When the lockdown is lifted, 24-year-old Kawalpreet Kaur looks forward to enrolling for a Masters Degree in Law, most probably at the Delhi University’s Faculty of Law. It is here at DU, that she has spent most of her adult life, through college, earning her bachelor’s degree in law last year. It is here that she discovered her commitment to socio-political causes and decided to speak for the rights of the marginalised. The newly minted lawyer has also registered with the Bar Association, and can practice as a lawyer if she wishes. She however wants to study some more. Impressive academic credentials aside Kawalpreet Kaur, once the state president of All India Students Association (AISA), is best known as a young activist who has been raising her voice against injustice and persecution.
She must be making an impact, especially in 2019 when she, along with other student leaders across the city, and country, led peaceful citizen’s movements against the CAA-NPR-NRC. Many other activists including Umar Khalid etc have been named in FIRs, booked under anti-terror laws, and accused of sedition. Student leaders Shifa-Ur-Rehman, Meeran Haider and a pregnant Safoora Zargar from Jamia Millia Islamia, have been arrested and are still in jail. That they are all Muslims, seems to be a clear message sent to the community.
However, Kanwalpreet Kaur is not a Muslim, lives in West Delhi, and is from Delhi University, a long metro travel, and a longer bus ride across the city from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the Jamia Millia Islamia university, which get regular attention from the Delhi Police, especially its special cell. Why would the police want to seize Kanwalpreet’s cell phone? Why would they want to use it for ‘investigation’ on the same lines as that they say is being used to investigate the other student leaders, who the police have also accused of being involved in the February 2020 Anti-muslim progrom and rioting at North East Delhi?
Clearly the message is now for the entire student community, and young political leaders, to stay away from any civil rights movements, or political activity, including organising or participating in peaceful protests that are one of the most important rights of a citizen of any democratic nation. Under the cover of the national lockdown, which has also stilled all socio-political activity, as well as everyday life, in a crowded busy city of Delhi, the special cell of Delhi Police has been most active in the past two months. Their targets, as well reported in the media, have been activists who were at the forefront of the anti CAA-NPR-NRC movements in 2019-2020,
On Monday, a team of around six police persons, including a police woman, went to Kanwalpreet Kaur’s house and asked her to surrender her android phone to them. She was not told of any particular complaints, or informed of any First Information report (FIR) where she may have been named as an accused, but was asked to unlock the phone, remove all passwords and give it to the policemen. She did so. “I have nothing to hide,” she told SabrangIndia once she was reachable on a relative’s phone. This was not the first time the police had come looking for her. Last Monday, April 20th, the police had gone to Kanwalpreet’s aunt’s house in the next lane to look for her.
That is Kawalpreet’s postal address, she and her family had moved to another house close by as the old house was too small for a larger extended family. “They kept asking my aunt to get me, even when she gave them my phone number and asked them to talk to me,” recalled Kawalpreet.
The police had Kawalpreet’s phone number but didn’t call her for days after their initial visit. Kanwalpreet herself called the police two days ago enquired what the matter was and why did they not call her directly instead of going to her aunt, who like the rest of her family is not an activist nor a political person. The policeman on the line told her that as she was a woman they could not have called her on the phone! However, they did turn up again at the young woman activist’s doorstep and asked her to hand her phone to them. “They made me remove all passwords and took the phone away for ‘investigations.’ she said. They did not tell her what the nature of investigation is. Of course like any digitally savvy citizen her cell phone is loaded with various apps, including digital wallets linked to her bank account, personal email, personal photo albums, social media apps. The police now have access to all her personal data, including her banking details.
Not one to be intimidated by such tactics Kawalpreet posted her statement on social media as soon as she was able to access her own accounts from another device ( https://twitter.com/kawalpreetdu/status/1255377468615274497)
“I am writing this to inform you all that on Monday, 27th of April, the Delhi Police Special Branch came to my home to investigate the violence that happened in Delhi in February. To my utter shock, the police seized my phone citing inquiry into the violence. It was really hard to believe that this could happen to me. As a student activist and a responsible citizen of this country, I have always spoken against all injustices in my full capacity wherever I have been. As a student of Delhi University, I remained active in mobilizing students against the attacks on public funded institutions, movements on social justice and gender equality. Further, as a student of law, I spoke against the attacks on the fundamental values of our constitution through the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brought by the government. I, along with my organization All India Students’ Association (AISA) participated in peaceful demonstrations against the CAA-NPR-NRC along with thousands of others.”
