It was last year that a Supreme Court bench led by former Chief Justice Dipak Misra pulled up the BJP-led Union government over human rights activists arrested across the country in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon incident in Maharashtra. Taking a dim view of the crackdown at the time, Justice DY Chandrachud said, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst.”
However, 2021 was no different for the BJP government, which continued its spree of arresting activists and journalists who did not agree with its politics, and accused them of inciting violence and of criminal conspiracy against the Indian state. Here’s a list of activists and journalists arrested in 2021.
A 22-year-old environmental activist from Bengaluru, Disha was arrested by the Delhi police in the ‘toolkit’ case in February. She was sent to Tihar jail and charged with criminal conspiracy and sedition. The case related to a toolkit related to the farmer protests in Delhi shared on social media by international climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Disha was accused of “sharing” and “spreading” the toolkit.
The Delhi police in its first information report stated that the contents of the ‘toolkit’ led to the violence that broke out in Delhi during the tractor parade by farmers on January 26. A ‘toolkit’ is a Google document or Word document often used to organise a social media campaign or to plan protests. Disha Ravi was later granted bail.
Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha
Delhi-based journalists Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha from HW News Network were detained by the Assam police in November, when they travelled to Tripura to report on recent communal incidents there. They were charged with posting inflammatory and fake news on social media, which they refuted. They were later granted bail.
In November, Khurram Parvez, a well-known human rights activist from Kashmir, was detained under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Khurram is the co-ordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. The NIA said that he was held in connection with a probe into NGOs and trusts raising funds in India and abroad in the name of charitable activities and then using those funds for carrying out secessionist and separatist activities in J&K.
Khurram’s arrest was met with widespread condemnation, including from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stated that Khurram was “known as a tireless advocate for families of the disappeared and has been targeted before for his human rights work.” More than a month since his arrest, Khurram is still incarcerated in New Delhi’s Rohini Jail Complex.
Sabbah Haji, a popular educator from Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested earlier this month for sharing an Instagram post in which she called the late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat a “war criminal” after he died in a chopper crash in Tamil Nadu. Rawat was criticised for rewarding an Army officer who was accused of using a civilian as a human shield to prevent stone-throwing in the valley in 2017. The case against Sabbah was registered following a complaint by a BJP youth wing leader accusing her of ‘anti-national’ activities. She was released on bail four days after her arrest.
Sabbah is the director of a public school founded by her family a decade ago in the backward Breswana village in J&K’s Doda district to create educational opportunities for children in the region. Following the controversy, the Haji Public School declared that the institute does not have any association with Sabbah in an official capacity.