Draconian laws should be open to debate

‘Pinjra Tod’ needs to be celebrated as an ideal which could think of taking on the big bad State. Both the courage and the idealism of the girls have to be applauded. Women have borne the suffering rather heroically and carried the cross. It is a happy augury that they are building new solidarities. Bail orders freeing someone till the trial starts should be considered a godsend. Our prisons would be able to breathe.

Draconian laws should be open to debate

SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS: Natasha Narwal was booked under the UAPA for her alleged role in the Delhi riots. She was later granted interim bail for attending the last rites of her father. PTI

Keki Daruwalla

Author and Columnist

RECOVERING unsteadily from Covid-19, one had to choose between two titles, ‘Pinjra Tod’ and ‘Shav-vahini Ganga’, the poem by Gujarati poet Parul Khakkar, which caused ripples in the US and Gujarat these two months. Such was the fury of the right-wingers on reading the poem that about 28,000 misogynist and abusive epithets were hurled at the poor lady, who wrote down the sad narrative of corpses being carried by the Ganga.

When the reaction is so strong and venomous, the poet can be sure of having hit the nail hard on the head. It is said an army of IT activists took to firing their missiles at the poet. Has there been an example of this kind in the past? This entire episode should form a big chunk of social history and should be taught in colleges, starting with the spoof, ‘All is well, sab kuch changa changa/Lord in your ideal realm, the hearse is now the Ganga.’ The poem has already been translated in many languages. The Gujarat Sahitya Akademi also pitched in, and attacked the poem. One would have loved to read some of the vicious trolls.

The central image of the Ganga, as the carrier of corpses, is a strong one and would remain in our memory. Much more optimistic is the ‘Pinjra Thod’ episode. It gladdens the heart. First, the very thought that two or three scholars could think of the sobriquet ‘Pinjra Tod’ was a bit of a shock. Then the police action, like a ton of bricks unloaded on the accused, brought the action of activists to the front page. Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal established the outfit to oppose draconian laws. A year back on May 23, the police arrested Natasha from her home, and also Devangana Kalita, and booked them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their alleged (some would read as fictitious) role in the Delhi riots case, when the then US President Donald Trump was to come to New Delhi.

On January 8 this year, a Delhi court rejected Natasha’s bail plea on the tenuous ground that “the right to oppose any legislation… is not an absolute right but subject to reasonable restrictions.” Who is going to define “absolute right” and “'reasonable restrictions” to the executive, especially when the executive is the Indian police which has an exemplary record during the Emergency of Mrs Gandhi as they hunted down everyone who stood for freedom to act within the laws of the country. Even the judiciary of our highest court failed us then, we should not forget. And to continue with the tragic tale, Natasha’s father, Mahavir Narwal, a reputed scientist, died this May of Covid, without being allowed to meet his daughter. These should be counted as cruelties of the system. Has anyone paid heed to the suffering? A scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia, Safoora Zargar, who was carrying a baby, was charged under UAPA. Hailing from Kishtwar, Safoora was in jail for months. Amulya Leona was another kettle of fish, foolishly shouting slogans in favour of Pakistan and was jailed, some will say rightly.

‘Pinjra Tod’ needs to be celebrated as an ideal which could think of taking on the big bad State. Both the courage and the idealism of the girls have to be applauded. Women have borne the suffering rather heroically and have carried the cross. It is a happy augury that they are building new solidarities.

Bail orders freeing someone till the trial starts should be considered a godsend. Our prisons would be able to breathe. Undertrials also need some support for it

takes years for the trials to come up for hearing. Suppose for an instant, a file of an undertrial goes missing in our Kafkaesque world, he may die in Tihar without his case ever coming up.

At last, a year after, the Delhi High Court took the right view and one has to bow to the two Justices, Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambani, who clarified that the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity were getting blurred. (May I venture to suggest that the prosecution wants them blurred). They questioned that “the wanton use of serious penal provisions would only trivialise them.’ And they pointed out that there ‘was no particularised allegation…to bear out the allegation that the appellant incited violence.’It seemed that furnace-hot verbiage in the charge-sheets replaced non-existent facts. The Justices also said “the court must not countenance a State agency crying wolf.” Well said your Lordships! They freed the three on bail. But they had already spent a year in jail.

Does India and the Indian system deserve draconian laws? We don’t burn up streets in protest, set tramcars on fire. We are generally a fairly peaceable lot. For seven months, farmers have agitated peacefully for their demands. Most of the world’s non-violent cults, religions that enforce or favour vegetarianism, emanate from India. Why do we need harsh laws? And why laws where the provision for bail is thrown out of the window? I remember TADA was once promulgated and misused. I remember that Gujarat had punished even offenders of their prohibition laws under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA). You could be detained for a year without a charge. There should be a big debate on such issues. Can the State hold a mirror unto itself?

But all’s well that ends well. As the Gujarati poet says, ‘Sab kuch changa changa.’

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