Pinjara Tod | Breaking free, 365 days later.
“Protesting without arms is a fundamental right and not a terrorist activity”. This statement was upheld by the Delhi High Court when it granted bail to three university students who were jailed for a year under the terse provisions of the UAPA, for allegedly perpetuating terrorist activities during the Delhi rights protests in 2020. The case raises a blatant question, Is passive protest a threat to the state?
Who are these ‘terrorists’?
Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are students at JNU in Delhi and also members of the Pinjra Tod group- a female activism organization that seeks to lax hostel and PG regulations for women. Iqbal Tanha is a 25-year-old student at the Jamia Milia Islamia University.
Grounds for arrest
All three of them were arrested for allegedly being a part of a premeditated conspiracy behind the communal violence that broke out in northeast Delhi in February 2020 during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
On May 29th, 2020 The infamous FIR 59 slapped them with the UAPA charges, terming them terror accused.
The alleged charges were based on 4 sections of the UAPA-
13- taking part in, committing, advocating or advising unlawful activities
15- terrorist act, threatening or likely to threaten unity, safety and sovereignty of the Indian Union
17- punishment for raising funds for terrorism
Guilty until proven innocent
UAPA is one of the strictest charges of criminal activity. Grant of bail, while not impossible, is highly difficult. Under section 43 D of UAPA the law requires the prosecution to agree on bail and the judge to accept this recommendation if he is convinced prima facie, the accused is innocent. In other words, under UAPA you are ‘Guilty until proven innocent’.
Court room drama
“In its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.” – Delhi HC
According to the HC, the accusations made against the three detained did not make out any offence under the sections they were charged with. Seeing that the charges do not hold true under UAPA, section 43 D remained void and the conditions did not apply in the granting of bail.
Bail for all three is subject to a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two personal sureties. They have also been asked to surrender their passports
Freedom- with a leash
The very next day of the bail ruling, Delhi police filed an appeal in SC challenging the judgement. They claim to having sufficient evidence- WhatsApp messages, social media post etc. While the plea for an urgent hearing has been posted, none have been set up as yet. In the meantime, all three of them can experience a semblance of freedom, however long it may hold.
SOURCES - India today, Times of India. Mha.gov.in
~ Devangi Sharma