Trigger Warning: graphic imagery, mentions of violence
It’s 2020! But, hey, it’s okay if you continue writing 2019 as the date. It is too early for a change, you know.
Anyway, how did you celebrate New Year? Thousands of protestors celebrated freedom at midnight by gathering at key locations in different cities across India, against the much talked about Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). It was a moment of sheer determination when these protestors stood together and sang the National Anthem to show they are Indians who cannot be divided by religion. Gandhi ji and Dr Ambedkar would have been proud, I feel.
But, in the preceding weeks, the government tried hard to clamp down on these protests, by imposing Section 144 in Delhi, various districts in Uttar Pradesh, and other major cities. Another way of muzzling dissent was through the police detaining non-violent protestors. Some of them were detained even before they reached the protest site.
With an increasing number of protestors being detained, the civil society realised the need for urgent legal aid, since many did not know of their rights under police detention. Soon, social media posts popped up informing protestors on their rights. A well-thought strategy by anti-CAA protestors was to deploy lawyers at protest sites to facilitate a quick release of detainees. The lawyers would move around with the detainees!
However, one lawyer that caught my attention was Mishika Singh, who heads a group of lawyers. She identified the need for a more organised set-up and the group intervened in police detention case, providing free legal aid and securing release for the detainees.
Mishika started the group on December 19 as a response to the police crackdown on the Jamia Millia Islamia campus. Her idea was to get lawyers on board and secure release of detainees (under anti-CAA protests) across the country after she realised there were not many lawyers around. She says, “I formed a group and reached out within my circle. With a couple of hours, the group grew, and lawyers had started coordinating amongst themselves.”
The group has around 50 lawyers, with different teams that are responsible for cases in different courts, translation of documents, collecting data, research, etc. The modus operandi of the group is to intervene before a case is registered. However, in cases where the First Information Report is already filed, the group tries its best to represent those arrested.
Mishika, having studied law from the University of Delhi, remembers the cases in Daryaganj, Delhi, where the protests had spiralled out of control, with the police resorting to lathi charge. So severe was the crackdown that the deserted streets seemed like a scene straight out of a bloody riot. Many were detained, including minors.
More than 40 were injured, with two having severe injuries. This group of lawyers toiled for 11 hours (7 pm onwards) to secure the release of those detained, fighting the bitter cold that Delhi is notorious for.
Having to deal with hundreds of cases across the country, the group’s sole aim is to ensure their fire doesn’t die down. And this anti-CAA journey gives us the chance to be grateful for Mishika and thousands like her, who are giving their best and using their skills and professional experience to ensure India remains a secular country.
Meanwhile, if you are believe in the secular spirit of our nation, but are unsure of how to protest against the CAA, check out this Instagram post.