Natasha Narwal is a Ph.D. scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University and a human rights defender in India. She is one of the founding members of the Pinjra Tod, a collective of women students and university alumni from across Delhi, who seek to lessen restrictions, such as curfews, placed on female students in hostels and advocates against using concepts of safety and security to silence and suppress women’s rights to mobility and liberty.
Natasha along with Devangan Kalita was arrested on May 23 2020 when the police accused her of being the “mastermind” of the Delhi riots in which 53 people were killed. She denied the accusations and said she had only participated in peaceful protests against the controversial citizenship law (CAA)that is discriminatory toward Muslims. International rights groups such as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Frontline Defenders criticized their arrests and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of cracking down on dissent. A Delhi court granted her bail on September 17, 2020. Despite the bail and the Delhi police’ inability to produce evidence against their claim, she had to remain in jail due to other cases filed against her for hatching the conspiracy leading to the violence and riots in Jafrabad, Delhi. According to the charge sheet, Natasha is one of the key conspirators in the northeast Delhi riots, which, according to the police, were orchestrated to coincide with US President Donald Trump’s visit to India.
The riots were allegedly planned in the garb of a “chakka jam” to create discontent against the central government, as per the police.
Life and Activism –
Pinjra Tod was created to fight misogyny and discriminatory rules on college campuses. Hostels for female students were locked up at dusk, while male students rarely had curfew timings. Over time, the movement resulted in many hostels easing restrictions for female students.
Natasha Narwal’s father, Mahavir Narwal, was a retired senior scientist from the Haryana Agricultural University and a senior member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M). During her time inside the prison, during the second wave of Covid-19 in May 2021, Natasha Narwal lost her father, who was her only living parent, after her mother died when she was only 13.
Circumstances of Arrest –
Natasha has been one of the most vital voices of protest against oppressive hostel rules across Delhi’s university campuses. She was instrumental in protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) proposed by the central government. For her role in the activism, she was arrested on May 23, 2020, with accusations of a “premeditated conspiracy” in the northeast Delhi riots of February 2020, booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Charges & Allegations –
She was charged – along with several other students and activists – under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for conspiring to orchestrate communal riots in Delhi.
Latest Update –
She was granted interim bail for allowing her to perform her father’s last rites, after which she returned to Tihar Jail, where she had been lodged for over a year. Following her three-week interim bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000 during her father’s death, Natasha was granted bail by the Delhi HC and two of her fellow activists – Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, on June 15, 2021. While granting the three bail, the Delhi high court made strong comments on the investigation carried out by the Delhi Police and the allegations made by them. The Court went as far as to say that the chargesheet seemed to be based on ‘surmises and conjunctures’ and also criticised the government for “confusing the right to protest with terrorist activity”. It was also reported that the police deliberately delayed their release despite securing bail. The Delhi Police has moved the Supreme Court against the Delhi HC’s judgment granting her bail where the appeal is pending.