The Delhi High Court on Tuesday granted bail to student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha in a case related to the violence in Northeast Delhi in February 2020. All three, who have been in custody since May 2020, will now be released since they had already received bail in other cases related to the violence.

Kalita and Narwal are members of women’s rights group Pinjra Tod, while Tanha is a student from Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi.

The bail granted on Tuesday pertains to a case in which the Delhi Police alleged that the three were part of a “larger conspiracy” in the violence that followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act last year. The three activists were charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

While passing the bail order, a division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani criticised the government’s actions in “suppressing dissent”.

“...It seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred,” the court said in its order. “If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy.”

The court also mentioned that actions like making inflammatory speeches and organising chakka jams, or road blockades, are not uncommon when there is “widespread opposition to governmental or parliamentary actions”.

The court has asked Narwal, Kalita and Tanha to furnish a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and two local sureties, as bail conditions. They have also been asked to surrender their passports and not indulge in activities that would hamper the case.

The arrests

Kalita and Narwal were arrested on May 23, 2020, in connection with a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in North East Delhi’s Jaffrabad area in February 2020.

On May 24, 2020, they were granted bail in the case by a court in Delhi. Immediately after the court’s order, the Delhi Police moved an application to interrogate the two activists and arrested them in a separate case related to the violence.

Tanha was arrested in May under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He is among the 15 people named in FIR 59/2020 filed by the Delhi Police in the riots conspiracy case. Tanha is a third-year student of BA Persian language. The police claimed that he played an active role in orchestrating the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The police has also alleged that he is a close associate of Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Meeran Haider and Safoora [Zargar] who had been the “key members of anti-CAA protests and subsequent riots in the national Capital”.

Delhi violence case

Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 last year in North East Delhi, killing at least 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst in Delhi since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

The Delhi Police claim that the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was planned by those who organised the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. They also claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the facade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.

Tanha, Kalita and Narwal were named in the main chargesheet filed in the case in September. A supplementary chargesheet was filed in November against activist Umar Khalid and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam in the alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence.