National and International Issues

Safoora Zargar: She is Not the Lone Sufferer in RSS-led India

India is moving forward on its agenda of Greater Bharat. The political party which has increased the pace for this movement, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been the governing party since 2014. It has brought drastic changes to the Indian Constitution which has led to major unrest. Safoora Zargar is a very small piece of this jigsaw puzzle. To understand what is happening to her we have to see the context in which the Shaheen Bagh protests were held. The protests were peaceful but RSS mobs attacked and fighting ensued. India is only blaming and apprehending the protestors and not the RSS thugs which clearly shows that the mobs were backed by the government. In this article I will discuss the events preceding Shaheen Bagh protests and how the overall situation developed.

India has a track record of punishing innocent civilians. The treatment being meted out to Safoora reminds one of Late Afzal Guru. He too was incarcerated in Tihar Jail and was sentenced to death. Safoora’s case is still evolving so we can’t be too sure as to what will happen to her, but it can be said that this is a case of religious persecution. Tihar Jail is infamous for its brutality. She remains incarcerated and there is no relief in sight. We can only hope and pray for her safety.

BJP has successfully formed government for the second time and has become even more aggressive in its Hindutva agenda. Hate crimes against minorities, especially the Muslims, have increased exponentially. The RSS terrorists have yet again proven themselves Hindu fundamentalists who have been terrorising the minorities. Under the leadership of the Indian Premier Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah the Hindustani government has been bulldozing ahead with draconian reforms to the country’s laws; reforms that have been extremely painful for the masses. But since this is the stated manifesto of BJP, it is being followed to the last letter. The month of August 2019 was particularly brutal in regards to the reforms. 
On August 5, 2019, the government of India revoked the special status, or limited autonomy granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, a region administered by India as a state, and a part of the larger region of Kashmir, which has been the subject of dispute among India, Pakistan, and China since 1947. Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state that has been occupied by India. This constitutional change was required to bring demographic changes to the occupied territory.
The President of India issued an order under the power of Article 370, overriding the prevailing 1954 Presidential Order and nullifying all the provisions of autonomy granted to the state. Home Minister Amit Shah introduced a Reorganisation Bill in the Indian Parliament, seeking to divide the state into two Union Territories to be governed by a lieutenant governor and a unicameral legislature. The resolution seeking the revocation of the special status under Article 370 and the bill for the state's reorganisation was debated and passed by the Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of parliament) on 5 August 2019. On August 6, the Lok Sabha (India’s lower house of parliament) debated and passed the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019 along with the resolution recommending the revocation. The constitutional expert opinion is divided on whether the revocation is legally sound. Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir was locked down and there was a complete communication blackout which lasted for over 6 months.  There have been massive protests which have led to increase in bloodshed and arrest of protestors as well as journalists who were covering the protests and sending out information to international media houses.
Later in the month the final updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam was published on August 31, 2019. It contained 31 million names out of 33 million population. The process of updating Assam's part of NRC started in 2013 when the Supreme Court of India passed an order for it to be updated. Since then, the Supreme Court monitored it continuously. And as mentioned above, the updated NRC was published on August 31, 2019. In one stroke 1.9 million people became stateless. This caused huge agitation in Assam. One cannot ignore the fact that a third of the state's 32 million residents are Muslims, the second-highest number after Indian Occupied Kashmir. Many of them are descendants of immigrants who settled there under British rule. The agitation caused bloodshed and arrests. This was also being covered by international media. Slowly and steadily the true face of ‘secular’ India has been uncovered.
