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Safoora – an instigator or a victim of circumstance?

Safoora – an instigator or a victim of circumstance
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Thoughts On the Ongoing Safoora Zargar Story

As we lay engrossed in our daily chores, finding the will and effort to decide what to do at our homes, watching
Ramayana, Mahabharat and Netflix with (or without) our parents, attending video lectures, arising every morning
thinking what a precious privilege it is to be alive and working from homes and waiting for an uncertain future in this
pandemic, we forget what the outer world is witnessing at the current time.
Apart from the fact that we are witnessing a mushrooming increase in cases of the contagious COVID-19 virus, mass
migrant movement and subsequent deaths in different parts of the nation. Amidst news of worldwide deaths and a
morbid sense of negative emotions overwhelming us most of the times, there is something very controversial
happening in our capital which has some of us in question while the others remain ignorant or unaware of a
particular person suffering because she tried to raise her voice against something which she had the right to protest
against.
The case of Safoora Zargar, a 27-year-old sociology student currently lodged in Tihar Jail is raising eyebrows because
it is creating a sense of divide in the society in matters pertinent to the concepts of dissent, maternity, peaceful
gathering, leading up to the question whether there is any danger to the freedom of speech and expression in our
nation.

“Safoora – an instigator or a victim of circumstance?”

A short google search of her name will lead you to humongous influx of news and opinions on her life, decisions and
her current state. Amongst the top will be her Wikipedia page identifying her as an Indian student activist leader
from Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir, best known for her role in the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. She is a
Philosophy student at Jamia Millia Islamia and media coordinator of the Jamia Coordination Committee. The
goodwill generated however, decreases when the line turns into “Zargar is currently in prison, awaiting trial, accused
of being part of a conspiracy to cause riots and of making an inflammatory speech on 23 February 2020.”

Background

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended
the Citizenship Act, 1955 by providing a pathway to Indian citizenship for illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist,
Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities, who had escaped persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and
Afghanistan before December 2014. Muslims from those countries were not given such eligibility. The act was the
first-time religion had been overtly used as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law. This however led to vast and
mass agitations in the country and some parts of the world as well. The amendment has been widely criticised as
discriminating on the basis of religion, particularity for excluding Muslims. Protestors against the amendment
demand that it be scrapped and that the nationwide NRC (National Register of Citizens) not be implemented. The
bill has raised concerns among the Indian Muslim as well as poor Indians as they might be rendered stateless that
could lead them to detention. They are also concerned that all citizens will be affected by the bureaucratic exercise
of the NRC where they will have to prove their citizenship for inclusion in the registry. The protesters had raised
voices against authoritarianism and the police crackdown in universities to suppress protests. Considering Violence
and damage to public properties during demonstration, on 19 December, police banned protests in several parts of
India with the imposition of section 144 which prohibits the gathering of more than 4 individuals in a public space as
being unlawful, namely, parts of the capital Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka, including Bangalore. As a result of
defying the ban, thousands of protesters were detained as well as arrested, including several opposition leaders and
activists such as Ramachandra Guha, Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav, Umar Khalid, Sandeep Dikshit and D Raja. A
particularly distressing arrest was that of Safoora Zargar. She was arrested on 10 April 2020 by the Delhi police for
her alleged involvement in the February Delhi riots. But immediately after getting bail, the Delhi police arrested her
again under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and sent to Tihar jail in New Delhi, one of the most overcrowded
prisons in the country. At the time of her arrest, Safoora was three months pregnant. She has been repeatedly
denied access to her lawyer and her husband due to the nation-wide lockdown imposed to fight the COVID-19
pandemic.

