Delhi: Youth Activists Arrested, Sent to Tihar for Peaceful Protest Against Agnipath

On June 16, members of Yuva Halla Bol planned to hold an event to protest the government's new lapsable military recruitment scheme. They were detained, harassed and arrested.

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New Delhi: After the Union government announced the lapsable Agnipath military recruitment scheme, protests have been held in many parts of the country. In several states, the protesters have vandalised public property and set trains ablaze.

It appears, however, that even peaceful protests are not allowed in the national capital.

That is what members of Yuva Halla Bol, a youth movement that focuses on education, unemployment and healthcare, found on the evening of June 16. The group had called for a symbolic event to condole the deaths of youngsters who have died by suicide – allegedly because of the Agnipath scheme.

Sachin Lathar, a 23-year-old youth from Rohtak, died by suicide on June 16. He had been preparing for a job in the armed forces for the past two years – when recruitment was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yuva Halla Bol, in solidarity with Sachin and other youngsters who took their life due to unemployment, had called for a protest against the Agnipath scheme at Connaught Place.

However, before their arrival, the police had cleared the entire area and asked people not to sit at the site. The members of the organisation were denied the right to protest. After failed attempts to negotiate with the police, the protesters unfurled a poster which said, “Rollback Agnipath scheme”.

In no time, the police started pushing the protesters towards the police van and detained them. One of the police officials was seen thrashing a protester while leading him to the van, asking him why he spoke to the media. The protester said, “I did not give any byte to the media, I was simply standing there.”

Members of Yuva Halla Bol protest against the Agnipath scheme in Connaught Place, Delhi, June 16, 2022. Photo: Samriddhi Sakunia

Eleven members of the youth organisation were taken to the Mandir Marg police station at about 7 pm. Among those who were taken to the police station were the national president of Yuva Halla Bol, Anupam, national working president Govind Mishra, general secretaries Rishav Ranjan, and Prashant Kamal. They were arrested late in the night.

For the first four hours after being detained, the protesters said they did not receive food, water or permission to call their close ones. Neither were the other members of the organisation allowed to enter the premises. From the Mandir Marg police station, Prashant Kamal, the national general secretary of Yuva Halla Bol released a video saying, “We are not being released. Neither we assembled in huge numbers, nor did we damage any public property. Still we are kept under detention. Our members were constantly in touch with the officials and we went as per their instructions but all in vain, we are stuck here, detained illegally.”

Advocates of these protesters arrived at Mandir Marg police station soon after they were taken into custody. Abhinav, one of the advocates mentioned, “They are not given food or water. The officials are not even allowing us to enter or meet them.” The lawyers were initially not allowed inside the police station and were later sent to the Connaught Place police station to meet the investigating officer.

“At first, they said that there was no senior official inside the station and waiting was of no use,” informed Pranjal, another advocate of the protesters. Later, they were informed about the sections under which the first information report (FIR) was filed: 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) [security for keeping the peace in other cases] and CrPC 151 [arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences].

On June 17, the protesters were taken to Tihar Jail for one day of judicial custody.

At the bail hearing on the same day, their application was approved. However, the activists did not receive any bail orders and were taken back to Tihar.

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“The government is scared of the youth. They cannot withstand our symbolic protests,” said Anupam, president of Yuva Halla Bol with a smile as he walked out of the courthouse after being denied bail and being taken to Tihar jail for a day.

“I do not understand why we are being taken to Tihar for a peaceful symbolic gesture,” said Rishav, as he walked out of the courtroom raising his fist to the slogan, ‘ladenge, jeetenge’ (We shall fight, we shall win).

From the police van, the protesters urged the youth of the country to hold peaceful protests and not indulge in violence.

An activist is detained for participating in a peaceful protest against the Agnipath scheme in Connaught Place, New Delhi, June 16, 2022. Photo: Samriddhi Sakunia

Rishav Ranjan, a detainee who is a lawyer by profession, said, “We were merely trying to give symbolic condolence to aspirants who died by suicide after the Agnipath scheme was announced.”

“We do not know why such treatment is being given to students and activists,” said Babita, a friend of one of the protesters.

The Wire tried seeking a statement from the police officials at the Mandir Marg police station, who refused to provide any information. The station house officer of the Mandir Marg police station told The Wire over the phone, “I am not going to talk about the protesters. Tell me if there is anything else you want to talk about. Contact the other police station.”

At first, this reporter could not reach the Connaught Place police station. But later, the authoirities said that the detainees were now being arrested post their medical examination.

At around 10 pm on June 18, the protesters were released from Tihar on conditional bail)

If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.