Student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha outside Tihar prison, after a court ordered their immediate release in the north-east Delhi riots "conspiracy" case, in New Delhi, Thursday, June 17, 2021. (PTI Photo)
TWO DAYS after the Delhi High Court granted bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha – arrested in May 2020 for their alleged role in the Northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case and later booked under the UAPA anti-terror law — they were released on Thursday evening.
While Narwal had got interim bail in May this year to attend her father’s funeral, and Tanha was out on two-week interim bail to write his exams, Kalita had not stepped out of jail in over a year.
“There was this anxious wait… Abhi bhi lagta hai koi aayega (I still feel like someone will come) and will arrest us. I am happy to step out, see the roads and people. I want to thank the Delhi High Court. The points raised by them — right to dissent and protest — are very important. The past year was very difficult, but we were lucky because we had each other,” said Kalita, soon after her release.
“We were anxious, especially after the Delhi HC order and police delay. This was unexpected. I thought we weren’t going to get out. Today, they closed the entire women’s jail to let us out. We couldn’t meet other inmates,” said Narwal.
“It has been difficult. Since our case was highlighted, we had to face harassment in jail… the allegations against us were shocking. When police claimed we orchestrated the riots, our friends laughed, they knew it wasn’t possible… We only protested. I miss my father…I wish he was here. We will continue to fight against wrong,” she said.
Student activist Natasha Narwal hugs Devangana Kalita outside Tihar prison, after a court ordered their immediate release in the north-east Delhi riots “conspiracy” case, in New Delhi, Thursday, June 17, 2021. They along with Asif Iqbal Tanha were arrested in May last year under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)
JNU students Narwal and Kalita were released together at about 7.15 pm. They hugged each other outside Tihar Jail, while their friends and relatives gathered around them and raised slogans.
Tanha, a Jamia Millia Islamia student, was out on a two-week interim custody bail to take his examinations. He was brought back to Tihar Jail on Thursday, and released on regular bail. He met Narwal and Kalita outside Tihar Jail’s Gate No 3.
“People called me a terrorist, jihadi and other names but I didn’t mind because I didn’t do anything wrong. I will continue my fight against CAA and NRC. Our protests were peaceful. Though jail was tough, I knew we would be out one day. I thank the Delhi HC for its judgment. I believe in the Constitution,” he said.
“We have mixed feelings. We are happy that she’s out but sad as we lost our brother and she had to suffer in jail for no reason. I was disappointed when I heard about the Delhi Police delay in the bail procedure. I was losing hope,” said Narwal’s uncle, Virendra Malik.
Earlier in the day, a city court ordered the trio’s immediate release. Following the HC order on Tuesday, the three students had moved applications in a city court for their immediate release on bail. But on Wednesday, police told the court of Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Bedi that they would be able to file the verification report only by June 22.
Narwal, Kalita and Tanha then approached the HC, which observed on Thursday that the trial court must “expedite the proceedings” and it “cannot be an open process”.
Even as their lawyers appeared before the HC Bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani on Thursday morning, seeking their immediate release, ASJ Bedi issued release warrants at 11 am.
Student activists Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita outside Tihar prison, after a court ordered their immediate release in the north-east Delhi riots “conspiracy” case, in New Delhi, Thursday, June 17, 2021. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)
“From the circumstances forwarded by the IO, I observe that at least the verification process qua sureties must have been filed by 1:00 pm yesterday, all sureties are residents of Delhi. Apropos the reason forwarded by the IO that verification qua accused’s permanent address would need time, I would say this by itself cannot be a plausible reason for the accused to be kept imprisoned till the time such reports are filed,” said ASJ Bedi.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police Special Cell’s Special Leave Petitions, challenging the HC’s decision to grant bail, will be taken up by the Supreme Court on Friday. The appeals have been listed before a Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian.
In the HC, Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, who appeared on behalf of Tanha, said that “once an order of bail is passed, it can’t be obstructed for administrative or ministerial reasons. I (Tanha) can be released and they can go ahead with verification. If it is an issue of verification, I am an accused, surely they know where I stay. My address forms a part of their chargesheet… if it is found that there is some problem, I will be back in custody.”
“By not taking a decision on my application, the trial court has taken a view,” said Aggarwal.
“At the highest, we can only express that the proceedings before the HC must be conducted expeditiously,” Justice Mridul said. “Obviously we expect the trial court to expedite the proceedings…This has to be done at a reasonable time. This cannot be an open process,” he said.
“What the Delhi Police has done is that they have very cleverly… verified one surety each for each appellant, and say that for second surety… there is an error… the deficiencies are that they did not record the statements of the surety or neighbours, those deficiencies were pointed out when they came to our sureties’ houses,” said Advocate Adit Pujari, appearing for Narwal and Kalita.
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad told the HC that the state was only following court orders. “The bail bond was given at 4:10 (pm), the Special Cell got this at 5:30 (pm), we were expected to file the report by 1 pm (next day). All the verification had to be done by one day… during verification, certain glaring facts have come. We are not obstructing the release. We don’t have magical powers to verify from Assam and Jharkhand, addresses have certain glaring discrepancies,” he said.