Conflicts & War

Indian govt targets activists amid coronavirus crisis

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Jun 13 (efe-epa).- When India went into lockdown in late March to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, the measure brought an end to massive protests against a citizenship law seen to be discriminatory that had rocked the country for months, but the police persecution of the activists has been relentless since then.

Arrests under repressive laws have multiplied as citizens and the media remain preoccupied with the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

The Shaheen Bagh neighborhood of Delhi had been the symbolic center of the protests since December.

For months, large groups of protesters led by women stood up against a controversial amendment to the Citizenship Amendment Act, that granted citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries except Muslims. The law was a key initiative of the Hindu nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Now, the only remaining signs of the protests on the streets of Shaheen Bagh are some paintings on the ground, next to metal plates and flags full of slogans that have become a makeshift home for several homeless people.

“The protest had to be stopped because the coronavirus disease was spreading across the country and all over the world,” Abbas Ali Naqvi, a resident of the neighborhood who took part in the demonstrations, told EFE.

Although the protesters resisted initially, they soon gave in to police pressure and stopped the protests.

Demonstrations against the amendment, which seeks to naturalize irregular non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, may have disappeared but the police have been very active during the lockdown.

Safoora Zargar, a university student who is five-month pregnant, another student Meeran Haider and activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, are among the young people arrested under a string of charges.

In recent months, the Delhi Police have filed numerous cases in connection with a riot between Muslims and Hindus that occurred late February in the northeastern part of the capital in the backdrop of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The clashes left about 50 dead and 200 wounded, mostly by use of firearms.

Activists have seen their cases overlap with and culminate into charges under the controversial and stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which allows arrest for up to 180 days without trial.

This has been the case for Kalita and Narwal, founding members of the feminist organization Pinjra Tod, a group that has been especially targeted by the authorities.

Kalita has been charged in several cases and has been trying to seek bail. Hering one of the most recent bail applications earlier this month, the court observed that there was “no direct evidence attributable to the accused” related to the offenses.

Four days after the verdict, the police slapped her with the draconian UAPA.

“The persecution, in a certain sense is, is against the democratic spirit, in a certain sense it is criminalizing dissent,” a member of Pinjra Tod, who asked not to be named, told EFE.

Between June 8 and 9, the police filed charges in seven cases, some of them related to murders, including that of a policeman, and announced the arrest of 42 people related to the crimes.

It also repeated what has become the main theory of investigators – the violence during the riots emerged from a conspiracy among those who were opposed to the citizenship law.

The violence was caused by “a web of conspirators” with the intent “to create communal strife, to malign the image of the country under the garb of democratically opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act,” and by spreading misinformation on the act, alleged the police chargesheet linked to the investigations.

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