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Delhi University professor grilled on riots

Focus on culprits, appeals Apoorvanand
Delhi University Hindi department professor Apoorvanand Jha

Pheroze L. Vincent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 05.08.20, 04:29 AM

Delhi police on Tuesday questioned a Delhi University professor in connection with the February riots here in which 53 people died, a week after the arrest of another teacher of the varsity over a 2017 Ambedkarite event.

Hindi professor Apoorvanand Jha, a public intellectual and pacifist activist of repute in the capital, was grilled by the police’s special cell with respect to an FIR lodged by the police’s anti-terror unit. The FIR accuses several people of planning violent protests against the new citizenship matrix during US President Donald Trump’s visit in February, which the police claim led to the riots.

Jha tweeted a statement saying: “Delhi police also considered it necessary to seize my phone for the purpose of investigation. While cooperating and respecting the right of police authorities to conduct a full, fair and thorough investigation, one can only hope that the probe would focus on the real instigators and perpetrators of the violence against a peaceful citizens’ protest and the people of Northeast Delhi.”

The police have told Delhi High Court that “no actionable evidence has surfaced yet”, in response to a query made five months ago on whether the role of BJP leader Kapil Mishra should be investigated in connection with the riots. Mishra had delivered a provocative speech that immediately preceded the riots that began on February 23.

Jha appealed for the “harassment and victimisation” of the anti-citizenship regime protesters to stop.

“It should not lead to further harassment and victimisation of the protesters and their supporters who asserted their democratic rights through constitutional means, while stating their dissent to the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, and the decision of the GoI to operationalise the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens all over the country. It is disturbing to see a theory emerging which treats the supporters of the protesters as the source of violence,” the professor said in the statement.

The FIR, which does not name Prof. Jha, has been called “all-encompassing” in court by a defence lawyer as it has been expanded to include several activists. Among those named are former JNU student Umar Khalid and current JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita of the women students’ group Pinjra Tod, besides another member of the group, Gulfisha Fatima. The Pinjra Tod trio are behind bars.

The FIR also includes the names of Jamia Millia Islamia students Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Asif Iqbal, and alumni office-bearer Shifa-ur-Rehman. Besides Zargar, who is pregnant and had spent 74 days in jail, the rest continue to be in custody.

Also in jail and named in the FIR are suspended Aam Aadmi Party councillor Tahir Hussain, who is accused of abetting the murder of an Intelligence Bureau employee, former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan and rights activist Khalid Saifi. Umar Khalid was questioned on Friday.

Last week, DU associate professor of English Hany Babu M.T. had been arrested over a 2017 Elgaar Parishad Ambedkarite event that had been linked to violence the next day in which one person had died, Maoist connections and an alleged plot to target the Prime Minister’s rallies. On Sunday, the NIA searched Hany Babu’s home.

Activists have spoken out against the arrests and other police actions that seem to be based on the people concerned’s association with those under investigation.

G. Haragopal of the Committee for the Defence and Release of G.N. Saibaba said in a statement: “The raid at his (Hany Babu’s) house… was ostensibly to collect material to corroborate the arrest. It defies all logic that the arrest of Dr Babu was made without sufficient basis, to the point that the NIA now finds itself searching for material to justify the arrest, post-facto and concocting false ‘evidence’ against him.”

“We are also given to understand that the material confiscated from Dr Babu’s house during this second raid was almost solely to do with the Committee for the Defence and Release of G.N. Saibaba…. This smacks of an ulterior motive, viz., to criminalise this committee and its members, through the principle of ‘guilty by association’.”

Hany Babu had been active in the committee fighting for Saibaba, a disabled DU professor serving a life sentence in Nagpur since 2014 for Maoists links.

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