Uttar Pradesh police has charged three activists in Varanasi with promoting enmity between groups and harming national integration by making and distributing pamphlets against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
The police filed a First Information Report against unknown persons on December 18, a day before the entire country saw widespread protests against the CAA and NRC. The FIR was based on pamphlets that the police claimed to have found lying on the road in the Naria Tiraha area after those distributing them fled.
On January 2, three activists – Manish Sharma, Anoop Shramik and SP Rai – were allegedly identified using the phone numbers listed on the pamphlet. They have been charged under Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 153A deals with hate speech: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.”. Section 153B deals with “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration”.
The pamphlet contained a call for protests on December 19. “Take back the anti-Constitution, anti-poor, communal Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens immediately,” it said. “Let us meet to protests this on the martyrdom anniversary of Ashfaqullah Khan and Ramprasad Bismil at Beniya Bagh at 11 am.”
The pamphlet described the upheaval caused by NRC in Assam, claiming that the 19 lakh people left out of the citizens register included “around 15 lakh Hindus and 4 lakh Muslim”. “Now if this is implemented across the country, imagine how many crore Hindus and Muslims will have to stay in the hellish conditions of a detention camp,” it said.
The pamphlet explained why the CAA and NRC must be opposed. “This move is acutely communal and goes against the word ‘secular’ from the Preamble of the Constitution,” it said.
“This is meant to distract you from the issues that matter. When you question the government as to why unemployment is so high, why is GDP growth so low, why is the rupee falling, what happened to recovering black money, why is inflation so high, this shameless government will trap you in proving that you are a citizen of India,” it added.
Arrested for protesting
Manish Sharma, Anoop Shramik and SP Rai were among the 69 people arrested by the police on December 19, after a demonstration was staged against the CAA and NRC in Varanasi’s Beniya Bagh area. Those arrested included social activists, students, research scholars and members of the communist parties. Fifty-six of them were charged with violent rioting and attacking the police. Eyewitnesses, however, told Scroll.in the protest was peaceful.
On Friday, a fortnight after the arrests, 53 people were given bail by a local court. However, the three activists were denied bail because of fresh charges brought against them under Section 153A and 153B.
Their lawyer said the charges were baseless. “It is just a conspiracy to muzzle them,” said Prem Prakash Yadav, the lawyer representing the three activists. “In a democracy, can’t people raise their voice anymore?”
A social activist, who did not want to be identified, blamed the state government for acting out of spite. “They want to make an example out of some people so others stop opposing them,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh imposed a ban on public meetings on December 18, outlawing peaceful protests against the CAA and NRC. When crowds gathered in multiple towns and cities over December 19-20, the police cracked down on the protestors with batons and bullets. At least 19 people have been killed across the state. The police stands accused of ransacking and looting homes in Muslim neighbourhoods and beating up and torturing people, including minors.