Jaipur: Despite Supreme Court orders to set out prisoners on parole and undertrials on interim bail to avoid overcrowding jails in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, anti-CAA protesters in Rajasthan who were arrested last month have been kept in a jail in Baran district.
The justification given for the same is that lower courts have rejected their bail applications and the Rajasthan high court has said that releasing accused and convicts doesn’t fall under the “extreme urgent matter” category.
“Release of accused or convict at the cost of breaching the order of lockdown and at the cost of risking lives of many cannot be considered to fall within the category of extreme urgent matter,” read the high court order dated March 31.
The order further stated that the high courts have holidays on Holi, Dussehra and Diwali and during this period as well as bail applications and applications for suspension of sentences are not taken up.
The high court also referred to a report submitted by the director-general, prisons stating that prisons in Rajasthan are not overcrowded and inmates, both old and new, regularly undergo medical check-ups.
Why were anti-CAA protesters arrested?
Since December 31 last year, close to 300 women would gather in Rajasthan’s Baran area and stage a Shaheen Bagh-like protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act from 7 pm to 10 pm.
On March 16, while the women were returning to their homes, some Hindu men allegedly made some vulgar comments at them.
Maulana Imtiaz and some other Muslim men who were walking alongside the women were infuriated which led to a scuffle between the two groups.
FIRs, in connection with the issue, were registered by both sides.
The protesters say that a few days later, on March 20, Maulana Imtiaz was arrested from the protest site by some men who arrived in a private car and claimed to be the police.
Consequently, the protesters went to the Kotwali police station in Baran to inquire about Maulana’s arrest.
“There were two groups of protesters, one, that went inside the police station and spoke to the police officials and the other, that stood outside,” said Ansar Indori, a human rights advocate.
He added that after the March 16 incident, there was already a lot of tension on both sides. In such an atmosphere, when Maulana Imtiaz was picked up illegally, the protesters concluded that he has been abducted by some right-wing constituents.
A group of Muslim men that was standing outside the station began sloganeering against the police for not taking action against the Hindu men who were the actual perpetrators behind the scuffle that day.
Meanwhile, the police informed the protesters that they had taken Imtiaz to a different police station.
“As soon as the station house officer’s jeep entered the station premises, the protesters thought that the police had brought back Maulana. So they walked towards the jeep but the police ran over the protesters and injured many of them. Then, without any reason, the police started to lathi-charge them,” Maulana Akhtar, one of the protesters present at the station, told The Wire.
The crowd soon turned violent and started pelting stones at the police.
“A police official got injured and soon, they arrested us,” said Akhtar.
The police filed an FIR against 49 named protesters and 150 unnamed protesters under charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, disobeying orders of a public servant, voluntarily causing hurt, assault to deter public servant, attempt to murder and relevant sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of atrocities) Act.
While 21 protesters were initially arrested, two of them including Maulana Akhtar were later released.
Protesters say that the police was looking for reasons to arrest the protesters, especially after they sought help from a Congress MLA to continue their protest at the same site, after section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed in the district in February.
“The police were hell-bent on curtailing our protest. The SP had, time and again, asked us to wind up the protest against the CAA because the Hindu community was also carrying out counter-protests which were fuelling tension in the area,” said Maulana Akhtar.
He further added that the protesters refused to comply with the police because they claimed that their protest was a fight to save their identity in the nation. So, the police suggested that they to shift their protest to another site but it wasn’t suitable for the protesters from a security point of view.
“The police offered us two sites. They were close to a mandir (temple) and protesters were apprehensive about the pro-CAA population residing in that area. So, we approached Congress MLA Pramod Jain Bhaya who then ordered the police to let us continue our protest on the earlier site,” said Akhtar.
“The police administration took the MLA’s order as an insult and twisted the situation in a manner that would make it easier for them to put protesters in a lock-up,” he added.
However, the police denied all the allegations by the anti-CAA protesters.
Speaking to The Wire, Rajendra Kumar, station house officer at the Kotwali police station in Baran said, “We had gone to arrest Maulana in a month-old assault case. We were dressed up in uniform only and moved in official vehicles.”
He added that the police had anticipated that Muslim men would gather at the police station to pressurise them to release Maulana Imtiaz.
“We took Maulana to another station because these 200-300 Muslim men would have attacked the station to take their associate back. And they did the exact same thing,” he added.