On April 10, officers from the anti-terror wing of the Delhi Police knocked on Safoora Zargar’s door. The 27-year-old student leader activist from Jamia Millia University was taken into custody to be interrogated about her involvement in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). When she was arrested that night, Safoora was three months pregnant.
In December 2019, CAA amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 by providing citizenship to illegal migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities who had fled from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The amendment, however, left out Muslim migrants despite the community being the majority in the neighboring countries.
When she was arrested that night, Safoora was three months pregnant.
This led to a series of nationwide protests across India in response to the Islamophobic Bill. The capital of India, New Delhi witnessed students from universities as they took to the streets. Students from Jamia Millia Islamia were at the forefront of these protests, including Safoora Zargar.
The protests escalated again in February 2020. When Donald Trump was addressing the nation in Ahmedabad, a pogrom against the Muslim communities of New Delhi began, leaving 53 people dead. More than a month later, as India went into a country-wide lockdown for COVID-19, Safoora and other student leaders were being arrested on grounds of inciting violence during the massacre.
Safoora was initially arrested on charges of blocking a road and obstructing traffic. After being granted bail, she was re-arrested 3 days later by the police’s “special cell”. She is now booked under at least 20 sections of the penal code, including the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
A woman who did not engage in battery and assault is imprisoned, and being denied bail repeatedly.
Safoora was exercising her democratic right to protest. She was a part of a peaceful resistance that took to the streets to protest against injustice. She used her voice to stand up against the discrimination against Muslims and minorities.
Did that entail her brutality portrayed by the State? Was it just for the State to utilize the garb of the pandemic vulnerabilities to charge and book her, a peaceful protestor, under UAPA?
Safoora is now accused of rioting, possession of arms, attempt to murder, incitement of violence, sedition, murder, and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.
With the evidence submitted, the Court has disagreed with the defendant’s case. The Judge agreed at Safoora’s bail hearing on June 4 at Delhi Patiala House that “[a]ny activity which has the tendency to create a disorder or disturbance of law and order to such an extent that the entire city is brought to its knees and the entire government machinery is brought to a grinding halt, such an activity would obviously be treated as an unlawful activity within the meaning of 2(o) UAPA”. The fact that Safoora had allegedly remarked in a vituperative manner against the State was denied by her lawyers.
During the bail hearing, allegations of conspiracy were leveled against Safoora. However, the charges were defended on the grounds of Safoora not being physically present at the scene. This was however counter-argued with the court because the evidence of conspiracy was prima facie and thus admissible in the court.
Safoora was exercising her democratic right to protest. She used her voice to stand up against the discrimination against Muslims and minorities.
Safoora is pregnant and has Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome that could lead to her facing major health complications and even, unfortunately, affect the health of the baby. However, she is rotting in an over-crowded prison, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, when she should be safely home. When her condition and her medical vulnerability were expressed to the Judiciary, the response received was to inform the jail superintendent of her “precarious medical condition” and thus be provided with medical attention.
Safoora has been called disgraceful words by the haters. Not only was she slandered for her activism which was only targeted to the Islamophobic anti-secular laws of the Central government, but she was also sent rape threats by anonymous, misogynistic and sexist public of India. The fact that she is a pregnant woman who is willing to speak up has garnered her disgusting and derogatory comments from the misogynistic society, so much so that her child’s legitimacy was questioned. Disgusting tweets questioned her character, assassinating it each step of the way.
Why is it acceptable to target a woman’s sexuality in fields that have no relation to it?
Women in India’s political sphere face unrelenting misogyny targeted at their character on a day to day basis. Lewd terms are thrown at independent and radical women to discourage them from participating in politics. This sort of sexism is widely supported by men and used by them as a tactic to bring women down. Despite women forming a large fraction of the workforce, their success is seemingly intimidating to men. Why is it acceptable to target a woman’s sexuality in fields that have no relation to it?
Safoora Zargar was one of the women from Shaheen Bagh, a peaceful protestor who dared to resist against the Islamophobic laws. She was one of those who chose to protest to protect the constitutional values of India. In one of the largest democracies of the world, dissent isn’t tolerated but is ruled as seditious behavior. Where is freedom of speech? Where are the Constitutional Rights and Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship? Where is the Justice?