For Nodeep Kaur, a poor Dalit woman from a Punjab village, activism has never been a choice, but a necessity. In fact, a way of life. “We have faced it (the discrimination) since childhood. And the choice always was either to keep mum or speak out,” said Ms. Nodeep’s elder sister Rajveer Kaur, a PhD student in Delhi University’s Punjabi Department, in a recent conversation with The Hindu .
And coming from a family of fiercely politically active women, Nodeep, who was granted bail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Friday, had been at the forefront of workers and farmers’ agitations for months till she was arrested by the Haryana police last month. Her mother has been a Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union activist for more than a decade and Ms. Rajveer heads the Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch in Delhi University. The third sister, Harveer Kaur, is part of a student union in Punjab.
Ms. Nodeep, 24, was arrested on January 12 from Sonipat’s Kundli Industrial Area — near the site of a farmers’ sit-in agitation at the Delhi border against the Centre’s farm laws. She was slapped with charges of attempt to murder, rioting, criminal intimidation and extortion under the Indian Penal Code, among others, in two separate cases registered in connection with a single incident. She earlier faced similar charges in an FIR registered on December 28, 2020.
Ms. Rajveer, helped by a few of her friends and activists, fought for her sister’s release. She highlighted the alleged high-handedness of the police and, in a press conference, alleged sexual violence and torture against Ms. Nodeep in the police custody. The matter caught the media’s attention in a big way after the U.S.-based lawyer Meena Harris, a relative of U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, put out a tweet seeking her release. “#ReleaseNodeepKaur,” read Ms. Harris’s tweet on February 6.
Call for release
And soon, everybody seemed interested in the story of this young activist. She was all over the social and mainstream media, with hashtags seeking her release trending on Twitter. The issue gained the centre stage with the arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi and the media drawing parallels between the two young women activists. Support also poured in from the farmers’ unions.
“When I met Nodeep a day after her arrest, she was bleeding from her legs. She told me that the male police personnel tortured her in custody causing injuries on her private parts and the back. She was not molested or raped, as reported in a section of media, but can’t a woman complain of sexual violence till the time she is subjected to its highest form?,” Ms. Rajveer told The Hindu . The Haryana Police have denied the allegations as “arbitrary” and “baseless”.
Before the High Court order in the third case paved the way for her release, Ms. Nodeep was granted bail by the Judicial Magistrate First Class in the two other cases.
Born in Sir Muktsar Sahib’s Gandhar village, Ms. Nodeep had come to Delhi to pursue graduation last year, but the circumstances — her father had to shut down his workshop in Telangana due to the COVID-induced lockdown — forced her to give up her dreams.
She took up a job at a company manufacturing automotive lighting in Sonipat six months back, but was gradually drawn to the workers’ struggle. She later joined Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS), a local workers rights’ group in the Kundli Industrial Area. The group would take up the issue of non-payment of dues to the workers. It led to complaints by the local industrialists to the police, alleging extortion by the group.
After the farmers agitation reached the Delhi borders in November, Ms. Nodeep, along with other MAS activists, gave the slogan for the unity of farmers and the workers. They would distribute pamphlets in the industrial area to tell workers as to how the farm laws would impact them. She also lost her job because of her participation in the farmers’ stir.
She may now be out of jail, but the fight continues for her. Stepping out of the Karnal Jail, Ms. Nodeep said she would soon join the farmers’ protest at Delhi’s Singhu border. Meena Harris was among those who welcomed the release of Ms. Nodeep and Disha Ravi: “Please stay loud — this fight is far from over,” Ms. Harris tweeted.