Even as India reels under the coronavirus induced lockdown, shocking reports of brutal crackdowns on human rights activists have been making the news. The police have ensured continuous incarceration of activists by booking them under stringent charges like the National Security Act (NSA), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and sedition.
While the Supreme Court had given state government orders to decongest prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic in a bid to curb transmission there, the police still went ahead and arrested student activists and dissenters from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMIU) like Safoora Zargar, who were campaigning against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) by booking them under non-bailable offences. While Zargar was finally granted bail on June 24 and released from Tihar Jail, other student activists like Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Meeran Haider and Shifa-ur-Rahman are still in judicial custody for allegedly playing a part in the communal violence that took place in Delhi in February this year.
Also still in jail are social and civil rights activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Prof. Shoma Sen, Prof. Rona Wilson, Gautam Navlakha, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Rout and Sudhir Dhawale who had been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. Their pleas for bail have been consistently denied and they have faced severe harassment and accused of having Maoist links.
In light of this, Prafulla Samantara, the Green Nobel Prize Winner and President of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, along with noted persons like former Finance Minister of Odisha Panchanan Kanungo, senior journalist Rabi Das, social activists Manas Patnaik, Amiya Pandav and Sudarshan Pradhan among others held a ‘Black Emergency Day’ on June 25, 2020 alleging that the Central government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has enforced an ‘undeclared emergency’ in the country. The Satyagraha also saw Samantara and his fellow protestors observe a 12-hour fast against the Union government’s actions.
Samantara and others addressed a letter to the President of India appealing him to release democratic human rights activists kept in jail on false charges. They wrote, “Once, the Constitutional democratic rights, especially the right to life, press freedom, right to dissent were curtailed during the National Emergency from June 1975 to March 1977, but the people of India restored the largest democracy of the world defeating dictational force in the historical general elections of 1977. At present though there has not been declared emergency, but the present Union Government of India’s undemocratic actions, repression on democratic dissenters, minority and Dalit communities and human right defenders have created a fearful emergency like situation in the country that is felt like ‘undeclared emergency’.”
“All false FIRs have been filed by the Delhi Police against many activists who are committed to protect our constitution,” they added.
Urging the President to direct the release of the jailed activists in the Bhima Koregaon case and the student activists from JNU and Jamia Millia Islamia University they said, “Our concern is to protect democratic rights of the people who are under the threat of hate politics and violence by the communal forces in the country. We observe today as Black Emergency Day and wish to be free from undeclared emergency of the present central rule.”