On 27 July, BJP president Amit Shah was in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, to assess preparations for the 2019 Kumbh Mela and meet sadhus in the city. While returning to the airport, his convoy was stopped by three student protestors. The students—Neha Yadav, Rama Yadav and Kishan Maurya—jumped in front of the moving convoy, waved black flags at a police car that was part of the cavalcade, and chanted slogans asking Shah to “go back.” A video clip of the protest, which was widely circulated on social media, shows the police immediately dragging the women away and beating one of them with a baton. The students were arrested, sent to 14 days in judicial custody, but released on bail three days later. All are members of the Samajwadi Party’s student wing.
In an interview in Delhi, Sagar, a staff writer at The Caravan, spoke to Neha Yadav about the reasons for her protest, what she faced after the incident, and the allegations that she had chanted “anti-national” slogans. Yadav is a 24-year-old student currently pursuing a PhD in nutritional science at the Allahabad University.“The police’s aim was to beat us so much that we feel scared to talk against the government again,” she said. “We were beaten because of Amit Shah’s orders.”
Sagar: Tell us a little about yourself.
Neha Yadav: My hometown is Bareilly. My mother is the pradhan of a small village in Uttar Pradesh called Ooncha. My father was a government servant and is retired now. In 2016, I graduated from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. After that, I had a year-long research fellowship in BHU’s ayurveda department. I also topped the qualifying exams for a PhD in Allahabad University, which I started in 2017.
S: How did you manage to stop Amit Shah’s convoy and what happened after that? How did his security personnel react?
NY: Amit Shah ji was to visit Allahabad on 27 July. We had never intended to wave a black flag at him or even to stop his convoy. We simply wanted to give him our memorandum with some of our demands. And we tried it several times in different locations. When he went to the Sangam [a place in Allahabad that marks the confluence of the rivers Yamuna, Ganga and the mythical Saraswati], we tried meeting him there. We also tried while he was passing by the [Allahabad] university’s Hindu hostel. When we failed in all our attempts to meet him, we jumped in front of his convoy while he was returning via Dhumanganj district. It was only for our genuine demands, such as the issue of reservation. The university adopted corrupt practices in the implementation of reservation policy this year [in the admission of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and Other Backward Class students], and this was not allowed to come in the open. Also, the issue of women’s safety. So we had these different demands which we wanted to give to Amit Shah ji. If you ask me this very moment, who is the most powerful member [of the BJP], I would say it is Amit Shah. He made the PM the PM.
When we stopped the convoy, he should have come out of the security and listened to us, to why the girls were out on the road. He had Z-plus security. Instead, he sent his commandos, ordering them to “go beat the girls.” They [the police] pulled at our hair and beat us. They bundled us into the vehicle, drove towards the jungle, and threatened us with an encounter. They returned in the night and beat us up again. This process continued till the morning. However, from Amit Shah ji to the Prime Minister, nobody even put out one tweet about who these girls are. Nobody tried to know what our demands were. We are not politically motivated. And since I am pursuing my PhD, I definitely do not intend to put my degrees at stake, have cases against me and go to jail. Such incidents never happened in our country even under the reign of Congress, which are happening since the BJP has to come to power.
S: Can you elaborate on what happened after you were arrested?
NY: As soon as we stopped the convoy, commandos from Amit Shah ji’s fleet stepped out. They started hitting us with lathis. Then, a constable of the UP police pounced at me from the back, and pulled us by our hair to drag us away from the road. From the front, another commando started beating us up with lathis. Then, they forced us into the vehicle and drove to a deserted railway crossing in Dhumanganj area, located within two–three kilometers from where they picked us. For about three to four hours they kept wandering around. There was not even a police chowki around. There was only the jungle. They took us out of the vehicle a few times and tried to scare us. There were no women police with them. None of us knew where we had been driven to. After about four to five hours of scaring, threatening and beating us up, they took us to the police station in Dhumanganj. Then we girls were sent to the Asha Jyoti Kendra [a state-run center for women in distress]. There was a male student with us, Kishan Maurya, who was locked up in the bathroom of the police station itself. He was kept in the bathroom all night. We girls were taken to a strange room at the Kendra. We were not allowed to meet anybody. We were not given any food all night. In the morning, when some of our people came to meet us and brought us food, they were not allowed to even look at us from a distance. Many politicians from the [Samajwadi] party also came there, but nobody was allowed to meet us. No one from the ruling government party came to ask why we protested. And those of the opposition who came were not allowed to meet us.
After keeping us there for the whole night, the women police station-in-charge, Kalpana Chauhan, came in the morning and began hurling abuses at us. My partner Rama and I were in the room. She came with a woman constable who started shooting a video of us. Then they started threatening us that we are anti-nationals, and that we were chanting anti-national slogans. They pulled at our hair and slapped us. After that, they took us downstairs and tried to force us into the vehicle again. This was on the morning of 28 July when we were taken for a medical [examination]. Our medical was also not allowed to be done properly. After the amount of injury I had on my leg, I could not walk. I demanded an X-ray for my legs but they did not agree. They just did a superficial medical and sent us for the court hearing, and then to the jail.
