent state. However, the Indian government’s strongarm hasn’t ceased to target the vulnerable, and continues to go after its own citizens — the ones who dare to show resistance. I use the word dare deliberately, because the state’s actions have made it crystal clear that dissent is criminalised in our country today. If this notion is up for debate, then the impression that the state’s priorities during the pandemic are dangerously misplaced is an undeniable fact.
Keeping in mind the countless disturbing accounts of workers walking home, our overwhelmed health system, the tanking economy and the fact that a huge chunk of our population is starving, if all the efforts made by the state are reserved to silence protesters, then the pandemic must be the second of all our worries.
“Everyone feels they will be the next in line to be arrested” — a student from the Jamia Coordination Committee articulated the fear felt by those who actively protested against the CAA. These fears aren’t unfounded, as the nationwide lockdown and curbs on citizens’ movements have proven to be handy for the Delhi Police. The lockdown has comfortably provided space for consequence-free actions and almost no accountability. Moreover, with national attention glued to the coronavirus and its aftermath, the Delhi Police may be viewing this situation as a free-pass.
If it weren’t for the lockdown, booking Jamia students like Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider or Umar Khalid under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) would have undeniably invited protests in front of the Delhi Police Headquarters, Shaheen Bagh or India Gate. Moreover, there is considerable merit to the belief that the state is using the cloak of coronavirus to attack student activists — especially ones who obviously don’t have as much clout as people like Kapil Mishra.
Weekly reports of Indian activists and student protesters being arrested for is an eerie reminder of China using the coronavirus outbreak to dismantle basic freedoms in Hong Kong, and introducing the National Security Laws.
These arrests will only incite more rage against the state, one compounded by the injustices that citizens are witnessing in a pandemic-struck country.
Views are personal.