Failed Bail Hearings and Public Divide

Since her arrest on 10th April 2020, she has seen three attempts at bail failed. The recent failed bail hearing saw
three reasons given by Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana. First being that a larger conspiracy was at play
to overawe the government by acting in force and violence, secondly and the interesting part being that according to
said evidence there was a prima facie conspiracy to at least block the road leading up to the conclusion that by
creating a blockade or chakka jam, an unlawful activity took place in which Zargar was involved somehow.
“When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and
spread the fire,” was said by the judge and the hearing was brought to a close, while Safoora awaits her fate till 25
June.
The argument here is that how does unlawful activity differ from terrorist activity and how does differing from the
government would mean that you are wholeheartedly against the country itself? Contentions were raised that
showed, when the said incident took place Safoora was not present on the scene which was blocked by the view that
mere presence is not necessary for an act to take place. Zargar’s lawyer Trideep Pais further pleaded on
humanitarian grounds that she was in her 21st week of pregnancy and suffering from health complications that
could increase her chances of miscarriage. Imprisonment in any of Delhi’s jails where COVID cases had been
reported, could endanger Zargar and her baby.
The judge however has directed the Prisons to ensure that adequate medical assistance is provided to Zargar.
Only time will tell what happens next in this legal front but this whole ordeal has divided the public with some
coming out in support for the anti- CAA activist, while some going as far as labelling her as a terrorist.
After the arrest of Safoora Zargar, several people on social media started sharing unrelated images and screen
captures from videos falsely claimed to be Zargar. The most viral allegation which targeted her pregnancy alleged
that she was pregnant by Hindus at Shaheen Bagh. The people shared a doctored obscene video claiming that
Safoora Zargar was in the video, but the video was found to be fake. Other Social media posts targeting Safoora for
her marital status and pregnancy also came into light, with large numbers of individuals claiming that she was
unmarried and that her pregnancy was discovered when she was lodged in Tihar Jail. Why the Delhi Police hasn’t
taken any action against the online vilification campaigns and trolls is something which can be questioned.
On the other hand, celebrated writers, actors and journalists have been speaking in favour of Safoora.
How a person’s marital status is related to the ongoing case, how fast public opinion is formed and is said in an
unabashed crude manner is not just pertinent to this case but several instances. Interestingly no television news
channel is highlighting or even showing to the public the said news.

Dilemma

The question over selective outrage also arises here because if someone who is protesting peacefully is put in prison
while on the other hand ministers and leaders held on record are giving violent speeches and instigating the public
are privileged enough and are scot free, then what kind of environment are we even living in?
Another thought over our morality can be pondered over the fact that would anyone still take a stand for Safoora
was she not pregnant? Using her pregnancy as a medium to appeal for her release and not fighting over the fact that
owing to the charges made on her on the grounds of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act the government and the
public alike can potentially term her as a terrorist which is in process as well, demonstrated thoroughly by the trolls.
Is silently protesting or merely asking questions such a tedious job in our country?
Like a principal discipline a child saying this behaviour will not be tolerated, are we the grown-ups so unaware and
uneducated that we persist to pass vulgar comments over a person that is already facing hell and no principal is
there to guide us anymore.
Even if one asks any question, he is silenced because of our trademark chalta hai, hota hai (It happens) attitude.
All this is happening while we sit back, relax and also ponder over the fact that what should we watch next on
Netflix?

Notes
• Supreme but not infallible – Oxford India Paperbacks
• Safoora Zargar Bail Order Doesn’t Satisfy Criteria For Prima Facie Case Under Section 43D(5) Of UAPA – Live
Law (9 June 2020)
• Safoora Zargar – Wikipedia
• Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act
• The Citizenship Amendment Act
• Twitter – #SafooraZargar

What do you think?

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Written by Ojasvi Taak

His name is Ojasvi Taak, currently pursuing law in his final year of the B.A.LL.B (H) integrated course. He wants to write and is inclined towards journalism and studies law to gain an insight of what makes the world, the way it is.

 

He is a product of multilingual north indian cultures and believes in not restricting oneself in one colour. An avid reader of indian history and philosophy, always tries to make sense of what was and what is. He thinks he can create art in the form of sketches and painting. He is always open to expand his horizons and is also a lover of travel. He wants to use his voice to make people aware about their rights.

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