Their [the police] aim was to pressurise us so much, beat us so much that we feel scared to talk against them [the BJP government] ever again. They did not just scare us, but also our family members by repeatedly by calling and telling them that we will be declared anti-nationals. We never shouted anti national slogans. We were saying “Amit Shah, wapas jao, wapas jao” [Amit Shah, go back, go back.]
[Inspector Kalpana Chauhan has denied the allegations of beating up the students or threatening them with an encounter when reached over phone on 9 August.]
S: What were the charges against you and what was your experience inside the jail?
NY: The police never properly questioned us about anything. They should have investigated why we did such a thing, because we even put our lives in danger by doing so, right? We stood in front of such a big convoy. The cars were moving at a speed above 100 kilometres per hour, but in spite of that we managed to stop them. Section 147 [punishment for unlawful assembly], section 188 [disobedience to executive order], section 341 [wrongful restraint], section 505 [public mischief]of the Indian Penal Code], and Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act [obstructing a public servant] were slapped against us. Such sections were used so that we end up having a criminal record. Then we were sent to the jail.
As soon as we entered, a jail guard recognized us, and said, “Hey these are the same girls who said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans on that day, they must be anti-nationals. They should be kept in the separate barrack. Otherwise they will have a bad influence on the others.” But we did not even mention Pakistan anywhere. We were then given a separate barrack where there was no one else. It is only when the jailer arrived that he said we should be kept in the general barrack. We spent a night in the separate barrack, and the next day we were shifted into the general barrack.
S: Why do you think students are being labeled as anti-nationals whenever they protest against the ruling government? How did this happen in your case?
NY: If you look at the issues in our case, we were protesting on both national and university issues. Ever since the Modi government arrived in 2014, every university where students have protested against them has been declared in some form or the other as anti-national. For example, in Jawarhlal Nehru University, where [a PhD student] Kanhaiya Kumar was also declared an anti-national. The Supreme Court ordered his release, but he was trolled so much by repetitive sharing of doctored videos that a mentality was set up that anti-national slogans were raised. When we protested in BHU, then too, it was said that there are a lot of anti-nationals in our institute. Similarly in Allahabad University, whenever we raised an issue, we were said to be related to Pakistan in some way, declared anti-national and declared terrorists. In today’s circumstances, if students bring forth any demands—“Sir, we do not get a hostel, our fees are being taken illegally, there is corruption in our admissions, or reservation policies are not being followed”—whatever issue you bring up, it will be said that this is anti-national. And especially if you are not a supporter of the BJP, then you are definitely anti-national.
In the university, right after we were released from jail, my own guide [a professor under whose mentorship PhD students do their research], asked me if I had really raised such slogans. The “Amit Shah, wapas jao!” [Amit Shah go back!] slogans were for Amit Shah and there was not even a mention of Pakistan. We were completely shocked that our own guide, our department did not believe us. They were saying that it was a popularity stunt to raise such anti-national slogans. If we had really raised such slogans, IPC sections related to anti-national activities would have been added to our FIR [first information report], and we would not have been outside jail today.
S: Since you are a part of the student wing of the Samajwadi party, there can be criticism that you may had some political agenda behind it. How do you respond to that?
NY: Coming in front of his car wasn’t planned. To say this was a political stunt would be very wrong. If they [the government] listened to our issues, why would we protest? Let them listen to our issues and implement [policies accordingly]. But secularists will need a strategy to fight their communalism. Their ideology is the RSS ideology, it is against women, and they don’t want to create space for our issues.
S: Prime Minister Modi has been saying “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” since his government came to power. Why do you say the BJP’s ideology is against the women?
NY: This is just a slogan until the 2019 election. They do not follow it on the ground level. Instead, they have the daughters beaten up and sent to jail. In any university, whenever girls have come out on the roads, they have always been beaten with lathis and accused of being anti-nationals.
We were beaten on Amit Shah’s orders. Not a single one of them [in the BJP government] said the lathi charge was the government’s fault. Was it not their responsibility to say it was wrong? When Modi came, he said he will not tolerate violence against women, yet they have perpetrated the most violence. It is their regime that is a threat to [women’s] safety. They are neither educating girls nor protecting them.
S: Why do you say the reservation policies in the admission of SC, ST and OBC students or faculty appointment at Allahabad University are not being implemented?
NY: Reservation is a big issue. It is not a favour; it is a right to representation. In Allahabad University, during July 12–15, candidates were called for counseling in the admission of bachelors courses in the open category. [The open category seats are available to anyone. They exclude the 49.5 percent reserved quota seats.] Students from OBC, SC, and ST categories, and minorities had come for counseling. But, except general category students, all were turned away saying their counseling will be done on a separate date. Later they were told the admission process was over. We never came to know how the seats were filled. Then the general [category] students were given the subjects they desire. When an OBC student asks for the same, the combination given to them is not of their preference. Reserved [category] students are being given subjects which are not of their choice. They are not being given what they have a right to. You know what they do in the interview? When a reserved category student shows up, they show it as either invalid, or inadequate documentation or that the student did not turn up.
They are not following the rules of reservation in either the admission of students, or recruitment of ad-hocs and associate professors, or for the hostel. I haven’t even been given a hostel, despite the fact that it’s in the guidelines of the university. We have substantial proof that Allahabad University doesn’t care for reservation. [But] this is not limited to Allahabad University; this includes all central and state universities. Reservation has become only for name sake now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.