Delhi HC Grants Bail to Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Asif Iqbal Tanha In Delhi Riots Case
The Delhi High Court on Tuesday granted bail to activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, and Asif Iqbal Tanha who were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the communal violence that swept New Delhi in February 2020.
The three student activists were booked in the case linked to the “larger conspiracy” behind the Northeast Delhi riots, along with 20 others accused. The bench, comprising Justices Siddharth Mirdul and A. J. Bhambhani, granted the three bail in all cases filed against them. The conditions for bail include them surrendering their passports and not indulging in activities that would hamper the case.
Kalita and Narwal, activists associated with the women’s collective Pinjra Tod, were arrested in May 2020 — on charges including rioting, unlawful assembly, and attempt to murder — and have remained imprisoned in Tihar Jail as under-trial prisoners. Both are Ph.D. students in the Jawaharlal Nehru University studying women’s studies and historical studies. Natasha is facing trial in three cases and Devangana in four cases.
Asif Tanha, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia University, has also been in custody since May 2020. His lawyers argued that he was not present in Delhi during the riots and did not visit any of the protest sites where rioting and violence took place.
“It seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy,” the court said, according to LiveLaw.
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In September last year, the Delhi High Court granted bail to Devangana Kalita on one of the charges — as the police failed to show any evidence of her making an instigating speech. However, she remained under custody under the stringent UAPA. In Narwal’s case, a Delhi district court said in September 2020 that the videos submitted as evidence “show the accused indulging or inciting the violence.” She too continued to remain imprisoned. Narwal received an interim bail for three weeks last month to perform the last rites of her father.
While granting bail in the present order, the Delhi High Court noted: “A closer reading of the allegations made against the Natasha Narwal shows that no specific, particularised or definite act is attributed to her, apart from the admitted fact that she engaged herself in organizing anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests.”
The Delhi Police in its FIR claimed that Tanha, Kalita, and Narwal, along with at least 20 other activists, “conspired” to cause disruptions through protests and chakka jam, following the Citizenship Amendment Act. They were accused of giving “instigating” speeches at the Jafrabad metro station.
During the same time and in the same area, a right-wing politician was also recorded making an incendiary speech. The riots, which resulted in widespread bloodshed and deaths, along with displacement of several Muslim families, became the worst communal violence witnessed in Delhi.
The bail is a considerable victory, but a reminder of injustice — and that many others continue to languish still. For now, the activists remain symbols of resilience. To quote Devangana, who wrote in a letter dated November 2020 from Tihar Jail: “Getting bail on the UAPA case is not going to be easy, it may be a long, long wait, but we will endure and survive this separation together, one day at a time, one year at a time. I miss hugs.”