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Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Police on Monday, June 27, stopped a peaceful protest against activist Teesta Setalvad and former DGP R.B. Sreekumar’s arrest on Saturday by the Gujarat ATS.
Setalvad had been instrumental in helping Zakia Jafri, the widow of Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the 2002 riots, to plead her case.
The protest, attended by people from all walks of life, had been organised by civil society groups. It began at 5 pm at the Shaheen Smarak in the city. No sooner had protesters gathered than heavy police rushed to the site and interrupted the protest.
The police asked the protesters to leave the site, calling their protest illegal. When the protesters refused to end the peaceful agitation, an argument began between some women activists and police officers.
Police eventually allowed the protesters to continue their dharna for only 15 minutes.
In the meantime, men unaffiliated to the civil society groups arrived at the protest site and surrounded the protesters from all sides. When the protesters started shouting slogans for the release of Setalvad and others, police again interrupted them and asked them not to raise any such slogans.
After a few minutes of renewed argument, police ended the protest and occupied the site.
Congress leader Sadaf Jafar also attended the protest and said that the Adityanath government believes in repression. “We gathered to protest the release of human rights activists, and Yogi sent the police to clamp down on the peaceful protest…He has no moral right to criticise the emergency,” Jafar added.
‘One who fought against injustice is now facing it’
Professor Roop Rekha Verma, a former chancellor of Lucknow University, was among those who had joined the protest. “We are prepared to face all consequences but will not tone down our struggle against the government’s repression. Arresting Teesta is an expression of vendetta as she fought a long legal battle against conspirators of the Gujarat massacre of 2002,” she added.
Madhu Garg of the All India Democratic Women’s Association said she was aggrieved with the police’s attitude. “I don’t know what was objectionable in the sloganeering for Teesta’s release, for which police stopped us,” she asked.
“People who spread hatred are becoming legislators, while those who support the oppressed are being imprisoned,” Garg said, on Setalvad and Sreekumar’s arrests.
Lal Bahadur, former president of the Allahabad University Student Union, said that when all institutions are being compromised, it is citizens who should speak out.
Many lawyers were also part of the protest. One of them, Virendra Tripathi, said the present situation was worse than the 1975 Emergency.
Rajeev Dhyani, a political satirist, said, “It is very unfortunate that, except for a few left parties, all the opposition parties are silent on the arrest of a well-known social activist who sought justice for innocent victims of the massacre.”
Social activist Naish Hasan, who has worked with Setalvad, recounted her role in and after the Gujarat riots.
“Teesta saved the lives of many innocent people and filed multiple cases against rioters. At any cost, we support the movement for the release of Teesta and other political prisoners,” Hasan said.
“Teesta was a crusader for human rights who fought a legal battle against the alleged injustice done by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah during the horrific massacre,” said Professor Ramesh Dixit, a former head of the Political Science department at Lucknow University.
Student leaders also participated in the protest. Priyanshi Agarwal of the Students’ Federation of India said that all the democratic forces believe that the government has painted dissenters as criminals.
Talking about Setalvad’s arrest, Priyanshi said, “It was a confrontation between the government and an individual in which the government is persecuting an individual.”
Daya Shanker Rai, a former editor of Rashtriya Sahara, said that Setalvad who raised her voice against injustice and is facing injustice herself.