Concerns are growing around the continued imprisonment of the 27-year old research scholar, Safoora Zargar, currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
“I have been allowed to speak with my wife for 3-4 minutes over the phone and that was some time ago. She is currently in the second trimester of her pregnancy and has been lodged in the high-security Tihar Jail for close to a month now,” her husband, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, told Gulf News in an exclusive telephonic chat.
Safoora was arrested on April 13 this year after being charged under the stringent UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) for her alleged role in the Northeast Delhi riots.
“No one from her parents’ side in Kashmir has been able to get in touch with her because of the ongoing lockdown and there is no communication at all. We have no idea what condition she is in,” he added.
The research scholar from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi has been accused of organising protests against India’s newly-amended Citizenship Act. Delhi Police claims the student was among those taking the lead in the anti-CAA protests in the Indian capital on February 22.
At the time of her arrest, Safoora was three months’ pregnant. “What worries us the most is her state of health. She is now four months’ pregnant and lodged in one of India’s biggest prisons. Given the precarious situation around the spread of coronavirus, with jails being hotspots for transmission of infection, we are very worried about her,” her husband noted.
The family insists that she has been falsely implicated. They moved a bail plea before the court, citing her pregnancy. In view of the proviso Section 437 of India’s criminal procedure code, where the defendant is a woman, who is unwell, the family was expecting her to be released. However, she was denied bail.
A high-powered committee headed by a Delhi High Court judge has directed the director general of police (prisons) to ensure that adequate medical assistance is provided to Safoora, and other pregnant prisoners currently lodged in jail.
Safoora’s arrest set the Indian social media alight with right-wing sexism. Trolls have been mocking at her pregnancy, linking her to the Shaheen Bagh protests.
With Twitter and Facebook replete with memes and fake news around the student-activist, the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, Aishe Ghosh, called the targeted trolling of Safoora as nothing but “slut-shaming”.
Safoora’s teachers and friends at Jamia Millia Islamia say they were both shocked and outraged at the organised, derogatory and vicious attacks on her, especially with regard to her pregnancy.
The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) issued a statement regarding this:
DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal said: “Whether she is guilty or not will be decided by the court. But the way the trolls have outraged her modesty and vilified a pregnant woman’s character is shameful.”
This week DG (Prisons) Sandeep Goel told media that there is a doctor on the jail premises. “If the doctor suggests any dietary changes, we will make those. It is also the month of Ramadan, and all those who fast are provided meals accordingly,” he was quoted by the local media.
Safoora’s case has received attention from many rights bodies, including Amnesty International, which sharply criticised New Delhi over the arrest of the pregnant student in the middle of a global pandemic.
Her husband told Gulf News: “We have faith in the judiciary. With her advancing pregnancy, we just hope that Safoora won’t be denied justice.”
Late last year, massive protests took place across India against the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), after the controversial bill was passed in both the country’s Upper and Lower Houses of parliament.
The CAA grants fast-tracked citizenship to migrants from India’s immediate neighbours, but not to Muslims.
Sustained protests at Shaheen Bagh, a Muslim neighbourhood in Delhi, captured the imagination of millions. A long-running sit-down led mostly by Muslim women became a focal point of protests against the CAA.
The largely peaceful protest, against the citizenship law, had been going on for months before being cleared out in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.