On Monday morning, as lawyers crowded the narrow alleyways of the Civil Court in Lucknow, speaking on the phone, consulting clients while assistants rushed around to photocopy documents and identity cards, Naheed Varma stood around patiently to sign bail papers for her sister, a well-known activist in Lucknow. Varma's sister was arrested on 19 December for taking part in a protest against the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Varma, herself a writer and activist of repute, looked distracted and worried. Part of her worry was about a friend and fellow activist Deepak Kabir.
Varma, Kabir and former school teacher Sadaf Jafar were all part of a citizen’s protest in Lucknow on 19 December. The protest had turned violent and according to live videos that Jafar posted on Facebook, miscreants had joined the protest and started attacking public property and vehicles. In the video, Jafar can be heard entreating police officers not to stand by and to stop the rioters repeatedly. Later in the video, the cops are heard rounding her up as she says, “They are arresting me.” So, Varma knew that Jafar has been arrested by the police, but every time she called the police station they refused to tell her if they were detaining her. Frustrated and worried, Varma turned to Kabir, as many in Lucknow were wont to do. Kabir, a well-known poet, theater actor and director and activist, is as much an activist as he is a humanitarian.
“He went to look for her and other missing protesters immediately and then we didn’t hear from him and then I heard that he has been detained,” Varma said.
When Varma finally learned the whereabouts of her sister and was allowed to meet her, she also met Kabir for a few minutes.
“It was apparent that they had bashed him up really bad,” Varma, who has been running from pillar to post to get help not just for her sister but also for Kabir, said. “He said he was given the third degree (euphemism for torture)”
Kabir was reportedly assaulted by half a dozen police officers who hit him with batons and rifle butts for trying to speak up for the arrested protesters.
The 48-year-old had reached the Hazratganj Police station in Lucknow at 10 am on 20 December to find out about Jafar and other missing protesters. But he never came back home. After a sleepless night and a day spent in calling around to trace him, his wife Veena Rana heard that the police had detained him and then sent him to jail. She met him last Saturday.
“His face was swollen, his long hair was disheveled,” Rana said.
Rana had posted a long message on Facebook after she met Kabir again the next day on 22 December.
“I met Deepak in jail today,” Rana had wrote in her post. “You can only guess how he is feeling, because he will never tell you if he is pain. He doesn’t like medicines and will make many excuses to not take them even if that means a bad cough or fever will go untreated for months. He is totally against painkillers. But today he asked me for painkillers….”
Kabir, the founder member of the Lucknow Collective and Dastak Manch, organises the Kabir Festival that celebrates secularism, socialism, democracy through music, poetry and theater every year in Lucknow.
He had founded the two platforms as a peaceful way to counter hate and oppression that was spreading through the country since 2014. He was troubled about the hate killings and the murder of rationalists Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar and had decided not to be a silent spectator anymore.
Kabir’s arrest has raised many questions. Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav had shared a copy of a first information report in which Kabir’s name was scribbled in handwriting at the end of a list of accused booked under several criminal charges. Kabir was slapped with charges of rioting and preventing public servants from performing their duty. But Kabir was not arrested on 19 December from the protest site. He wrote a long post on 20 December around 9.30 am, before he went looking for his detained fellow protesters. In the long post, where he talked about his left liberal background, he also wrote that “this world filled with hatred and divisions can be saved only through peace.”
“He never believed in sitting silent in the face of oppression and injustices,” Rana says of Kabir. “He is paying the price for that.”
Although there were reports that Kabir’s bail petition would be up for hearing on Tuesday, Rana confirmed that they will appeal for bail only after the court reopens on 3 January. By then he would have spent around two weeks in jail. All because he asked the police for information about his missing friends.
As protests have swelled in the country over the implementation of NRC and CAA and police brutality against the students of two Muslim majority universities – Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University – they have been particularly violent in Uttar Pradesh. On 15 December, when videos of Delhi Police’s crackdown in Jamia had surfaced, they showed shocking brutality. However, the videos of police assault in Aligarh Muslim University were even more so. AMU students posted videos of the police ransacking their vehicles in the parking lot, opening fire and torching dorm rooms. At least 18 people, including an eight-year-old boy, have been killed in the state since Thursday last week. Over 5,000 people have been taken in custody and 705 sent to jail.
Rana says they will address all these questions once Kabir is back home because as Kabir had written in one of his soul-stirring poems, “You cannot defeat me...because I never chose to win...I chose humanity."
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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2019 22:21:20 IST