Safoora Zargar, a 27-year research scholar at the Jamia Milia University, New Delhi, was arrested by Delhi Police on 10 April for allegedly giving “inflammatory speeches” and inciting sectarian riots in Northeast Delhi two months earlier. Safoora, who is pregnant and suffers from Poly Cystic Ovarian Disorder, has been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). On 5 June, she was denied bail by the Patiala House Court after eight hours of arguments over two days. Noted legal commentators, Gautam Bhatia and Vakasha Sachdev, have argued that the latest verdict was deeply flawed and disturbing. She currently remains in judicial custody.
Dear Safoora and friends,
We don’t know each other personally. But I believe you will be able to feel my words. Because, deep down in our hearts, you and me, and all others who were arrested, we are all part of the same slaughterous history. Where whenever a person belonging to a minority – be it sexual, racial or religious – has dared to stand up, she has been suppressed in the most brutal way.
Dear Sister, I heard you are going through the most delicate time of your life. You are bearing a new life within you. I have no idea how you are feeling or what you are thinking. I can only guess, in the words of the famous poet Sylvia Plath, who when pregnant with her first child she, wrote:
I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
Or red fruit, ivory, fine timbers.
Considering this, I can guess that a lot of ups and downs are happening both within your body and mind. But I know you will survive this. You will survive this because you are a woman. And every woman, believe me, every woman on this earth today, is a survivor of patriarchy, misogyny and oppression. Hence, I want to share the stories of two other survivors. I felt it is important for you and your friends to know about her since you all are protesting against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). And her story totally defines women’s relation with a dehumanised and sheerly patriarchal procedure like NRC and CAA, and the working of Foreigners Tribunals (FT) in Assam. Parallel to the NRC process, the Border Police in Assam institute cases in FTs against individuals who are suspected of being foreigners. Those under suspicion of being foreigners with their cases pending before FTs live under the imminent threat of being taken to detention centres at any moment.
Rashmin Ara Khatun was one such woman who was caught in this unfair and discriminatory system. The youngest daughter of late freedom fighter Mr. Ramjan Ali, she is a sister from Goalpara, Assam. She received a notice from the FT in 2016 to attend a hearing. She dutifully attended hearings as she was called. Since her father was a freedom fighter, she perhaps didn’t even anticipate that she could be declared as a foreigner. But to her utter astonishment, it happened. She was declared a foreigner and taken to the jail immediately from the courtroom. Later, an appeal was filed for her to be released on bail.
Do you know what happened in that courtroom, when her lawyer pleaded her bail on the ground of pregnancy? A very responsible man in a responsible post in the judiciary told Khatun’s advocate that since she first received a notice from the FT in 2015, she shouldn’t have decided to get pregnant. Her bail was rejected that day. It was such a loathsome remark on women’s autonomy over their bodies. As if a woman’s body and soul is owned by the state. This is how women are treated during such exclusionary processes. In such a scenario, it’s the most legitimate thing for women in India to vehemently protest against it.
As trolls slander you on social media for not fitting into societal conceptions of what a woman should be, the court room treated Khatun with the same kind of callousness. You see, this is the oldest game there is. Women like Savitri Bai Phule, Begum Rokia, Pandita Ramabai all had to face this kind of character assisination during their times. This is how patriarchy works.
The second story is about Suchandra Goswami, who is also a woman from Assam, residing in Silchar. She is a well-educated lady, who completed her graduation in commerce and was working in the sales sector. One fine morning, she was picked up by the police with the allegations that she is a foreigner. Her 15-year-old adolescent son witnessed the whole incident. He was terrified and followed the police jeep through the main road. One of their neighbours stopped him and called his father who wasn’t home that day. Goswami’s husband engaged a lawyer and managed to secure her bail after running from pillar to post for the previous two weeks. Later, Goswami was declared an Indian citizen. But the whole family is still struggling with the trauma of those days. Goswami is now a vocal human rights activist.
Amidst the beautiful natural scenery of Assam, there are many such stories of violence and brutality. But I chose these two stories from two different river valleys of Assam. They are of two women with two different economic, social and historical backgrounds. In spite of this, the exclusionary process of FTs treated both of them with the same gruesomeness. It spares none. But the brave women of India know how to deal with it and how to fight back. Being a part of this legacy of bravery, I am sure that you will also fight back. And, together, we will again prove that we are the granddaughters of witches they couldn’t burn. Love.
Taniya Laskar is an Advocate practicing in the District and Sessions Court of Silchar, Assam. She focuses on women’s rights.
Featured image: Twitter