Mahavir Narwal, the father of Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal passed away on Sunday, days after he had tested positive for COVID-19 and admitted to an ICU in a critical condition in Rohtak. Seventy-one years old Dr. Narwal was a noted scientist and a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It has been reported that her brother, Aakash has also been tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at home.
Meanwhile, his daughter Natasha, a JNU Ph.D. scholar, continues to be incarcerated under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in Tihar jail. Her bail petition to be able to visit her father who was admitted to a hospital will be heard on Monday, May 10. Hours before his demise, Pinjra Tod, a women’s group had called for a Twitter storm demanding the release of Natasha Narwal to visit her sick father.
Pinjra Tod through a statement informed about Dr. Narwal’s demise and said that “he was a rock for many of us, a voice of sanity in the din, calmly and cooly raising his firm voice.”
We have lost Mahavir Narwal- comrade, father, friend, fellow traveller. He passed away 2 hrs back due to covid-related complications. This is an immense loss for us and the larger community as for Natasha. He was a rock for many, a voice of sanity in the din.. pic.twitter.com/GO7M6iVZUT
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) May 9, 2021
A Progressive Father and Comrade
Associated with the People’s Science Movement and the Gyan-Vigyan Andolan from its initial days, he was actively engaged in progressive politics. During the Emergency period in the country, he had been imprisoned for his engagement in political protests.
In a heart-rending video shot by Karwan-e-Mohabbat (Caravan of Love), a people’s campaign, Mahavir Narwal can be seen discussing Natasha’s politics and his warm relationship to her fondly, just like how a comrade would and most middle-class Hindu fathers would not. He talks fondly and proudly about Natasha always being an ally to those who were suffering indignities fearlessly. At one point he even expresses his anxiety around the possibility of now being able to meet his beloved daughter one last time, given his growing age and the tendency of UAPA cases to be dragged on for years with no certainty of release.
In sharp contrast to the hegemonic masculine imagination of the political space, during the course of the entire video, we find him completely at ease with her daughter’s engagement in progressive politics to resist patriarchy and racism. Not even once do we find him asking his daughter or anyone else to stop their resistance.
UAPA: A Weapon of Repression and Uncertainty
It has been over a year since Natasha and several other activists associated with the country-wide Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act have been put in jail under UAPA. They are accused of a planned conspiracy related to the communal violence that took place in East Delhi in February 2020. Natasha as we know has been acquitted by the courts in most of the charges put up against her by the Delhi Police but the state’s employment of UAPA against her renders her case just like numerous other cases, without a fair trial― or even a trial.
Related Reading: UAPA and NIA amendments: Tools to silence dissenting voices
The statement by Pinjra Tod also asked that
“As we grieve together in this moment, trying to make sense of this loss amidst the constant onslaught of crises that this pandemic has brought, a simple question begets an answer, “How does the State Compensate people for their losses?””
With the news of his death out obituaries taking about his unwavering faith in acts of dissent and affectionate nature by numerous prominent leaders of the Left and other opposition parties, activists, journalists, and students on social media platforms.
The incident must not be sidelined as a personal tragedy but a political injustice by the Indian state to keep Natasha and several other activists imprisoned in overcrowded jails as undertrials in UAPA cases even as the COVID-19 pandemic continue to wreak havoc in the country. The draconian UAPA have had a history of being used against citizens who question those in power but with the BJP ruled center coming to existence, its frequency has intensified multifold, as a weapon of repression.