December 25, 2021 2:59:45 am
AT LEAST ten college students are among 93 AAP members who have been lodged for the past four days at the Sabarmati Central Prison for protesting outside the BJP headquarters in Ahmedabad against the alleged leak of a question paper for an exam to hire clerical staff by the Gujarat government, according to AAP leaders and court documents.
All of them face charges under 22 sections of the IPC, including criminal conspiracy, and sections of the Epidemic Diseases Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. The 65 male accused in the group face sexual harassment charges, too.
The 28 women accused obtained conditional bail Friday and will be released soon, the party’s legal counsel said.
According to court documents, six of those arrested are between 18 and 19 years of age. AAP leaders said four of the ten students arrested are members of Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), the party’s student wing, while six belong to its youth wing.
The CYSS members arrested include Yatin Jiyani (19), an engineering student at Institute of Infrastructure Technology Research and Management, Anmol Vaghasiya (18), a student of computer applications at Lokmanya Group of Colleges, and Anuj Shah(19), a BBA student at New LJ Group of College — all are based in Ahmedabad.
The youth wing members include Mahendrasinh Zala (19), Haresh Solanki (19) and Mahir Shaikh (19).
Yatin’s father Arvind Jiyani said: “We heard the news of my son’s arrest on TV. He had gone along with other party workers to the protest site. We were aware of his political affiliation.” Anmol’s parents live in Junagadh and could not be reached while Anuj’s parents declined comment.
Among those arrested is CYSS state president Dharmik Mathukiya (21). Abhishek Solanki (22), vice president of the CYSS state unit, said: “Why did the police take such stringent action against 18-year-olds, booking them under 22 sections? We have been trying to make a better future for ourselves. We don’t wish to become MLAs or MPs, all we want is that such leaks shouldn’t happen and our future is not destroyed.”
According to the FIR, the charges against the protesters include those under IPC sections 120b (criminal conspiracy), 354a (sexual harassment) 323 (causing hurt) and 353 (assault on public servant). Defence lawyers said that taken together, these charges could lead to jail terms of up to seven years.
“Today, we have secured bail for the 28 women on the condition that their passports will be seized and they cannot enter the territory within the Infocity police station area in Gandhinagar where the FIR is lodged. The bail hearing of the remaining 65 male accused will be heard Monday,” said Pranav Thakkar, AAP’s legal counsel.
On Monday, the students were among about 500 supporters of AAP who staged a protest outside the Shree Kamalam office of the BJP in Gandhinagar. They demanded the removal of Asit Vora, BJP leader and chairman of Gujarat Subordinate Service Selection Board (GSSSB), which conducted the exam to recruit head clerks.
The written exam was held on December 12, with 88,000 aspirants appearing for 186 vacancies. AAP alleged that the question paper was leaked and sold in advance for Rs 8-12 lakh. While the government later annulled the exam and rescheduled it for March 2022, the police arrested 18 accused in the racket.
But Monday’s protest led to a clash between AAP and BJP workers following which the police resorted to a lathicharge to disperse the protesters.
Subsequently, based on the complaint of a woman BJP worker, the Gandhinagar Police lodged an FIR against AAP state president Gopal Italia, women’s wing president Gauri Desai, youth wing president Nikhil Savani, senior leaders Isudan Gadhvi and Hasmukh Patel, and 500 unknown persons.
On Monday night, 93 AAP members were arrested and sent to judicial custody in the Sabarmati jail.
The FIR states: “…several workers of AAP, including Gopal Italia, Isudan Gadhvi, Mahesh Savani and others, holding CYSS banners in their hands, tried to break open the main gate of Kamalam office. Gadhvi was in a drunken state, his breath was foul. Despite several warnings by the police and BJP workers, the AAP workers forcibly entered the building premises by breaking the gates and then blocked the way for BJP workers and assaulted them with wooden sticks.”
They were also accused of “assaulting police personnel and damaging their vehicles”.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a CYSS member, who was part of the protest, said: “We were protesting peacefully when BJP workers and police started charging towards us. Many of our workers rushed to the parked bus in which they had arrived. I ran from the venue. Later, police intercepted the bus and arrested all those inside.” The AAP, however, has not filed any counter complaint in the incident.
Hil Gangani, a CYSS member and second-year political science student at LD Arts College, said he is a “close friend” of some of the students held in the protest. “Our morale drops whenever such paper leaks happen. This time, Gopal bhai (Italia) called us and said this should be the last time such a leak happens in a government exam,” he said.
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