Mumbai: Exactly a month ago, on February 20, a petite, young woman, Amulya Leona Noronha, got on to a stage filled with men and shouted “Pakistan Zindabad”. The event was part of the ongoing nationwide agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
The slogan she shouted alarmed the men present — including All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi who was on the stage — so much that they tried to snatch the microphone away and prevent her from speaking another word. Her subsequent shout of ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ got suppressed in the chaos and her intentions regarding the raising of these slogans were misunderstood.
In no time, the Bengaluru police dragged this 19-year-old undergraduate student of journalism off the stage and booked her for sedition. Amulya has since been languishing in the central prison located at Parappana Agrahara, Bengaluru.
Her arrest took place amidst a frenzy whipped up by both the BJP-ruled Karnataka government and the big media. The fact that Amulya had written a Facebook post about her reasons for hailing not just Pakistan but all other neighbouring countries was suppressed and she was immediately painted as an ‘anti-national’.
Amulya has been booked under 124-A, 153[A], 153-B, 505 of the Indian Penal Code for sedition, showing “disaffection towards the government of India”, “for wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. of any particular group or class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion”, for “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration” and for “statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes”. The maximum punishment under these sections could go up to a life sentence if proved guilty. All this for just saying ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.
Her lawyers have since moved a bail application and the matter will be heard next on March 24.
Days after Amulya was arrested, senior human rights lawyer B.T. Venkatesh had told The Wire that her statement had nowhere expressed “disaffection”, a pre-requisite to attract sedition. Pakistan is not an “enemy state” and Amulya had nowhere uttered a word against India, he pointed out.
As a college-going person, her lawyers have been more worried about both her life and her academic prospects ahead. In the bail application, the lawyers have raised concern over the academic loss she has had to suffer along with staying in jail for over a month.
The petition states:
“It is respectfully submitted that the petitioner is a 19-year-old girl who is pursuing her education in II BA in journalism subject at NMKRV College, Bengaluru. She has to appear for the examinations and she has to attend classes and also to complete the assignments given to the students. 10. It is respectfully submitted that the petitioner is also assisting various journals of international repute as part of her training. At present, she is in judicial custody and unable to do anything and she is in a distressed condition.”
Ever since the CAA was passed and the Narendra Modi-led government indicated that the two other impending countrywide exercises – the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) – would also be implemented nationwide, Karnataka’s civil liberties movement has intensified its fight against these laws.
In Bangalore alone, several hundred protests were organised by students, and civil society members. Amulya was one such student who was actively participating in these protests and was at the forefront of organising and mobilising people.
On her Facebook profile, Amulya had chronicled the ongoing protests in the state and her participation in different protest rallies and sit-ins.
On February 16, she wrote a long post urging people to love their own, and all neighbouring, countries.
“Whatever country you may belong to, may your country live long,” her post read in Kannada. In the same post, she also wrote, “Hindustan Zindabad, Pakistan Zindabad, Bangladesh Zindabad, Sri Lanka Zindabad, Nepal Zindabad, Afghanistan Zindabad, China Zindabad, and Bhutan Zindabad.”
This post has since been shared 687 times and a lot of angry, vile comments have been written on it, most of them after her arrest on February 20.
Her Facebook profile continues to be accessible and ever since her arrest, several people have put up vile comments on her post. While some have slut-shamed the 19- year old college student, several others have left death threat comments. A few men and women have also left messages expressing solidarity with her and outrage over the injustice of the entire episode. All this continues as Amulya remains in jail and her bail application continues to be heard in Bengaluru’s local courts.
Her parents, who live in Koppa taluka in Chikmagalur district, have distanced themselves from her and her father was coerced into giving a statement against her. Their house was also attacked by a local right-wing fringe group. The family continues to live under constant threat to their lives and have not come forward to support her legally.
In Karnataka, anti-CAA protests have resulted in several charges of sedition. Several lay persons, artists, and poets have been booked under sedition for speaking up against the law. A mother of a young Muslim girl and her teacher had to spend over a fortnight in jail in Bidar district after the child participated in a school pay expressing concerns over the new law.
Lawyers too have had a tough time representing those arrested and booked for their anti-CAA views. In Hubli, when three young Kashmiri students were arrested for expressing their views on the law on their social media handle, the district court’s bar association passed a resolution barring lawyers from representing them. The Karnataka high court had to intervene and only after the court reprimanded the bar member for passing an unconstitutional resolution, did it finally backed off.
In response to this, several human rights lawyers from across the state have formed a team and have been appearing in the court as a team. There are around 10-11 lawyers representing Amulya’s case alone. Senior lawyer B.T. Venkatesh is at the forefront and has been representing almost all those booked for speaking up against CAA in the state.