LUCKNOW: Once upon a time Lucknow was famous as a city of gardens where more than a hundred flowers had bloomed. Today, the capital of the country’s largest populated state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is being deflowered petal by petal for daring to exert its democratic right and to add its voice to the nation-wide protests against the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA).

The home of a practicing lawyer in the old part of the city was attacked, ransacked and female members of the household intimidated. There is an attempt to robe Lucknow in khaki alone, colour of the uniform worn by the police. The force seems to have taken over the city’s gardens, parks and public places. Incidents of terrorising citizens within their homes have also surfaced.

This is despite lessons that teach us to always mix and match plants for making any garden more beautiful. Time also teaches that there is strength in diversity as a single plant garden is vulnerable to disease and waste. This wisdom is being weeded out in Lucknow. Instead a heavy deployment of police force has taken over the city in an attempt to prevent citizens from publicly expressing a bouquet of views on the recently adopted CAA. To further dent solidarity of the citizens the internet is shut down periodically and some of Lucknow’s most colourful citizens are taken into custody.

The attack is on the soul of the city. Hundreds of academics, artists, news reporters, social activists and students are harrassed, harmed and detained by authorities.

Meet Deepak Kabir, poet and founder of Lucknow’s Kabir Festival. He has been working tirelessly for atleast two decades with young people. He is host to the very popular Dastak Youth Festival that tries to make the young aware of their social responsibilities.

Now Kabir has been in jail since 20 December after he was slapped with criminal activities like arson, rioting and murder. Why? It is because he participated in a peaceful protest on 19 December against the CAA. The next day he had hurried to a police station to look for friends and colleagues who were ‘missing’ after the protest. He questioned the police why senior citizens like SR Darapuri, a retired IPS officer and Muhammad Shoaib, advocate and human rights activists were picked up from their home? If they were alright in jail and if he could meet with them? He asked for the report of those arrested from the police. This concern for fellow citizens is the most endearing aspect of Kabir.

He is a poet who sings hymns in praise of humanity. He has named his teenaged son Sufi. The home of Kabir and his wife is forever open to anyone in need of help whether rich or poor, man or woman. Kabir received no answer to his queries at the police station. Instead he was detained, questioned all day, beaten and locked up in jail. His family was not informed about his arrest. The many friends and well wishers of Kabir are shocked at his detention and demand his immediate release from police custody.

A fellow citizen reached out to Kabir with this note:

Deepak Kabir dear friend: your humanity, your poetry, your gentle craziness can't be touched by the brutality of these times. We have walked with you for 20 years, but my respect for the intensity of your commitment to the oppressed and your own moral fibre grew further after meeting you in jail yesterday. Solidarity always. This too will end.

Meet Muhammad Shoaib, 74 a socialist by choice and advocate by profession. He is a minorities rights crusader and founder of Rihai Manch, advocating the cause of economically depressed youngsters accussed falsely of crimes not committed by them. Shoaib is more than 70 years old. He is not in very good health. He was first under house arrest and later picked up and brought to a police station. Shoaib, together with people like Kabir tirelessly trumpet communal harmony and address as many matters as possible that affect weaker sections of society.

Rihai Manch has been against NSA, the National Security Act that allows people to be detained without access to a lawyer or an appearance before a court of law. The Rihai Manch is against selective ‘encounters’ that mostly target Dalits, Muslims and the most vulnerable citizens belonging to marginalised communities.

The Rihai Manch team has received threats in the past but continues to document incidents of hate crime, illegal detentions and atrocities against citizens that take place routinely all over UP.

Meet SR Darapuri also above 70 years of age. Also under house arrest and later jailed. He is a retired IPS officer who works for Dalit rights and unity amongst all citizens. Darapuri and Shoaib were detained along with other social workers and activists. Meera Sanghamitra, Arundhati Dhuru and Madhavi Kuckreja were allowed to leave after two hours of questioning. But they were not told why they were detained.

Meet Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay awardee and member Socialist Party participated in the CAA protest said that Shoaib and Darapuri were under house arrest since last November. The two did not participate in the 19 December protest but were whisked off from their home into detention.

Meet Sadaf Jafar, 43 year old mother of two. Sadaf has been behind bars since 19 December and beaten while in custody.

According to legal experts the bail application of Sadaf Jafar was declined by the lower courts on 23 December. The lawyers will move the sessions court today with the same appeal. Sadaf Jafar was arrested at the Parivartan Chowk for being a part of the protest against the CAA held at many venues in Lucknow on 19 December. She was streaming live videos of people indulging in arson and violence who were not part of the protest.

Instead of using the information Sadaf Jafar was documenting to identify the miscreants who had crawled into the crowd of peaceful protestors to attack public property and create chaos, authorities have chosen to detain, jail and beat up Sadaf Jafar as if they are least interested in the message only in silencing the messenger.

There are hundreds of citizens like the above, including children who are languishing in police custody today and citizens are crying hoarse at the injustice. They want to know why, but nobody seems to be listening.