New Delhi: On Saturday (October 10), Manikanta Pallikonda, a student of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and member of the Bahujan Students’ Federation (BSF), received a notice from the Telangana police saying that he may be arrested without a warrant if necessary in relation to an FIR that had been filed against him for an anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest in February.
Pallikonda was asked to present himself in the Raidurgam police station, Cyberabad on October 6. However, the notice reached him only on October 10, four days later, he says. He then found out that in February, an FIR had been filed against him and 13 other students for participating in an anti-CAA protest march.
On February 21, HCU students from across organisations had marched towards the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), which is near HCU. After marching to MANUU, the students held a protest for a 3-4 hours where slogans were raised and speeches were made. The students involved in the protest were from student organisations such as the NSUI (National Students’ Union of India), MSF (Muslim Students’ Federation), BSF and other smaller student groups. The march was collectively held by HCU Coordination Committee, an informal group formed in HCU to overlook protests, and the MANUU Students’ Union, and attended by about a hundred students.
The FIR, filed on the same day as the protest in February, invokes Indian Penal Code Sections 143 (unlawful assembly) and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) read with Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
The complaint, filed by the sub-inspector of police, Raidurgam police station reads,
“Brief facts of the case are that on 21.02.2020 at about 18:15 hours the complainant has while performing duties at MANUU university meantime he noticed that, about 20 to 30 students of Hyderabad Central University(HCU) were illegally gathered at Coffee day shop and conducted rally from Coffee day shop to inside of MANUU University with showing placard, slogans against the central government, and gave lectured there as too provocative the students to break tranquillity at the university, the said rally was conducted without taking permission from either MANNU University authority or from Police.”
Pallikonda recalled the incident and said, “The protest was peaceful and didn’t last for very long. We had no idea that an FIR had been filed against us for protesting. Only yesterday I got to know about this, when I received this notice. I received the summons much later, they had dispatched the letter on October 8. Now when I called them, they asked me to come. During such a time, with the pandemic, how do I travel? And I am still in Telangana, what about those students who are in other states?” Pallikonda, who is in Telangana’s Nirmal district – his hometown, about 250 km away from Hyderabad, was the first student to receive this notice.
According to students, the HCU Coordination Committee was a loose, informal group, without specific tasks being assigned to members.
Sneha George, another student whose name is in the FIR, is at home in Kerala and is afraid that she might have to travel to Telangana. “I am a girl, and my parents are very worried since they come from a politically conservative background. We simply expressed our right to dissent. After all, we live in a democratic country where we still have that right. We were protesting against CAA, which we found to be totally against the secular fabric of the country. Our protest was against CAA, we didn’t engage in any violence.” George is a masters student in political science at HCU, and is also the NSUI president of the university.
Talking about the protest, she added, “We had just held a 100-metre march to MANUU from HCU, it was actually very peaceful, we have videos to prove it. I was doing a Facebook live of the protest. We did raise slogans, but not to violate anybody’s feelings. Slogans against islamophobia, NRC, CAA cannot be anti-national. And about the public transport issue, we didn’t create any such issue since it was hardly a 100-metre march.”
She further said, “They have now sent the summon to one student. Now they will send summons to the other 13 students also. We are not looking for trouble, we all have plans to study further, go abroad for our PhD and masters. The government is trying to ruin our brilliant academic records. We will not get a visa for any country if this isn’t quashed.”
Akash Rathod, another student of HCU whose name is mentioned in the FIR, said that he had made a speech during the protest. He said, “Many people made speeches during the protest, including myself, in which I criticised the Central government for bringing the CAA. It was very regular, the cops were stationed there, nobody objected to anything at the time. The protest happened very peacefully, like it should have happened.” He also objected to the timing of this notice, as students who live in different states may not be able to return.
The students, even though anxious, have now resolved to take forward the matter legally. The students’ union of HCU has condemned this police action. Calling it a “witch-hunt” of student activists by the Telangana police, a press release from the union said,
“The Telangana Police has slapped an FIR against on student activists of University of Hyderabad on arbitrary charges for being part of a peaceful protest march organized by HCU Coordination Committee (HCC) in February against the anti-constitutional CAA/NRC. The march was organized from University of Hyderabad to Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), and members of various student political organizations were collectively leading the rally.”
The press release further stated that the police has been trying to intervene in peaceful protests by students and has repeatedly stopped the anti-CAA protests. It says,
“Several protest marches by the students’ union were forcefully stopped by the police. They even detained an entire group of students to stop them from joining a massive protest that took place outside the university. On 26 January, 2020, the Telangana police booked the students’ union members along with 22 student activists on fake charges for organizing a “Save Constitution” rally to the Ambedkar statue of Masjid Banda.”
Further, it also slammed the Delhi police action on student activists who were actively involved in anti-CAA protests in several parts of Delhi.
“We have been witnessing how the Delhi police under the direction of the Central government has been hunting activists, slapping them with draconian laws like UAPA, for voicing against CAA and NRC. Now, the Telangana police have also stooped to the same level wherein they target and hunt students who engage politically and raise questions to the state.”
DCP Madhapur said, “We have not charged them with any serious offences because they are students. We got information that these students were planning to take out a march again now. And we have only sent notices, we have not arrested them. They came out on the road, obstructed traffic and inconvenienced the public, that’s why we had to take this step.”
When asked about the “slogans against the Central government” and “provocative lectures” which are mentioned in the FIR, he said, “I was witness to what happened, they obstructed the road, closed the doors of MANUU, disallowing even the employees of the university to enter.”