Interview: Sadaf Jafar

‘This is Freedom Struggle II’

Print edition : February 14, 2020

Former IPS officer S.R. Darapuri and social activist and Congress leader Sadaf Jafar coming out of jail in Lucknow on January 7, 2020. They were arrested in connection with anti-CAA protests on December 19. Photo: PTI

It is not easy being Sadaf Jafar. She was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police for participating in an anti-CAA demonstration in Lucknow. She was subjected to physical and verbal abuse by the police. A couple of weeks after her release from jail, she is still not able to eat normally or sleep soundly. But she is undeterred by the setbacks. “What is the alternative? We cannot sit at home and watch everything getting reduced to ruins. We have to speak up today because they want to silence everybody who does not agree with them,” she said, hours after delivering a talk against the CAA at Delhi University. Between a fresh round of anti-CAA rallies and talks, she took a few questions from Frontline. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you look at civil society movements?

I would say this is Freedom Struggle II. Like during the freedom struggle, everybody did his/her bit in his/her own way. There were numerous small movements within the movement. Likewise, the civil society movement is divided but united at the same time. I know there are people ideologically different from me. But then Darapuri, Deepak Kabir, myself and others kept aside our differences. When we were accused of being rioters, we said, we cannot be rioters. In this we were together. Not one person who has known us was happy [with the allegations and imprisonment].

While I was in jail, a woman whom I do not know much about except that my son plays with her son looked after my children.

How was the reaction of the people after you were released?

When I was in jail, people like [film director] Mira Nair and others were there, but there were common people, too. What came to the fore was female camaraderie. Whether it was Mira or Swara Bhasker or Subhashini Ali, there was total support. But more importantly, there was female camaraderie cutting across party lines. I met Arundhati Roy at a tribunal near Supreme Court. When in Delhi I tried to seek an appointment with [Congress leader] Priyanka Gandhi. When I was in jail, she was messaging my children, telling them she was there for them. She sent them gifts, tried to assuage their feelings. In Urdu we call it dil joi, or bridging hearts. She was sending delegations to meet me in the jail, building the pressure on the jail administration not to inflict any cruelty on me, and that I get good treatment.

Talking of the jail administration, there have been reports of cruelties on some of the prisoners.

Initially they did not understand who I was. They stripped men in front of me. Pawan, Deepak, all my friends were stripped. We were so dehumanised, I was too numb to react. So was everybody else. We said, it cannot be us. We get people out of detention. We could not be arrested. Often Deepak and I used to go to get people freed after arrest. It could not happen to us, we thought. We cannot be treated like criminals and rioters, and beaten the way we were. But they did. Once it happened to 10-12 men, then I requested the jail authorities to change my position.

They tied Deepak’s hands and feet, and said, “We will take the Bhagat Singh out of you.” In Narendra Modi’s State, Bhagat Singh is a criminal. They did not give food and blanket to Darapuri sahib in this cold weather. He was sent from one remand to another. He is a retired IPS officer. And they did this to him. Both advocate Mohammed Shoaib and Darapuri are 76. Darapuri sahib is also a cancer patient. Fortunately, they were not beaten. But I was beaten. I was beaten by a male cop as well. Deepak and Ambedkar were thrashed badly.

Did they make any communal remarks?

Oh! They kept saying the usual stuff. They only knew the name and not that I am a human rights activist, a theatre professional, or I am into politics. Because of the name, they kept calling me Pakistani, saying, “Tum khaate yahan ki ho, gaate wahan ki ho. Humne tumhare liye kya nahin kiya, kya nahi diya. Tumhe yahan rehen ki jagah diya. [You eat from here but sing their praise. What have we not done for you, what have we not given. We gave you place to live here.]” They said, “Chale kyun nahin jaate ho? Humne yahan sab kiya, tumhe hazam nahi ho raha hai. [Why don’t you go away? We have done everything, but you are not able to digest it.]” It was said by both male and female police persons. They kept saying Modiji is equivalent to the country. And anything against Modi is equivalent to desh droh, treachery. There was no difference between their words and those of a bhakt.

A male police officer asked a female constable to beat me up. She did. It was at 11 p.m.. He was not satisfied. Then he beat me up. He kicked me in the stomach. More than the physical pain, my confidence in law enforcement is shaken.

You were coming back from the protest when you were arrested.

I was coming back, confident we had not done anything wrong. I had my mobile with me when they arrested me. I must be the first person who recorded her own arrest. My witness is the police. They were present there. Then they picked me up, beat me up. First we were beaten on the road, then at the police station. I was beaten at a women’s station, then at a men’s station in Hazratganj.

But the police have denied the allegation.

I am saying, you thrashed us. If I am lying, then go through the CCTV footage. Release it if I am lying.

Do you plan to go to court about it?

We will go to court about it. People suggested we seek police protection. But I have lost faith in that. I remember the Unnao girl’s case. Police protection is more troublesome. I do not need it. I do not want [Chief Minister] Yogi Adityanath’s man with me all through the day.

Have you had any support from the opposition?

[Samajwadi Party leader] Akhilesh Yadav does not come forward in the open. He sent a delegation to the arrested activists. But at the moment, he is not reaching out to the people the way he should. He is probably scared of being seen with Muslims. [Bahujan Samaj Party leader] Mayawati is more concerned about [Bhim Army leader] Chandrashekhar Azad. I am not saying it as a Congress person, but I appreciate the fact that Priyanka Gandhi reached out to Darapuri who has been very critical of the Congress. She reached out to victims of violence in Uttar Pradesh.

 

 

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