Indian woman faces arrest for carrying ‘Free Kashmir’ placard

Activists criticise police move to file case against Mumbai woman for raising ‘Free Kashmir’ poster at a protest rally.

Pigeons fly near the Gateway of India monument as students participate in a protest against Sunday''s assault by masked assailants at New Delhi''s Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Mumbai, India, Monday,
Agitations in Mumbai have hit the headlines, with Bollywood celebrities also joining protests [Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo]

Mumbai, India – Activists and political analysts in India have criticised Mumbai police for launching an investigation against a woman for holding a “Free Kashmir” poster during a protest against mob violence inside New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

The woman has since apologised for carrying the placard during the 24-hour sit-in staged at the iconic Gateway of India located in the financial hub of Mumbai along with similar solidarity protests across many Indian cities.

The protesters chanted slogans, recited poetry, sang songs, and carried posters but a senior leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raised an objection to the “Free Kashmir” poster.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government stripped the Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status and imposed a lockdown in the region on August 5. Since then, the Muslim-majority region has largely been without internet access and thousands of people, including pro-India politicians, have been thrown into jail.

The Mumbai police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranay Ashok, said a complaint has been filed under section 153(B) of the Indian Penal Code against the woman for displaying the poster.

If found guilty, she faces up to three years of imprisonment or fine or both.

“We will look into whether the incident is true, and what was her motive behind it,” Ashok told Al Jazeera.

‘Serious infringement of individual rights’

In a video message on Facebook, Mehek Mirza Prabhu, the woman with the poster, said the incident has been “blown out of proportion”.

Students have realised that this regime is not doing much for them. And the minorities have realised they need to fight back.

by Suhas Palshikar, political scientist

“The placard meant freedom to express themselves, freedom from the internet lockdown which many people have been voicing for,” she said. “I was voicing my solidarity for basic constitutional right. This situation is scary for a woman like me. If by being naive in understanding the impact it would have, and in the process create this stir. I apologise.”

Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist based in Pune city, called the police complaint a “serious infringement of individual rights”.

“Everyone these days is worried of being branded as anti-national,” he said, explaining why Kashmir is a no go for most Indians.

“There is a misconception among people that even talking about autonomy to Kashmir, which was part of the Indian constitution, is seen as tantamount to anti-national activity.”

The ruling BJP has long campaigned against Article 370 of the Indian constitution that granted Kashmir a measure of autonomy. After Modi won re-election in a landslide victory in May, his government moved to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.

While the authorities in Mumbai have been quick to file a complaint against Prabhu over the poster, the Delhi police have not made a single arrest in connection with the assault on the students of JNU two days ago.

In an FIR, the police have admitted to being witness to a mob attacking students, but did not do anything to protect them. Several videos and reports have pointed towards the involvement of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the BJP.

Instead, Delhi police filed a complaint against the JNU student’s union president, Aishe Ghosh, for allegedly vandalising on-campus property a day before the mob attack on Sunday. Ghosh has endured head injuries during the Sunday’s attack.

Protest against citizenship law

The protests following the attack in JNU come as a series of organic agitations going on across the country since the Modi government pushed through a legislation on citizenship last month.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) gives nationality to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but it singles out Muslims from seeking refuge in India, drawing parallels with Myanmar’s refugee and citizenship policy.

Critics say that the CAA is part of Modi government’s Hindu supremacist agenda and runs against the spirit of India’s secular constitution.

Government’s decision to implement nationwide counting of citizenship (National Register of Citizens) has caused alarm among India’s largest minority, Muslims, who have held mass protests in the past several weeks. More than 20 people have been killed in police action.

Indians have protested against police brutality on students at the Jamia Millia Islamia university, Aligarh Muslim University and the JNU.

Teesta Setalvad, an activist based in Mumbai, said, “Muslims have realised they are a political target.”

“But non-Muslims, because they believe in constitutional principle of parity, have also taken to the streets, which is heartening,” she told Al Jazeera.

“People have realised that having documentary proof is only a privilege of the elite. The poor and marginalised would be queueing up to prove their existence.”

Agitations in Mumbai have hit headlines, including the one where Bollywood celebrities took to streets, and sang songs, recited poems. Top Bollywood star Deepika Padukone visited the JNU campus on Tuesday to show her solidarity with students.

Palshikar said the protests are a result of a combination of factors along with the NRC and the CAA.

“Students have realised that this regime is not doing much for them,” he said. “And the minorities have realised they need to fight back.”

Source: Al Jazeera