Safoora Zargar, In April, as the Coronavirus epidemic had just begun to rear its ugly head in India, the Special Cell of the Delhi Police roused Jamia Milia Islamia student Safoora Zargar from her rest, which she’d been taking due to a bout of pregnancy-related nausea and lethargy in the morning, and whisked her away to their office in Central Delhi for interrogation. After several hours of questioning, Ms. Zargar was arrested, suspected of inciting riots in Delhi, and has been incarcerated in Tihar Jail since.
The Special Cell of the Delhi Police arrested a number of other suspects under the same or similar suspicions as Ms. Safoora Zargar, including Manish Sirohi. The police claimed that Mr. Sirohi had been smuggling guns and cartridges from Madhya Pradesh and supplying them to Delhi, and had been arrested with 5 pistols and 20 cartridges in his possession (contrasted with Zargar’s none). 55 people were killed during the Delhi Riots as a direct consequence of gunshot wounds. Mr. Sirohi was arrested as the riots raged on. These are the facts. But facts alone seldom give one a clear picture, without a thorough analysis of each and every element, and a proper timeline of how things played out. While Safoora Zargar, a Muslim JMI student, arrested while unarmed, was booked under the UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act), a draconian anti-terror law which makes it nigh impossible to make bail, Sirohi, Hindu and arrested while in possession of arms was charged only under the Arms Act.
The UAPA is so out-of-favor that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs raised their concerns about the UAPA not complying with international standards of anti-terror laws and human rights in a communication to the Indian Government. A reasonable person would assume, as jails are crowded and a known breeding ground of disease, surely the law enforcement system would show leniency, considering the fact that Ms. Zargar is pregnant. And the system DID show leniency and allow for bail….for Manish Sirohi. The release order states, “…keeping in view…the fact that spread of COVID-19 pandemic is on high rise and there is always a risk of the applicant being infected with the said virus….the applicant is admitted to bail…” All the while Safoora Zargar remains incarcerated under cramped and unhygienic conditions with her unborn child.
The Delhi Police has also conveniently forgotten the incendiary speeches given by leaders from the ruling party, BJP, with chants of “Desh ke gaddaaron ko, goli maaron saalon ko,” (Shoot the bastards who betray the nation) rampant during pro-CAA rallies. The Delhi Police has been accused of near-total inaction when it comes to the masked attackers who infiltrated JNU and have not named a single ABVP (BJP Youth Wing) member as a suspect, despite students and faculty having video evidence of ABVP members entering with sticks and weapons. That’s the system, the system most citizens seem to have given up on. “Kabhi kuch badlega thodi,” (Nothing is ever going to change) is a common saying amongst the Indian populace.
Unfortunately, the public response to the situation hasn’t been much better. The same people who had raged and raged on social media against things like the Boys’ Locker Room, or the Snapchat Incident, were conveniently silent when it came to an actual woman physically suffering. In fact, many went on the attack, sending rape threats and death threats to her family, saying it ‘served her right for being anti-national’, morphing and editing her pictures online and in a few particularly grotesque cases forcing her family to furnish proof that she was married, and that her child wasn’t a borne out of wedlock. As someone who considers himself a feminist, it pains me personally to see that somehow, being a Muslim woman who is outspoken against the government’s policies somehow excludes you from the protection and support system that the middle and upper urban classes of this country have access to, from being worthy and deserving of the outrage and the hurt and the empathy felt by people when women suffer due to the way the odds are stacked against them in this patriarchal society. But clearly, not all women.