The Scholar in Dungeon: ‘A Gem of a Person, a True Intellectual’

A pregnant Kashmiri scholar booked under anti-terror law and lodged in Tihar Jail has become a rallying call for justice amid pandemic. Currently, as eleven lawyers are handling her case, her friends recall her as a ‘true Samaritan who always stood for justice’.

 Mrinal Pathak

Before arrested by Delhi Police on the night of April 11, 2020 for her alleged role in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) campus flare-up, Safoora Zargar, 27, was living a scholar’s dream.

She was assertive, articulate, and academic to a core.

As an art and culture enthusiast, this Kashmiri girl hailing from the Chenab Valley of Jammu and Kashmir was keenly reading history and sharing laughter with her friends, before a certain situation made her an emergency media face of the student community.

Her batchmates describe Safoora, a final year student of Masters in Philosophy, JMI, as a “no nonsense girl who couldn’t take injustice”.

“As an upright individual,” Safoora’s friend from her Faculty of Natural Sciences told Kashmir Observer, “she was always at the forefront to plead the students’ case. But we never knew that she would face a witch-hunt for her pro-student activism.”

As a “kind-hearted” girl, said a former JMI student, Safoora was a strong advocate of women’s rights in the varsity.

“She led various campaigns against the assault of female students in the university,” the girl student said. “She could never make peace with any kind of injustice.”

When protests against the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) broke out in Delhi earlier this year, Safoora’s campus felt ripples too.

But unlike other universities in Delhi, as JMI does not have a students’ union, students and alumni of the institute formed an unofficial Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), with Safoora its Media Coordinator.

“She’s being targeted with false cases by the Delhi Police,” said a JCC member. “Her role was only limited to give press releases to various media outlets. She doesn’t deserve to be hounded for that!”

The pregnant scholar was taken into custody on April 11, 2020, and was subsequently locked in the Tihar Jail on April 16.

Terming her arrest as an inhuman act, a student of the Sociology Department, while fighting his tears, said, “Safoora is a gem of a person, a true intellectual.”

To defend the incarcerated scholar, currently, a group of 11 lawyers are handling the case. They’ve made her pregnancy as a ground for her bail, but the government has said that it’s able to provide Safoora with adequate medical assistance in dungeon.

“This is completely illegal,” one of her lawyers told Kashmir Observer on the condition of anonymity.

“You cannot arrest a woman post 6PM as per the Supreme Court’s orders. The police declared her arrest the next morning under First Information Report (FIR) Number 440/20 filed and she was later presented in Jaffrabad District court in Northeast Delhi.”

The sections filed under the primary FIR consisted of only one non-bailable warrant, however, another FIR numbered 59/220 was filed against her by the police in Tihar Court.

According to Safoora’s lawyer, the second FIR consists of very stringent non-bailable sections such as 124A (Sedition), 124B, 302 and, 307 (Attempt to Murder).

The scholar’s lawyers allege that her bail was rejected due to the cryptic reply filed by the police, which eventually booked Safoora under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The amended UAPA allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and empowers more officers of the National Investigation Agency to probe cases. A person charged under the act can be jailed for up to seven years.

Back home, her heartbroken family is living in quarantined locality and are unable to make sense of the sudden turn of events in their life. Safoora’s terrified husband is not willing to talk to anyone except his jailed wife’s lawyers.

Meanwhile, as Safoora’s case has become a new rallying cry for justice, with netizens calling for her immediate release, All India Congress Committee member and former student leader, Fairoz Khan has requested the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Women Commission India and Delhi to take cognizance of this issue.

“She has been booked under the undemocratic UAPA, which is inhumane,” Khan said. “This BJP led government fear dissent and criticism and thus make sure they use and abuse all the powers to crack down on all and any voice of dissent.”

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