Social activist and Congress worker, Sadaf Jafar, was released on bail 19 days after she was arrested for protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Lucknow. In an interview to Outlook’s Preetha Nair, actor-activist Jafar talks about her harrowing experience in police custody, CAA and students' protests. Excerpts:
Q) You were arrested during anti-CAA protests. Tell us about the events that took place on that day.
A: On December 19, when there was a call for protest against CAA, we decided to conduct a peaceful protest at Parivartan Chowk. Suddenly, a group of boys wearing skull caps came and started pelting stones. I found it strange that, even though Section 144 had been imposed, the police couldn’t detect a group of protesters carrying bricks and petrol.
I can say with responsibiity that the stone-pelting was orchestrated. Another strange thing that happened was that when the arson started, someone drove a state transport bus at the protest spot. Police kept standing but didn’t take any action.
While I was recording the riots and police inaction on my phone, I was taken into custody. Male and female constables repeatedly slapped me and thrashed me with batons. The marks are still on my body.
Q) You allege that you were tortured and humiliated in police custody.
A: I was taken to Mahila Thana in Hazratganj from the protest site. At night, I could hear the cries from the room where male detainees were kept. Every time, the policemen passed by, they would ask my name and call me a ‘Pakistani’. They kept abusing me and said that “I eat here, but loyalties are there.”. It was horrible. They always addressed me as ‘tum log’. More than the thrashing, it was the word ‘tum log’ that pained me. I come from a family of freedom fighters. At the police station, one female constable pulled my hair, slapped me and scratched my face. None of the police officers, from constable to seniors, wore badges on their uniform.
I thought that I was detained and my family or friends would soon come to rescue me. But by 8 pm, I started panicking and asked the police for my phone. Though I repeatedly asked them to inform my family, they didn’t.
Q) You also said that a senior male officer kicked you in the stomach which led to bleeding.
A: Yes. At 11 pm, a female constable took me to an officer’s room who, she said, is the Inspector General of Police. Even before entering the room, he started abusing me. He said, “Why are you doing all this, even when the government is doing so much for you?”
Then he asked the female constable to put me in jail under section 307. He asked her to slap me. Then he got up and pulled my hair, kicked me in my stomach and knee. I knew then that my nightmare had begun. I was feeling very sick, shaken and abused.
When I felt uneasy, I requested for immediate medical attention. I wasn’t even given water till then. They took me to a civil hospital, though the doctors didn’t attend to my wounds inflicted by the beating. The same night, I started bleeding. My pants were blood-soaked, and they didn’t even give me sanitary napkins. I was scared to even ask for water because I felt that I would be beaten up again. I found out later that the male cop was not the IG, but a senior officer.
Q) Your friend and activist Deepak Kabir was taken into custody for visiting you at the police station.
A: Nobody, including my sister, knew where I was. Around 11 am the next day, my friend Kabir came to the station looking for me. He was beaten up and was stripped in front of me. I felt dehumanized, humiliated, hungry and was bleeding. When we reached jail, I saw young boys with injuries and stitches. And they were stripped in front of me.
Q) You said that Uttar Pradesh Police is communalised and you felt like a Jew in Hitler camp. Why?
A: I felt like a Jew in Hitler's Germany. The fact that they could call me a Pakistani, torture me, and strip men in front of me, is shocking. My Muslim identity is the only reason that such treatment was meted out to me. I am a social activist, poet and theatre activist. All these years, my identity never mattered to me. But that my religion defines me as a person now is disturbing. Those 19 days I spent in jail were less harrowing than one night in police custody. I got to see my children only after 11 days. For two days, my family was in the dark about my whereabouts.
I want people to know how brutal and communalised the saviors of the Constitution are. I have evidence that the police were complacent in their duty. Do they have any proof that I violated the rules? I have 13-14 cases against me for rioting and arson. The police have never been so blatant and shameless before. This is fascism.
Q) Will you continue your fight?
A: The ordeal has taken the fear out of me. You can die only once. I will continue to fight till the end. We are trying to help people in jail. They can’t misguide people for long because CAA is an inhuman law. The silver lining is that my arrest and the outrage that took place was a slap on the communal slur and communal agenda of the police and the government.
Q) You received support from many quarters including Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi and film maker Mira Nair.
A: I was lucky that Priyanka Gandhi, Mira Nair and many others stepped in. I am more worried about people -- tailors, shop keepers, students -- who were picked up for no reason. I am not able to hug my children or sleep peacefully anymore. I feel guilty for the people in jail. We have to pay one lakh rupees for bail. How many people can pay that much money?
Q) Do you feel hopeful about the student protests?
A: The students are the torchbearers of democracy and they are my hope now. I feel inspired and energised looking at the protests. Civil disobedience is our birthright.