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Monday, June 14, 2021

Jailed Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal’s father dies of Covid

Natasha was arrested on May 23 last year from her home, along with fellow Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita, and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her alleged role in the Delhi riots.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: May 11, 2021 2:01:11 am
Narwal with Natasha and son Aakash (Express)

Mahavir Narwal (71), father of Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal, who has been in jail since her arrest last May, died on Sunday after battling Covid-19 for almost a week. He was admitted to a Rohtak hospital and passed away around 6 pm.

Natasha was arrested on May 23 last year from her home, along with fellow Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita, and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her alleged role in the Delhi riots. Her sole surviving relative is her younger brother Aakash, who is currently at home in Rohtak and also has Covid. They lost their mother at a very young age.

Narwal was a retired senior scientist from CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar, and a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He was hospitalised on May 3 after his oxygen levels dipped marginally. Due to diabetes-related complications, his levels did not stabilise and he was put on a ventilator Sunday morning,
those close to the family said.

In the last one year, he followed his daughter’s court case at every stage, making frequent trips from Rohtak to Delhi in the hopes of seeing her free. “She is absolutely innocent. I know it, I believe it, and I hope for justice from the courts to see her be freed,” he had told The Indian Express in May last year, shortly after Natasha’s arrest.

Several leaders and friends expressed their condolences.

“CPIM expresses deep condolences on the demise of Comrade Mahavir Narwal, a senior member of CPIM. It is criminal act of the Modi government that his daughter Natasha Narwal was arrested under UAPA last year and couldn’t even meet her father. Lal Salaam Mahavir Narwal!” the CPI(M) tweeted.

 

Inderjit Singh, a close family friend of Narwal’s and a CPM leader, said, “There is nothing more distressful than this situation. Her (Natasha’s) bail was to be heard yesterday, but it was delayed for Monday…”

Natasha’s lawyers are likely to make a mentioning before the High Court on Monday morning for urgent hearing of her plea for interim bail. The order in her petition for regular bail is reserved since April 27.

Singh’s association with Narwal dates back to the 1970s when they met during their BSc at CCS Haryana Agricultural University. Over the years, they pursued their academics together, went to jail together during the Emergency, and lived together in Hisar and then Rohtak. “He was a very compassionate person and had a wide network of social contacts. He worked with the science movement until his retirement. He was the president of the Haryana Vigyan Manch. He was a gold medallist in both graduation and post-graduation, and was an excellent plant breeder,” he said.

Speaking to The Indian Express earlier, Narwal had said he felt his daughter and other political prisoners were being “intentionally harassed”. “I know my daughter. I am very clear about her and very proud of her. She is not an accused in my eyes. She is always very self-composed, calm, and believes in social service. She is a lover of humanity. She was more interested and more involved in providing relief to the victims (of Delhi riots), than in leading agitations,” he had said.

On January 8, a Delhi court had dismissed Natasha’s bail application in the UAPA case observing that there was “no gainsaying the fact that all citizens of the country under the Constitution have the right and freedom to protest, including the right to oppose any legislation, however, it is not an absolute right but subject to reasonable restrictions.”

On September 17, 2020, Narwal was granted bail in the Jaffrabad riots case by a court which observed that there was no specific allegation of threat to witnesses.

In November last year during an online event to mark six months of incarceration, Narwal had said, “Nobody in my
family is demoralised or intimidated. We are all part of your resistance,” adding that resistance was “not just to get them out of jail but to save all good ideas; to save the truth”.

In a statement, Pinjra Tod said he “campaigned hard” to prove Natasha’s innocence: “We have lost Mahavir Narwal – comrade, father, friend, fellow traveller… This is an immense loss for us and the larger community as for Natasha. He was a rock for many of us, a voice of sanity in the din, calmly and coolly raising his firm voice.”

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