As India marks Independence Day (15 August), IDS colleagues are joining calls for the immediate release of students and activists in prison in Delhi, including former IDS student Devangana Kalita and her Pinjra Tod (‘break the cage’) co-founder Natasha Narwal.
In an open letter the researchers say that on Independence Day, India betrays the spirit of its independence by jailing students and activists who participated in peaceful protests against changes to citizenship laws.
The full text of the letter reads:
“Today (15 August) India celebrates its 73rd Independence Day, but Devangana Kalita, a former student of the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton, and Natasha Narwal will spend it in prison. Both are co-founders of the women’s rights movement Pinjra Tod.
“They are two of a number of university students and activists in Tihar Jail, the largest prison complex in South Asia, accused of having “conspired” to incite riots that raged for five days in Delhi in February. The inter-community violence left 53 dead, most of them Muslims. According to the police, the “conspiracy” was to incite riots to coincide with the visit of American President Donald Trump in order to “defame” India.
“We believe their arrest stems from their participation in national protests against changes to Indian citizenship laws which exclude Muslims from certain channels of access to citizenship. The right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the Indian constitution (Articles 19.1.a/b). As experts of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared, the activists “appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.”
“With Coronavirus cases rising, we fear for the safety of our former student and her fellow activists.
“On Independence Day, we call on the Indian government to release all those jailed for exercising their constitutional right to free speech and peaceful protest. Independence is worthless without freedom and the rule of law.”
Dr Philip Mader, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
Prof Lyla Mehta, IDS
Prof Melissa Leach, IDS
Dr Alex Shankland, IDS
Dr Anuradha Joshi, IDS
Dr Shilpi Srivastava, IDS
Dr Deepta Chopra, IDS
Dr Patta Scott-Villiers, IDS
Dr Wei Shen, IDS
Prof Ian Scoones, IDS
Dr Miguel Loureiro, IDS
Dr Shandana Khan Mohmand, IDS
Prof Vinita Damodaran, University of Sussex
Dr Jaideep Gupte, IDS
Dr. Naomi Hossain, American University
Natasha Maru, PhD student, IDS