Kawalpreet’s words ring loud and clear. According to activists, this latest police action is a “part of a political script to witch-hunt students and activists critical of the government,” and that AISA is their target. But why would they want to make an example of her if she has done all her activism in full public view and not broken the law? Is there a new law prohibiting activism?
It is an attempt to have a “ chilling effect on any kind of activist,” said Kavita Kirshnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML), “they are targeting the victims of violence, and the ones who reached out for relief”. And peace are being demonised.
Many news reports have documented how scores of people active in the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC protests have been called for questioning, and some have been arrested. Scores more have been arrested from various areas in north east delhi for their alleged involvement in the anti-Muslim pogrom. Most of the men arrested are Muslims.
“What we are also pointing out is that they are using the same words. They say we are making arrests based on ‘investigations and forensic evident’”, recalled Kavita Kirshnan. She and other activists are asking police to explain why the police claims are following a common “script”. The police claims that they have forensic evidence, inlcuding whatsapp chats, as proof that the students leaders were involved in activities which need to be investigated under laws such as UAPA, and other setions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including ones that accuse them of murder.
“When JNU student Najeeb disappeared, his mother had asked for seizure of phones of people who had attacked him, they never did that,” recalled Kavita. No phones were seized then.
She recalled that on March 7 and 8, news reports by ANI, Rajasthan Patrika and other media organisations quoted the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) accusing AISA along with other organisations of being the key “conspirators in the North East Delhi riots”. On March 12 AISA sent a letter to Rajasthan Patrika which was later made public, condemning and demolishing the allegations.
According to the activists statement, “on March 11, a “Group of Intellectuals and Academicians” led by Monika Arora, an advocate who bats for the BJP on many occasions and is a former DUSU President from ABVP, and a former BJP MLA candidate in Delhi Assembly Elections, met the Minister of State for Home Affairs Kishen Reddy and submitted a report. The RSS mouthpiece Organiser carried a detailed story on this “report” stating that: “The anti-NSA protests have the stamp of PFI-AISA.” This say activists was “evidently an attempt to manufacture a false, conspiratorial narrative around AISA.”
The Delhi Police says that its actions against student activists are based on investigations and evidence. However Kavita Krishnan and other activists say this is baseless and “Delhi Police is simply acting out a script.”
According to sources the seizure memo given to Kawalpreet also cites an FIR with a slew of charges including those under the UAPA. This law, say activists, is now being used “to lock up students and activists who are critical of the government – without trial, without bail – and throw away the key.”
The Delhi Police Special Cell’s action against Kawalpreet Kaur, follows a news report in the Indian Express’ April 25. According to the report the Delhi Police claimed it had evidence based on its investigations of WhatsApp chats of nine persons, on the basis of which it had invoked UAPA against various students and activists, and was “exploring action against several members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), Pinjra Tod, All India Students’ Association (AISA) as well as former and current students of Delhi University and JNU.”
“Worst of all, the pandemic and lockdown are being used by India’s Home Ministry and the Modi regime as cover for an all-out bid to arrest and silence dissenters at a time when mass protests are not a possibility, and when the courts are especially difficult to access for most people,” say activists.
However, civil rights groups say they have called upon citizens to raise their voices online for a virtual campaign On april 30, to seek answers. They call it the #DelhiPoliceJawabDo (Answer, Delhi Police) campaign.
A note issued jointly has the instructions to enable everyone to join this unique peaceful protest titled #DelhiPoliceJawabDo campaign.
“On April 30, write to the Delhi Police Commissioner to ask…
1) Why aren’t people like Anurag Thakur, Paresh Verma, Kapil Mishra charged with UAPA and arrested? Why no UAPA against the man who fired shots at Jamia – and why UAPA against the Jamia students he fired at?
2) Why no action against Komal Sharma and other ABVP cadres, caught on camera violently attacking JNU students and teachers? Why act against Kawalpreet who spread peace and respect for the Constitution, and not Komal and Co who led violent mobs that cracked skulls?
3) Delhi Police claims the seizure of Kawalpreet’s phone and other recent actions against AISA, Pinjra Tod etc is based on “forensic evidence”. If so, how come RSS-BJP leaders had already named the same organisations more than a month ago? Explain the “chronology” – first RSS-BJP will name the targets, then their supporters will name the same targets, then the Delhi Police will harass the same targets!”
The activist ask that citizens use posters, videos to raise and share these questions online using the hashtag #DelhiPoliceJawabDo.