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UP PUCL activist and husband in jail for more than 18 months

From The Week:

Uttar Pradesh: Activist couple accused of being pro-Naxal jailed for over a year now

By Ajay Uprety

Her name is Azad (free), but she has been behind bars for the past 18 months. Activist Seema Azad, 35, is in the Naini Central Jail for allegedly being a Naxal sympathiser.

On February 6, 2010, the psychology student of Allahabad University and her husband, former student leader Vishwavijay, were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act) 2005. Seema’s friends believe she is paying the price for being a whistle-blower against the powerful sand mafia of the state. Though there have been protests and petitions against Seema’s arrest, her bail plea is pending in the Supreme Court and her case had not been listed in the High Court for over a year.

Her arrest was dramatic. As the couple stepped out of the Allahabad railway station, they were surrounded by cops in plainclothes. Before they could comprehend what was happening, they were beaten up and pushed into a vehicle. They were detained at the Allahabad police station for the night, before being sent to Naini jail for possessing pro-Naxal literature.

Seema is an office bearer of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the editor of Dastak, a bi-monthly magazine. Since its inception four years ago, Dastak has raised its voice against the state government’s anti-people policies. She has written about anomalies in Chief Minister Mayawati’s dream project the Ganga Expressway, Kanpur’s ailing textile industry and police atrocities in Naugarh. Before her arrest, Seema had criticised the Union government’s Operation Greenhunt against Naxals. Dastak also carried reports about extortion and illegal sand mining in Allahabad, which involved MLAs of the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party.

Said her father, M.S. Srivastav: “She became an eyesore to the government and police after she exposed the sand mafia and led a labour movement there. Since then, efforts were on to implicate her.” The retired assistant labour commissioner believes his daughter’s arrest is a part of a deep conspiracy “and the charges are 100 per cent fake. Police nicely cooked up a story against her.”

PUCL organisation secretary Rajiv Yadav told THE WEEK: “Obviously, Seema paid the price for her bold writing and for exposing the government and mafia. Had she been associated with the Naxals there was no need to bring out a magazine for the past couple of years highlighting people’s grievances.”

Those who sympathise with Seema cite the Supreme Court’s observation in Binayak Sen’s case that by possessing Naxal literature, no one becomes a Naxal just as no one becomes a Gandhian by possessing Gandhian literature. Said PUCL office bearer Shahnawaz Alam: “When no newspaper dared to write against them [the government], it was Seema, with her limited resources, who kept writing. The government did not like her belligerent attitude. It implicated and imprisoned her. That was the best way to prevent her from writing.”

According to the Journalist Union for Civil Society, when the police seize provocative literature and brand a person Naxal, they should specify the literature that is seized. In a democracy, possessing or reading books professing a particular ideology is not a crime. Said S.R. Darapuri, a former IPS officer: “Just saying it was prohibited literature holds no significance. We are sure the literature was not anti-national.”

Seema’s elder sister Suman, who met the couple in jail, said, “Both Seema and Vishwavijay seem happy there. There is no sign of regret. In fact, even in jail they are continuing their work by giving good counsel to inmates and their children.”

Seema is not alone. She and Vishwavijay join the long list of activists who have tried to expose the state and ended up being branded Naxals and jailed like Binayak Sen, Prashant Rahi, Praful Jha, Sudhir Dhawale and Asit Sengupta.