23, Jul 2021 | Adeeti Singh
Advocate, Ishrat Jahan, has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, for her alleged role in the North East Delhi violence of 2020, when in fact she was a pro-active in organizing the anti-CAA/NPR-NRIC protests that rocked Delhi in December 2020-January 2021 in the area of Khureji. She was among the first to be arrested on February 26, 2020, in FIR number 44 of 2020 for charges of rioting, obstructing a public servant on duty, assault, attempt to murder under the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Arms Act. A former Congress Municipal Councillor, Ishrat Jahan has been lodged in Mandoli prison and her case has received little public attention.
Ishrat, along with Khalid Saifi, Mohammad Saleem, Sameer Ansari and Vikram Thakur, who participated in the anti-CAA protests, were arrested for defying the instructions of the Police to vacate the road but “they refused to do so and incited other members of the crowd to remain there (at the protest site of Khureji Khas)”. The Delhi Police alleged that, “the protesters refused to obey the direction and applicant Ishrat Jahan incited the crowd by stating that they would not remove themselves even if they die and whatever police may do, they shall have their freedom.”
After spending a month in judicial custody, Ishrat along with 4 others were granted bail by Additional Sessions Judge Manjusha Wadhwa on March 21, 2020. The court noted that the role assigned to Ishrat is that she incited the crowd to remain present at the protest spot as well as raised slogans of freedom, however, no overt act had been imputed to her regarding taking law into her own hands. The judge also said, “There are no allegation of use of katta (zip gun) by her or providing the same to any other member of the crowd and thus invocation of Section 307 (attempt to murder) IPC against her is debatable.”
Instead of letting her out on bail, Ishrat was implicated in another FIR number 59 of 2020, on March 21 itself for the purpose of investigation of an alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence. This is a time-tested strategy of the government. The only difference was that this time, she was charged under the draconian UAPA. Sections 13 (Punishment for unlawful activities), 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA were also added against her by the Delhi Police.
Over two months later, the Patiala House Court released her on interim bail from June 10 to June 19 on account of her wedding with Farhan Hashmi that was fixed for June 12, 2020. While she was out on bail, Judge Dharmender Rana passed an order wherein the police were granted an extension of 60 days to complete the investigation in cases pertaining to the violence against her.
She approached the Delhi High Court against this order but the High Court dismissed her plea on July 31, 2020 ruling that all the requirements under Section 43-D of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 had been duly satisfied and hence, there was no ground for interference with Judge Rana’s order.
The reason why UAPA is known as a draconian statute is because the proviso of Section 43-D of the Act states that if it is not possible to complete the investigation within the stipulated period of 90 days, the Court may if it is satisfied with the report of the Public Prosecutor indicating the progress of the investigation and the specific reasons for the detention of the accused beyond the said period of 90 days, extend the period upto 180 days.
ASJ Dharmendra Rana had ruled that there were “sufficient reasons” to extend the period of investigation and detention of Jahan beyond the period of 90 days as contemplated under section 43-D of UAPA. He had accepted the State’s argument that that the case involves “a deep rooted and large scale conspiracy and the key conspirators are yet to be arrested, the source of illegal funds is required to be investigated, mobile phone data is to be retrieved and analysed, the conspiracy is multi layered and the deep rooted conspiracy is to be unearthed, certified copies of complete details of mobile phones of accused are still awaited and same is to be examined for the purpose of investigation and the prosecution sanction under section 45 of the UAPA and other necessary permission is still awaited.”
Justice Suresh Kumar of the Delhi High Court, thus concurred with this opinion and did not interfere with the decision to grant extension of time to complete the investigation. Since then, on June 15 this year, a division bench of the Delhi High court granted bail to three other activists, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal observing that no offences under the draconian UAPA were made out in the charge sheet against them.
Jailed for over 8 months, Ishrat then moved for interim bail which was rejected by the Delhi Sessions Court on November 26, 2020. Ishrat’s lawyers had argued that in October she had taken a fall in the bathroom where she sustained spinal injuries. She was already suffering from spinal ailments but since she was in jail, she had not been receiving any proper treatment and that aggravated her back pain. Jahan’s migraine was also getting out of hand and in addition to this, she also developed high blood pressure and anxiety. Her lawyers had argued that she is a law-abiding citizen and that due to Covid-19, she should be granted bail.
The State objected to her bail plea and told the court that Jahan had tested negative for Covid-19 and that the jails were being regularly sanitised. They also submitted that the situation was “totally under control” and that she had been receiving proper treatment in jail for her “minor health issues”.
Additional Sessions Judge, Amitabh Rawat, who was hearing her case, agreed with the State and found no cogent reason to enlarge her on interim bail on medical grounds. He said, “the applicant is complaining of cervical, spine injury/lower back pain, migraine and high blood pressure. There is no medical emergency shown by the applicant. Moreover, as per the report of the Jail Superintendent, Tihar Jail, all the necessary protocols regarding Covid-19 related precautions are being taken and the situation is totally under control. There is no Covid scare inside jail. The applicant is also being given proper treatment for her minor health issues and her condition is stable.”
In December, Ishrat moved an urgent application before the Sessions court alleging harassment and beating from her fellow inmates inside Mandoli jail. Her lawyer Pradeep Teoatia contended that this was not one isolated incident and that she had been facing regular discrimination and beatings at the hands of other inmates.
According to an Indian Express report, Ishrat had told the court that this was the second incident in a month. “In the morning today at 6.30, they (inmates) beat me badly and abused me verbally. One of the inmates even slit her hand so I’m punished on a false complaint. Fortunately, jail officials did not listen to them. I have given a written complaint. They keep calling me a terrorist. They also demanded money from me in the canteen”, she was quoted saying by the IE.
ASJ Rawat had orally observed, “She (Jahan) seems to be in a state of utter fear. Please talk to her immediately and understand the situation. File a detailed report about steps taken to allay her apprehension and fear. Take all necessary steps, take immediate steps. I don’t want to hear that the accused was further harassed by her inmates or anybody else because she complained. I do not want to hear that the present accused is harmed in any way”, as per the IE report.
The other accused in the Delhi Riots case had also been facing similar discrimination inside jails, recorded Judge Rawat. Further, the court directed the Jail Superintendent to ensure Ishrat’s safety and security and also asked the authorities to file a report on this matter on December 22, 2020, accepting that Jahan is fearful of her life.
In July 2021, after having spent 15 months in jail, Ishrat has moved court for regular bail in the UAPA case against her. She has contended before the court that even when she was out on interim bail in June last year, she did not influence any witness or hamper the investigation. She has argued that the Right to Protest is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution of India and that no complaint of any kind of criminal activity had been moved against any of the anti-CAA protestors, besides her.
She has also alleged that no deadly weapon or arms, reading material propagating violence were recovered from her. There is also no allegation against her of being a member of a banned organisation or a terrorist group under the UAPA. Her bail hearing is scheduled to be held on Friday, July 23.