Activist couple Ekta and Ravi Shekhar who were arrested in the anti-CAA protests in Varanasi last year on December 19, 2019 were released on bail today on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. The couple run an NGO, Climate Agenda and reunited with their 14-month-old baby girl Champak who was being taken care of by her grandmother in their absence.
“My baby daughter Champak is dependent on my milk, I was worried about her. It was very tough for me,” Ekta told news agency ANI after she was released.
Sheela Tiwari, Champak’s grandmother had earlier told The Indian Express that she was struggling to take care of the infant who used to cry for her mother as she had never been left alone since her birth.
Speaking about Ekta’s arrest, she further told the publication, “On Thursday, around 11 am Ekta left the house saying she is going to buy milk and diapers for Champak. But around 3 pm, I got a call that she and Ravi have been arrested. In the past, they have been detained by police for protests but every time they have returned in a few hours. This time, we kept waiting and they did not come. Around an hour later, I got another call saying their phones will be taken away and there will be no more calls.”
Social activist Muniza Khan who was among those rallying for the release of activists on the ground in Varanasi spoke with Sabrang India about the developments. She said, “Fifty-six of those who were arrested in Benia Bagh on December 19 during the anti-CAA protests are still in custody. I, along with other members – Father Anand, Dr. Arif and other members from Varanasi went to meet the students and activists who were housed in Chowkaghat prison. We were inspected before being allowed to the prison to meet the detainees. Ekta Shekhar, who was in jail since December 19 and who has a 14-month-old daughter waiting at home, was released earlier today at 8:30 A.M. Saniya khan is still in custody because some of the papers related to her release require some corrections. We met Manish Sharma, Sanjeev Singh, Anup Shramik, Dhananjay Tripathi and Ram Janam Yadav among others.” She said that apart from Manish Sharma, Anup Shramik and SP Rai, she was hopeful of the others being released today.
“Those arrested said they conduct daily meetings in prisons which has brought them closer and made the resolve of fighting the CAA even stronger. They have decided to hold a press conference as soon as they’re released and urge more people to join their movement. They will also talk about the false charges they’ve been framed under and approach the High Court if needed, for these cases to be quashed” she added.
When Khan questioned them about the facilities and the jail environment they said that though the total capacity is meant to only house 747 people, currently 2,199 people have been lodged there. There is a queue for the communal toilet. Khan says that those arrested were not given basic utilities like a quilt or pillows and only when they appealed the authorities for the same, were they granted it. The food is said to be edible, but the arrested activists and students noticed that the newspaper that was circulated in prison was cut out in various places, indicating that there was an attempt to cover up important and sensitive information. Even news related to them was torn out of the papers.
Khan also found out that the youngest and oldest of those who were arrested from Benia Bagh were 17-year-old Shahid and 83-year-old Ram Nath Pandey. She said, “We have been trying that all the arrested, even Sharma, Shramik and Rai who’ve been kept back after being slapped with new charges, are released this week. The condition in Varanasi is not good at the moment. People are being intimidated and they are being threatened saying that if they come out to the streets to protest, they will be charged under serious offences. This is the dictatorial attitude of the government, but even now people from every religion, caste and status are standing brave in the face of fear stating that they will stand united to oppose the CAA, no matter what fate befalls them.”
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