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Why has the government put the Dalit activist Nodeep Kaur behind the bars?

We say the world is watching when something grim happens in the country. We tell people to raise their voices, stand up for themselves and their communities when things are going the unjust way. We tell people to keep the spirit of democracy going by ensuring the government is forced to hear people’s plea, no matter how hard they try to shut their ears. But are these rules differ based on different sexes? Or different based on different castes? Because this untold manual of how women are sexually abused, tortured and assaulted during the process is unbelievably going out of hand. And especially if that woman is a Dalit or a minority, her voice would not only be unheard, it would be suppressed and ended. Wow, so much for a country that worships goddesses and fights in their name almost every single day.

Oh, and when did we normalise putting activists behind bars?

A strong, independent woman that knows how to make her voice heard in this apparently women-worshipping country prepares herself to being thrashed, being called names and struggling to be heard. Because we as a society have normalised this and have asked our girls to bear with it if they truly wish to voice their concerns. Perhaps if people don’t agree with women on something or feel they’re too bold for them, they’re allowed to call them names, right? But are we now going to ask them to prepare for being sexually abused, thrown behind bars and beaten in custody? I truly hope we do not.

A 24-year-old activist that made her way to the farmers’ protest and has been the face of labour rights activism, Nodeep Kaur has faced way too much in the past 2 months, and the media doesn’t seem to feel the need to talk about it. She has been a member of Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, the labour rights organisation that started raising their voice amidst the farmer protest against grievances about non-payment of salaries and harassment by employers on various grounds. The farmer’s protest at Singhu border not only provided them with a platform to raise their agitation but also provided them with inspiration to peacefully protest and demand for their rights. The organisation has been representative of the fight against the Kundli Industrial Association (KIA), which represents the local industry owners.

It has been more than a month since she was arrested by the Sonepat police during industrial unit violence in early January, under the non-bailable charges of attempt to murder, extortion and theft, with sections 307, 384 and 379. However, keeping in view the seriousness of these charges, the basis of these charges have been kept secret from the public eye, which raises a serious question on the validity and transparency of these charges. Other charges filed under her name include rioting, unlawful assembly, extortion and criminal intimidation, again the family and concerned kept unaware of the basis of these claims. It is imperative to understand the seriousness of this matter because it is not just a woman that has been detained on some non-bailable grounds without plausible shreds of evidence and explanations but also is an attempt to silence the voice of activists without any proper accountability on the police’s part. This is not the first time an activist has been detained under some serious allegations under the Modi reign and it is not going to stop every time we choose to stay quiet about it.

Despite lack of evidence and basis of charges, she was denied bail by the Haryana High court and her next plea had been set before the court for February 8th, the improvements of which are still to be known.

And as grim the matter looks right at this point, it gets way worse because of what happened behind those closed bars during her custody. A statement from Nodeep Kaur’s sister explained the unfurling of events as “I met her (Nodeep) on 13 January when she told me that she was beaten by both male and female officers in her private parts,” she added. “Haryana Police got involved and attacked the protesting labourers on 12 January. There was no female officer present. My sister was beaten up there and then picked up and taken to the police station,” The pleas for a medical test was made after raising the issue of sexual assault in front of the court on the very next day but no apparent action was taken till January 25, despite the court’s ruling on the test to be conducted on 18th, implying that the delay would mean not so accurate reports. It shocks me to see how easy it is to get away with something as shameful as sexual assault in this country.

The police have denied all those charges against them claiming that Nodeep herself gave her word to the female doctor saying she doesn’t want to be medically examined as she had not been assaulted. The irony of the matter is that her foot has been constantly bleeding and her body has been full of bruises since her detention, meaning any reasonable doctor would have examined her, irrespective of her alleged ‘denial’. And how does it make sense for a woman who repeatedly requested her sister to let the authorities known she has been assaulted and to take action for it, to tell a doctor she doesn’t want to be checked.

It is wrong. It is shameful. We, as a society, have failed our women, our activists and our very own selves. For people that burn the posters of incredibly powerful, famous women for their one tweet, it might not seem like a big deal to silence their own women through tips and tricks. We know the truth and we see it, I hope we gather the courage to say it out loud as well.

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