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BJP talks of Emergency, but labels protesters anti-national: activist

Back home: Activist Ekta Shekhar reunited with her 14-month-old baby in Varanasi on Thursday, after a court granted bail to her and her husband Ravi Shekhar.

Back home: Activist Ekta Shekhar reunited with her 14-month-old baby in Varanasi on Thursday, after a court granted bail to her and her husband Ravi Shekhar.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Activist Ekta Shekhar was released on bail on Thursday after spending 14 days in jail for opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act

The BJP boasts about its opposition to the Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but while in power the party wants to crush dissent and label citizens protesting peacefully as “anti-national,” said Ekta Shekhar, an environment activist from Varanasi.

Ms. Shekhar was released on bail on Thursday after spending 14 days in jail for opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

On December 19, Ms. Shekhar had been detained along with her activist husband Ravi Shekhar and more than 60 others including Banaras Hindu University students and Gandhian and Ambedkarite activists, while marching to protest against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). The couple’s incarceration had led to much outrage as they had a 14-month-old breastfed toddler at home, waiting for their return.

‘Protesting a policy’

“They [BJP-RSS] say they ran a movement against the Emergency,” Ms. Shekhar told The Hindu. “Now, when it is their turn, we are being labelled ‘anti-national’ for merely protesting. It is not being mentioned that we are opposing a specific policy or law of a particular political party, but we are being projected as ‘anti-national’,” she added. On Wednesday, a local court in Varanasi had granted bail to the couple, an associate Saniya Anwar and more than 50 others.

Ms. Shekhar asserted that the BJP-led Central and Uttar Pradesh governments were ‘intolerant’ of any form of protest, be it a meeting or a dharna. “It wants to implement CAA and is firm on it. They want to suppress people’s voices,” she added.

Ms. Shekhar, who focusses on climate change in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, contended that the State government was taking “disproportionate” action against protesters to deter others from joining them or speaking out.

“ If they don’t arrest people or give it such form, then other people won’t stay at home in fear. It is probably the first time in Varanasi, that people have been jailed for 14 days for violating Section 144 during a small demonstration,” she asserted.

As per the FIR lodged at Chetganj police station, on December 19, the protesters violated Section 144 and while they were near Saraigovardhan, allegedly shouted “anti-national slogans.” Police claimed they had tried to reason with the protesters and explained that their march ‘violated law’ and caused inconvenience to the public. “But they became more aggressive and broke out at the police force, shoving and punching, and started chasing those looking on,” the police claimed in the FIR.

The protesters, including Ms. Shekhar, are emphatic that the protest was peaceful and that they actually walked into the police bus without offering resistance after police insisted they would not be allowed to march towards their designated protest venue Beniabagh. The police charged them for rioting, unlawful assembly, disobedience and assault, among other charges but the FIR does not mention any violence.

Recalling the events of December 19, Ms. Shekhar said the protesters initially sat on the ground after police stopped them and subsequently courted arrest peacefully.

“We had no idea we would be arrested,” she said. “Generally, what happens is that for violation of Section 144, they would detain us for a few hours and let us off.”

During her detention, Ms. Shekhar said the police had accused the protesters of choosing a Muslim-populated locality for their march in order to “instigate riots”. “Because of you, there have been riots across the country. So you are main culprits, the police told us,” Ms. Shekhar said.

She also claimed that the police had initially booked them under CrPC 151 but later added serious clauses of the Indian Penal Code against them allegedly after “orders from above.” “The police told us they were under pressure to ensure we don’t get bail,” Ms. Shekhar claimed.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:22:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bjp-talks-of-emergency-but-labels-protesters-anti-national-activist/article30463757.ece

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