A coalition of women, women’s rights activists and organisations from Karnataka met the Chairperson of the Karnataka Women’s Commission, Ms. Pramila Naidu at her office on February 20, 2021.
Ms Disha Ravi, a young woman and resident of Bengaluru was illegally arrested on February 12, 2021 by the Delhi police violating all procedures and protocols as laid down by the Constitution, the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Criminal Procedure Code. The memorandum presented to Ms. Naidu was signed by sixty eight individuals, organisations, networks and individuals from across the state. The delegation condemned this arrest by the police from a different state without the apparent knowledge of the local authorities.
In their press note this delegation observed that, ‘this incident brings into sharp focus the multifarious threats and very real dangers that young women, daring to speak truth to power, face in the state of Karnataka and indeed the country.’ During the course of the meeting, the delegation highlighted and welcomed the fact that the Delhi Commission for Women took suo-moto cognizance of the arrest asking the Delhi Police to explain why she was not produced before a Magistrate, the reasons for not allowing access to a legal counsel of her choice but also sought a detailed action report in this regard. The delegation demanded that the Karnataka State Commission for Women also take immediate cognizance of the illegal manner in which Ms. Ravi was arrested.
Concerns were also raised about the tweets of the official Delhi Police handle which quickly declared Ms. Ravi a ‘key conspirator’ who was working ‘with pro-Khalistani Poetic Justice Foundation to spread disaffection against the Indian State’, barely a few hours after obtaining her police custody. The language used by the police concluded definitively that Ms. Ravi was guilty of the charges made in the FIR. The delegation noted that this topples the basic premise of the Indian criminal law jurisprudence – that of the accused person being ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
The attention of the Chairperson was brought to the tweet made by Harayana Cabinet Minister Anil Vij who called for the ‘extermination’ of ‘anti-national elements’ like Ms. Ravi and it was sought that the commission take immediate action against him.
It was also pointed out that several social media accounts were also running a committed smear campaign against Ms. Disha Ravi and spreading hateful and misogynistic content against her.
Stating that the recent events within the state and country where several young people, especially women have been targeted, abused, arrested and incarcerated merely for expressing their opinions on policies that impacts their lives indicates a systematic attempt to create a climate of fear where people will be afraid to speak their mind. In this context it is also clear that women have become soft targets.
‘It is after years of effort that women are beginning to speak out and participate in public– not only for their own rights and for the rights of other marginalised communities but also for the right to create and inhabit a more just and peaceful society. Today, however, they are faced with the threat of either spending their entire youth in jail for daring to challenge the powers that be or living in perpetual fear of persecution in their own country’ noted the delegation in the submitted memorandum.
The delegation reiterated the following demands as presented in the memorandum:
- Conduct a thorough enquiry into the manner in which Ms. Ravi was arrested and the various violations of the law in this regard. The Commission must take necessary action against all police officials both the Bangalore and the Delhi police who are responsible for the same.
- Call upon the State Government to conduct a thorough and full-fledged enquiry into the acts and omissions by the local police.
- Initiate action against media outlets carrying misogynistic content against Ms. Ravi and denigrating her.
- Call upon the Cyber Cell in Bengaluru to initiate criminal action against social media accounts found spreading hate against and issuing threats to Ms. Ravi.
- Direct the Bengaluru local police to make all documents pertaining to the arrest public immediately.
The delegation in the press note made available to us informed that the chairperson Ms. Pramila Naidu echoed the concerns expressed by the delegation. Naidu affirmed that nobody is above the Constitution, and freedom of speech and expression is assured to all citizens. Stating that it has taken centuries and many rebellions by earlier generations of women and visionaries like Basavanna to bring about a more gender just and equitable social order she said it would be a tragedy if our youth and especially young women are once again intimidated and silenced through unconstitutional methods.
The Chairperson assured the delegation that she will take the matter up with the Home Ministry, the Home Department and the Commissioner of Police immediately and appropriate steps will be taken. We are assured that the State agencies in Karnataka will take a strong stand on the illegal arrest and secure the release of Disha Ravi. .