A day after a team from Northeast Delhi’s Jafrabad police station arrested two members of Pinjra Tod, a women’s student organisation, in connection with their alleged role in the anti-CAA Jafrabad sit-in protest in February this year, a Delhi court granted them bail, saying that IPC Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) invoked against them was “not maintainable”, and that they were “merely protesting against NRC and CAA”.
The respite, though, was short lived as a Special Investigation Team of the Crime Branch arrested them under charges of murder, attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy, and sought their police custody for 14 days. The court eventually remanded them in two-day police custody.
Police claim the two women, Devangana Kalita (30) and Natasha Narwal (32), were among those who organised an anti-CAA protest and road blockade under Jafrabad Metro station on February 22-23. The protest had prompted a pro-CAA rally by BJP’s Kapil Mishra and his supporters on February 23. A day later, riots broke out in the district.
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The women are facing three probes by the Special Cell, the Jafrabad police station, and the Crime Branch SIT. On Saturday,Narwal was being questioned by officers of the Special Cell when officers from the Jafrabad station arrested her from her residence.
The team from Jafrabad police station arrested them under IPC sections 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty).
However, granting them bail on Sunday, Duty Magistrate Ajeet Narayan stated that “from the perusal of FIR and case file, prima facie the offence under section 353 is not maintainable”.
“Facts of the case reveal that the accused were merely protesting against the NRC and CAA and the accused did not indulge in any violence. Also, the accused have strong roots in society and are well-educated. Accused are ready to cooperate with the police regarding the investigation,” the order stated.
“Also, considering the situation that the accused are vulnerable to the current pandemic of Covid-19, this court is not inclined to give PC remand of the accused and application of police remand is declined,” it added.
In the meantime, the Crime Branch investigation officer (IO) Kuldeep Singh moved an application before the court, seeking to interrogate the two women.
The Duty Magistrate noted in his order: “Both the accused are arrested in case FIR No. 48/20 PS Jafrabad by IO Ram Meher Singh, SHO PS Jafrabad. Both the accused has (sic) disclosed their involvement in present case also. They are also named in the disclosure statement of co-accused persons arrested in present case. Applicant is allowed and permission is granted to interrogate the accused for 15 minutes and also formal arrest of the accused if necessary.”
After 15 minutes, IO Kuldeep Singh “produced both accused after arrest”. “Application for PC remand for 14 days was moved by Inspector Kuldeep Singh. IO has submitted that the accused have to be thoroughly interrogated at length to know the conspiracy behind the incidents and the identity of the co-accused has to be established and PC remand is necessary to arrest the co-accused,” the Duty Magistrate noted.
Adit S Pujari, Tusharika Mattoo and Kunal Negi, counsel for the accused, opposed the police application, saying Kalita and Narwal have been implicated in the case malafidely.
“Considering the facts and circumstances of the case, and the initial stage of the investigation, both the accused remanded to two days’ police custody,” the Duty Magistrate said.
While Kalita is an MPhil student at JNU’s Centre for Women’s Studies, Narwal is a PhD student at the Centre for Historical Studies. They are both founding members of Pinjra Tod, formed in 2015, primarily in opposition to hostel curfews at Delhi’s colleges and universities. Kalita and Narwal have done their graduation from DU’s Miranda House and Hindu College, respectively.
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In a statement, the JNU Teachers’ Association said, “The stark mismatch between the pattern of the arrests by the Delhi Police and that of the violence as recorded by several independent fact finding teams, and the steady refusal of the police to take any substantive action against those who had been repeatedly caught by TV cameras spewing hatred and urging violence before the riots broke out, points clearly to the fact that the Delhi Police is conducting a witch hunt of those whose only crime was to be part of a democratic opposition to something they consider to be anti-Constitutional.”
The JNU Students’ Union said in a statement: “The Delhi Police has never displayed the same alacrity in arresting Kapil Mishra or his ilk in connection with the violence… By arresting two women activists now… the police is now clearly demonstrating that basic courtesies and the rule of law have been replaced by brute force.”
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