Two months after she was arrested on UAPA charges, a local court on Thursday granted a 19-year-old college student of Jorhat, Assam, permission to sit for coming exams.
Barshashree Buragohain, a second-year student of Mathematics at a Jorhat college, was arrested from Golaghat in Assam on May 18, and charged under Sections 10 and 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act after the district police took suo motu cognizance of a post updated on her Facebook profile the day before. While police claim she had expressed support for ULFA-I, the contentious post, included in the FIR, makes no mention of the banned outfit.
On Thursday, CM Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed Buragohain was arrested as she had shown an intention of joining the ULFA-I. He also said she would be released if her parents gave an undertaking saying she would not do so.
While Buragohain has been lodged in the Golaghat District Jail since May, her case only became widely known on Wednesday, sparking outrage. On Thursday, Golaghat-based lawyer Partha Jyoti Bora moved an application on the behalf of the 19-year-old – the daughter of daily wagers – appealing to the court to allow her to sit for her semester exams between July 16 and August 1. The court asked the jail authorities to make the necessary arrangements, Bora said.
A separate petition seeking bail for Buragohain is pending in the Gauhati High Court, with the next hearing slated for July 21.
As per the FIR, accessed by The Indian Express, a verse in Assamese by Buragohain – ‘Swadhin xurujor dixe akou ekhuj, Akou korim rastro druh’ (One more step toward the sun of freedom, Once again, I will commit treason) (One more step towards the sun of freedom, Once again, I will commit treason)’ – was an implicit endorsement of the ULFA-I. It talked of a larger “criminal conspiracy” and “intent to wage war against the Indian government”. The FIR also stated that Buragohain had “accepted” that she had written the post.
CM Sarma said Buragohain was “not arrested for writing a poem”. “It has been wrongly in- terpreted on social media.” He added: “When the Golaghat po- lice interrogated her, she said that she had intentions of joining the outfit (ULFA)… If she had not been arrested, she would have joined the ULFA. She is one of our own, and it is our responsibility to save her… Forty-two youths have died in camps after joining the ULFA. What if she meets the same fate?”
He had sent people to meet and counsel Buragohain in jail, Sarma added.
Following demands to release her, Assam Police Special DGP (Law and Order) G P Singh said in a statement Wednesday that “due process was being followed”. Singh cited the words ‘akou korim rastro druh’ and said Buragohain had made a “specific call to indulge in waging war”.
“When someone publicly professes support for a banned organisation and declares the intent of waging war against the Indian State, we are legally bound to prosecute that person. Following due process, a chargesheet shall be filed in a competent court of law. Let the law take its own course,” the DGP said.
Atul Dihingia, Buragohain’s counsel, stressed that the word ULFA-I was not used anywhere in her post. “The post has been linked to the outfit because it mentioned ‘sun’, which is the symbol of the ULFA-I,” he told The Indian Express. The flag of Paresh Baruah-led ULFA-I, which has been fighting for the secession of Assam from India, has a red sun against a yellow and green backdrop.
Buragohain hails from a very poor family in Jorhat’s Teok, her lawyer said. Her brother Arindom told The Indian Express that she was “suddenly arrested” when she was visiting a friend in a neighbouring town in May. “I do not know what she wrote exactly… she keeps writing on Facebook. But we know that she is not connected to any anti-national group or the ULFA. My father is a daily wager, we are going through a very hard time,” he said.
Arindom added that when he met his sister in jail recently, she told him that she had done nothing wrong and “only written a poem”. “Her exams are scheduled for July 16 and she is very keen on sitting for them. We are glad that the court has intervened.”
Demanding Buragohain’s release, Congress MP Abdul Khaleque asked how she could be arrested “for writing a revolutionary poem”. Another party MP, Pradyut Bordoloi, tweeted: “Barkhashree is a budding poetess who has been expressing her indomitable free-flowing spirits through letters but has never said or done anything that falls into the realm of terrorism or can be described as anti-Indian.”