02, Aug 2018 | Sushmita
On June 8, 2017, Uttar Pradesh (UP) police filed FIRs against 11 students of Lucknow University (LU) for showing black flags to Chief Minister Adityanath. The students were shouting slogans against the CM while he was on his way to the university campus to take part in a function.
In what has become a methodical ‘norm’ for crushing students’ dissent in India, peaceful or militant, the police stopped the protest by force. However the police, in turn filed an FIR on the students themselves and booked them under serious sections such as IPC sections 147, 353, 504, 506, 332, 341, 120B and CrPC 7. These students were Ankit Singh Babu, Mahendra Yadav, Anil Yadav, Madhurya Singh Mathur, Vineet Kumar Kushwaha, Satwat Singh, Ashok Kumar Prabhat, Rakesh Sanmajwadi, Nitin Rajputra, Apoorva Verma and Pooja Shukla.
This incident immediately shed light on a young blossoming, defiant woman activist Pooja Shukla, who would go on to lead a fierce struggle in the encounter-prone, hate-prone state of UP that is struggling to keep up with development and social welfare indicators. The context is important because the society here is somewhat feudal and patriarchal. It takes a lot of effort for any woman to come out and be part of an active political life as UP is also a state with the highest number of crimes against women.
Pooja was imprisoned for about a month following the incident. In a letter from prison, she mentioned these famous lines by Bhagat Singh, “उसे ये फ़िक्र है हरदम,नया तर्ज़–ए–जफ़ा क्या है? हमें ये शौक़ देखें, सितम की इंतहा क्या है !”These lines translate into “They are always devising new ways of injustices, we shall also see how long can they bear to torture us.”
Talking about the conditions of her arrest, she mentioned that in a rare occasion in UP, a huge mobilisation of students marched towards the Assembly on May 31 in a bid to protest the cancellation of UPPSC and UPSSC admissions exam. Additionally, she had also highlighted that they were trying to expose the RSS and VC linkage and the undue expenses on a program conducted by RSS, while the rest of basic amenities and college facilities suffered. These were the reasons, because of which they showed black flags to CM Yogi and alleged that the protests were completely democratic. Despite that she was thrown into the prison.
Strongly believing in the ideals of Bhagat Singh, Pooja had declared that she won’t stop her democratic protests, no matter what comes her way.
Soon after her release, she went on a hunger strike protesting Lucknow University’s decision in violation of its own policy, not to release her entrance exam result for a Masters course in Women’s Studies at the varsity. Shukla had demanded a written notice from the university and asked for a clear and transparent stand on the denial of her admission and no mention of her name in the list.
Shukla, who graduated from the University in 2016, gave the entrance examination for Master in Arts in Women Studies on June 4. When the result of the same came up on June 28, Shukla couldn’t find her name on the website. When she inquired about this with the University’s controller of examination, she was told that the orders to hold her results came from the “top.” According to Shukla, Lucknow University has a policy of showing results of even those who have scored no marks in the merit list. In the light of the same fact, not showing Shukla’s result is a violation of the University’s own policy.
Pooja is a member of Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha. Pooja Shukla believes that the admission was denied to her because of her protest against CM Adityanath. Apart from her, results of several other students were stopped as well.
As Pooja continued her struggle, the noose of state tightened around her. In July 2018, she was once again assaulted while sitting on another hunger strike. She was badly beaten up and fainted due to hypotension. Pooja alleged, “We were peacefully protesting when a few men arrived and starting hitting. Some of them are known ex-students from the ABVP. They must’ve hit him due to personal enmity. They smashed a car window. What is Pooja’s fault here? The attack also took place where CCTVs are prominent. The whole attack seems doctored. The VC had warned Pooja that he carries two guns and can shoot her anytime he wants. There was no security for her at nights and the VC had the Chhatrasangh room locked and the only toilet in the area was also locked.”
And the most recent attack came in the form of her abduction by UP police on June 28, as she just came out of a friend’s place in Polytechnic area in Lucknow. She was taken to an undisclosed location and wasn’t allowed to contact anybody for more than five hours. It appears that this was done on account of PM Modi’s visit to Lucknow. In the days that followed, her house was raided and her family members intimidated. Pooja Shukla remained defiant and said, “Woh haemin nahi torture kar pa rahe na isliye ab ghar walon ko ja jakar pareshan kar rahe hainI” (Since they aren’t able to break my will by their torture, the easier thing for them to do is to target my parents, people from the Mohalla where I stay. This is to create pressures on me. Now the Mohalla people aren’t talking to us properly.”
As of today, Pooja Shukla’s life remains under grave threat. In fact, she had also alleged that the UP police threatened her with NSA charges during her recent abduction. This is harrowing since the UP police carries on with their act of intimidating this young student leader despite clear questions from NHRC on these incidents of brutality.
Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), sister concern of Sabrang, had written to the NHRC demanding an end to police brutality on peaceful protesters. Significantly, CJP heard from NHRC on the very day that Pooja got abducted, that it has asked the concerned authorities to submit a report within four weeks in cases of police violence in cases such as those of Pooja Shukla, Richa Singh from UP and other protesters in New Delhi and other parts of India. Despite such a development, the authorities unleashed a reign of terror and allegedly abducted Pooja Shukla.
One is compelled to ask the question, what is it that the establishment fears so much that it keeps harassing a 23 year old political activist. Shukla is making reasonably fair demands such as transparency in admission process, transparency in conducting UPPSC and UPSSC exams, linkages of the LU VC with right leaning elements and misappropriation of funds etc.
Pooja Shukla is a modern young woman taking a stand against patriarchy and a mighty establishment which is determined to crush voices of dissent such as her’s. It is our duty to stand in solidarity with such brave feminist student leaders and protect the freedoms of this human rights defender.