Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are student activists who were arrested in May 2020 in relation to the communal violence in northeast Delhi in February that year. They are both members of Pinjra Tod, a women’s collective working for women’s rights, and doctoral students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Kalita was arrested in four different first-information reports registered by the Delhi Police, and Narwal was also arrested in three of them. In each FIR, the duo were granted bail with orders that addressed the lack of evidence against them. On 17 June, they were finally released from Delhi’s Tihar Central Jail after securing bail in FIR 59 of 2020, in which they were accused with several other student activists under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The Delhi High Court granted them bail in FIR 59 on 15 June. In the judgment, the bench, comprising the judges Anup Bhambhani and Siddharth Mridul, held that the UAPA can only be invoked in exceptional circumstances. It further stated, “We are constrained to express that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”
On 19 June, Nabeela Paniyath, a multimedia editor at The Caravan, spoke to Narwal and Kalita about their year in jail, their journey into activism and their hopes for the future.
Nabeela Paniyath: What was the experience of being incarcerated under the UAPA?
Devangana Kalita: In this regard, one is very thankful to the Delhi High Court. When you talk about what that experience has been, I think that high court order really sets out that experience of the conflation which this case made between the right to protest and terrorism. These kinds of repressive laws, which give extraordinary powers to the state, to the police, they have a long history. They have been happening since the colonial times to suppress dissent—through these forms of extraordinary laws where general principles of justice are kind of overturned.