Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal, who has been lodged in Tihar Jail for almost a year, was granted interim bail by the Delhi High Court after her father succumbed to COVID-19. Narwal was granted bail for three weeks to attend the funeral of her father, Mahavir Narwal, a senior member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) (Marxist).
“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 told Press Trust of India (PTI).
Mahavir Narwal was associated with the People's Science Movement and the Gyan-Vigyan Aandolan of Haryana since its inception, among others.
Mourning the death of the 71-year-old, the CPI(M) condemned the continuing imprisonment of Narwal and her being unable to meet her ailing father, calling it a “criminal act of the (Narendra) Modi government”.
Narwal, a research scholar from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was arrested by the Delhi Police on May 30, 2020, under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA for protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and for her alleged intention in inciting communal violence during the Delhi riots in February 2020 with the agenda of overthrowing the Modi government.
The 31-year-old is a co-founder of the women’s resistance group ‘Pinjra Tod’ that literally calls for breaking the cage for women including curfew timings in hostels.
In the last few years, Narwal’s name has popped up several times in news reports for protesting against the prevalent practice of street harassment outside colleges in the national capital as well as a gender-biased treatment against women students by university administration across the country.
Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita has also been held in jail for the same period.
Are women activists a threat to the State?
Pinjra Tod’s mobilization against repression of women in educational spaces speaks against a larger institutionalization of patriarchy.
An authoritarian regime is known to be intolerant of dissent, especially dissent by women whom they seek to restrict. A phenomenon that has marked protests in the last one year in India is the reclaiming of public spaces – traditionally the preserve of men and masculinity – by women. In Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, academic and journalist Leta Hong Fincher describes how the arrest of five women by the Chinese government in March 2015 became an important turning point in the feminist movement in China. In India too, it began with the dadis (grandmothers) of Shaheen Bagh reclaiming the public space in Delhi to protest against CAA, considered to be a violation of human rights treaties from December 2019 through March 2020. Narwal and Kalita’s protests and subsequent arrest, like that of other women student activists last year including Safoora Zargar who was pregnant at that time, is hence significant to the unfolding of women’s protest narrative. These women took on the might of a political system that has boosted systemic patriarchy and sought to police women’s bodies and choices through controversial laws and language.
Standing by his daughter
Mahavir Narwal’s lifelong pro-people activism is said to have deeply influenced his daughter. Speaking at several events after her imprisonment last year, Mahavir Narwal never failed to mention his pride in his daughter. In India where the voices of daughters are routinely silenced or appropriated, Mahavir Narwal held Natasha as a symbol of courage. Last November, Mahavir Narwal had said, “She is, in fact, not feeling jailed; she is feeling she is like all other people. In fact, those outside are also suffering, just like those in jails. Nobody in my family is demoralized or intimidated. We are all part of your resistance.”
It is, indeed, a humanitarian crisis for someone who has been so vocal for human rights and against restrictions was denied the last few moments with her father before he passed away, thanks to an inane judicial process.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)