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Apr 21 2020

Indian Filmmakers Decry Delhi Student Arrests

by Ophelia Lai
MEERAN HAIDER (left) and SAFOORA ZARGAR (right), both students of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, have been arrested for alleged involvement in organizing riots over the controversial Citizenship Act amendment. Images via Twitter.
MEERAN HAIDER (left) and SAFOORA ZARGAR (right), both students of Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, have been arrested for alleged involvement in organizing riots over the controversial Citizenship Act amendment. Images via Twitter.
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A group of film industry professionals in India have published a statement demanding the release of students and activists arrested earlier in April by the New Delhi police. The detainees were taken into custody in connection with the deadly riots that erupted in the capital in February over the controversial Citizenship Act amendment (CAA), which excludes Muslim illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers from obtaining amnesty and Indian citizenship. 

The authors of the statement, dated April 19, expressed shock at the ongoing arrests and interrogations despite a Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown. The signatories characterized the actions of local law enforcement as “utterly inhuman and undemocratic,” noting that “[at] a time when various governments are releasing under-trials from jail to relive the pressure from the prisons and restrict chances of contamination, the Delhi Police is pushing students and activists into jail.”

The two students mentioned in the statement, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar of the public, majority-Muslim Jamia Millia Islamia University, were arrested on April 2 and 11, respectively, for their alleged involvement in organizing riots. Both are members of the University’s student-led Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), which formed in December 2019 to campaign against the CAA shortly after it was passed in parliament. According to a separate statement penned by academics, lawyers, writers, and filmmakers on April 18, more than 50 individuals affiliated with the JCC have been called in for questioning. An anonymous appeal by students of the University claims that alumni have also been “harassed” by police, and maintains that Zargar—who is supposedly pregnant—and Haider have been “framed.”

Likewise, the April 19 statement, signed by more than 20 filmmakers, actors, and activists, described the recent spate of arrests as a “witch-hunt” targeting activists from the Muslim minority. The text affirms the constitutional right “to express our views against the government and its policies,” adding that the signatories’ “opposition to the CAA continues, as we see it as a bigoted law that strikes at the secular fabric of our country.” Directors Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Mahesh Bhatt; actors Sushant Singh Rajput and Nandita Das; journalist Andre Borges; and activist Trisha Shetty are among the signatories.

The introduction of the CAA sparked nationwide demonstrations in December 2019, leading to more than 1,500 arrests and at least 19 deaths within a ten-day period. The situation escalated in New Delhi on February 23 when clashes broke out between pro- and anti-CAA camps, as well as between protestors and police, which rapidly escalated to mob violence between Hindus and Muslims. According to The Washington Post, the majority of the 53 killed during the week of violence were from the Muslim community, which also sustained extensive property damage and mosque burnings. The CAA is the latest move to further prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda, which has stoked fear of persecution among India’s Muslims.

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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