What was started in Assam was then taken to all of India.  Modi-Shah duo kept increasing their nationwide NRC pitch and as Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was brought in, it became a Hindu-versus-Muslim question, a pro or anti-BJP fight, Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU and the liberals versus the Hindutva brigade. On December 12, 2019, the Parliament of India passed the CAA which amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to grant a swifter path to Indian citizenship under the assumption of religious persecution to any individual belonging to the specific religious minorities of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, for those who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. However, the Act does not mention Muslims and does not offer eligibility benefits to Muslim immigrants or immigrants belonging to other religions or from other countries, such as Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. Rohingya Muslims and Hindu refugees from Myanmar, and Buddhist refugees from Tibet. It is also alleged that the NRC, which the government plans to implement in the country in 2021, could be used to deprive Muslims of Indian citizenship. 
The Shaheen Bagh protest was launched on the afternoon of December 14, 2019, when 10 to 15 local women began to block Kalindi Kunj Road (Road 13A), a six-lane highway bordering the Muslim-dominated neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh in southeast Delhi. More locals joined and it became a continuous sit-in protest. Many of the women were Muslim. Elderly women had also joined the protest, and children and new-born babies were present with their parents. With crowds reaching as high as 100,000, the protest became one of the longest sit-in protests of this magnitude in modern India. Its stages became a prominent platform to voice issues. Hindutva mobs and the police tried to break this peaceful protest. The clashes started during U.S. President Donald Trump's first official visit to the India.  The violence has been linked to a BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, who had threatened a group of protesters staging a sit-in against the CAA, telling them that they would be forcibly evicted once President Trump left India. There were clashes between the protestors and the RSS mobs. Hindu mobs threw stones and shouted slogans, with some in the crowd shouting "shoot the traitors". Stones were pelted, vehicles were burned, people were injured and killed. Police either stood by and did not interfere or it supported the mob. Delhi police force is said to be reporting directly to Mr. Modi's ruling BJP-led government, rather than to Chief Minister Delhi, Mr. Kejriwal's administration. 
Delhi police started a witch hunt to find and arrest the people who were seen to be leading the protests. Students of Jamia Millia and JNU were very prominent leaders of the protest. And so they faced the brunt of the police brutality. Mostly Muslims have been arrested.  Safoora Zargar, a 27-year-old MPhil student and research fellow from Jamia, over three months pregnant, was arrested by the Delhi Police’s special cell on April 10. She was arrested for allegedly leading the anti-CAA protest at Jaffrabad metro station on the night of February 22. Safoora was associated with the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), and was part of the anti-CAA protests organised by university students in December and January. She was later denied bail and, on April 21, charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Police accuse Zargar of being a key "conspirator" in the violence that erupted after supporters of the Hindu nationalist government attacked the peaceful sit-ins. At least 53 people were killed, mostly Muslims, in the worst violence in the capital since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to Indian courts ordering the release of those who have not been put on trial but Zargar, charged with as many as 18 crimes including rioting, possession of arms, attempt to murder, incitement of violence, sedition, murder, and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, is not eligible for an early release.
Safoora is incarcerated in Tihar Jail, Delhi. She has not received bail as of yet. RSS goons have been maligning her on the social media by putting up a fake porn video. Her marital status has also been questioned. She is receiving so much abuse on social media that The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) issued a notice to the cyber cell of the Delhi Police asking for action to be taken against the trolls. “The case against her is sub judice and the law shall take its own course. However, the same does not give anyone the right to outrage her modesty and abuse her and her family,” the notice says. “Several comments outraging her dignity and threatening her family have also been made.” The notice has asked the Delhi Police to submit a copy of the FIR registered in the matter as well as details of the accused identified and arrested. The police has also been asked to inform the commission about the “measures taken to remove the posts outraging her modesty from social media”.
India has a track record of punishing innocent civilians. The treatment being meted out to Safoora reminds one of Late Afzal Guru. He too was incarcerated in Tihar Jail and was sentenced to death. Safoora’s case is still evolving so we can’t be too sure as to what will happen to her, but it can be said that this is a case of religious persecution. Tihar Jail is infamous for its brutality. She remains incarcerated and there is no relief in sight. We can only hope and pray for her safety.

The writer is the former Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development for the state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Her services have won her the title of “Young Global Leader 2017” by World Economic Forum. 
Email: [email protected]

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