Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal's father Mahavir Narwal died of the novel coronavirus infection on Sunday, family sources said. Natasha was arrested in May last year for allegedly being part of a premeditated conspiracy in the northeast Delhi riots in February that year. She has been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The activist has been lodged in Tihar Jail.
Mahavir Narwal was not able to speak to his daughter who is in jail. His son, Aakash, who is also COVID-19 positive, was there with him in Rohtak, sources close to the family said.
Mahavir Narwal was associated with the People's Science Movement and the Gyan-Vigyan Aandolan of Haryana since its inception, and was also the President of Haryana Vigyan Manch and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Haryana.
The Gyan-Vigyan Aandolan in a statement said, "Dr Narwal's demise is a great loss for the Gyan-Vigyan Movement. In this time of extreme sorrow, the movement stands in absolute solidarity with his bereaved family."
Natasha (31), is a research scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi and a founding member of 'Pinjra Tod', a collective of students from colleges in Delhi, that campaign to end discriminatory policies against women in universities, including curfew timings in hostels. She lost her mother at a young age and was said to have been inspired by her fatherâ€™s activism. Natasha had also staged protests against the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), following which she was arrested in May last year.
In an interview in November last year, Mahavir spoke about Natasha and his family saying, "Suppose my daughter has to stay in jail for a really long time and there comes a time that she is not able to see me. I'm growing old, maybe I won't be able to see her. These kinds of thoughts come to me. They don't come to her, neither should she have them. But it's not like we are going through a good time right now. We just console our hearts by saying good things."
"Wherever there is suffering, you will find my daughter there. Maybe she's not a champion of suffering but she's an ally in tough times and that's why I'm really proud of her," he added.
Left activists and civil society groups had recently demanded that political prisoners be released from jails in view of the surge in coronavirus cases. Many took to social media highlighting that Natasha had not even been given bail to see her ailing father before his death.
"Extend my deep condolences to Natasha and her brother Aakash. The terrible injustice of the system in which a daughter wrongly locked up for a year unable to see her father even for a final farewell," CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat said.
Women's rights activist and CPI(ML politburo member Kavita Krishnan also lashed out at the government and said it was torture, forcing feminists to be in prison, while their loved ones die of COVID-19.
"This is so bloody cruel and sadistic. It's a form of torture to keep political prisoners jailed during a pandemic, forced to suffer not only prison, but the pain of being away from loved ones who are dying. Natasha's brother also has COVID-19," she said on Twitter.
Activist Harsh Mander too condoled Mahavir Narwal's death.
"Where there's suffering, my daughter will be there. I'm proud of her". This hero, Mahavir Narwal, father of Natasha in jail for the CAA protests, supports her, with courage hard to find. "I hope she' not in jail so long she doesn't see my face". He died just hours ago of Covid (sic)," he tweeted.
In a post on social media, Pinjra Tod said, "Mahavir Narwal campaigned hard to prove the innocence of Natasha who was incarcerated for her peaceful participation in the protest against the CAB. This was not his first brush with prison. He himself had been imprisoned for his participation in protests during the Emergency."
"As we grieve together in this moment, trying to make sense of this loss amidst the constant onslaught of crises that this pandemic has brought, a simple question begs an answer, 'How does the State compensate people for these losses?' Rest in Power, Mahavir Narwal!" it added.
With PTI inputs