A poet and a journalist in Karnataka’s Koppal district have been arrested over a poem critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. The poet had recited the poem at an event, while the journalist had shared a video of the recital on social media.
Siraj Bisaralli, the poet, and the journalist Rajabaxi HV were taken into custody on Tuesday after they surrendered at a district court, the police said. They were granted bail by a court on Wednesday, The Hindu reported. Judge Maulasab Nadaf granted bail to them on personal bond of Rs 50,000.
Bisaralli had recited his poem Ninna Dakhale Yaavaga Needuttee? [“When will you give your documents?”] at the Anegundu Utsava, a government-sponsored cultural event, early in January. Rajabaxi, the editor of Kannadanet.com, posted a video of Bisaralli’s recital on social media on January 14.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had inaugurated the event on January 9, and his deputy Laxman Savadi and state Cultural Affairs Minister CT Ravi had attended it.
After getting bail, Bisaralli told The Hindu that the state’s attempt to suppress his freedom of speech by slapping a case had strengthened him further. “The court has upheld the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said. “I felt overwhelmed by the way the civil society responded to the issue. I thank everybody, particularly a number of advocates, who fought for me and for the cause. I have been in activism for over a decade now and I continue to express myself as usual. The state’s attempt to suppress my voice has not shaken me, but strengthened me further.
Gangavathi Rural Police had filed a first information report against the two on January 24 on the basis of a complaint lodged by a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party Yuva Morcha. The poet and the journalist were charged under Section 505(2) – statements conducing to public mischief in any place of worship or in an assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship – of the Indian Penal Code.
“They went absconding after that and surrendered before the court on Tuesday,” an unidentified police official told PTI. The two asked the court for interim bail. The public prosecutor, however, opposed the application, and sought police custody. The court granted their custody to the police till Wednesday 2 pm. “We may not seek further extension of their custody until some fresh evidences surface,” the official added. “We have seized their mobile phones to ascertain whom they had shared the details with.”
Around 30 lawyers represented the poet and the journalist on Tuesday. “They have not committed any crime and strongly felt it was not right to abscond,” R Jagannath, one of the lawyers, told The Hindu. “That is why they decided to surrender.”
The police’s decision to arrest the two drew a lot of criticism online, with several social media users protesting by sharing the video of Bisaralli’s recitation of the poem. The poem has been also translated into 13 languages.
The incident occurred amid similar arrests of critics of the new citizenship law. On Saturday, the Karnataka Police arrested three Kashmiri engineering students after the college filed a complaint about a video in which they allegedly said “Pakistan zindabad”. They were released on Sunday due to insufficient evidence, but rearrested on Monday.
The Karnataka Police has also been criticised for questioning school students after they staged a play against Citizenship Amendment Act in Bidar district. A teacher and parent were arrested on January 30 on the grounds that the play staged on January 21 was seditious and inflammatory. They were granted bail last week.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11 last year and notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. At least 32 people have died during the protests with 22 in Uttar Pradesh, six in Assam, two in Karnataka – all ruled by the BJP. Two people were killed in West Bengal in January. The government’s critics fear that the amended law and the proposed NRC – an exercise to identify undocumented migrants – would be misused to harass and disenfranchise Muslims.