A nation-wide online cultural protest was organised by Pinjra Tod, the collective of women students, on June 3, 2020. Called as ‘Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega – Songs of Protest’, this cultural dissent galvanised mainly through social media platforms. It demanded the immediate release of student activists, ambiguously arrested during the pandemic.

The protest received solidarity and supportive messages from activists in Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Protest poetry, placards and musical quotes were also shared with the Hashtags #SabYaadRakhaJaega and #FreeAntiCAAPortestors on Facebook and Twitter. The protest call was physically conducted by few activists in Patna, Bhubaneshwar, Kolkata, Darjeeling through small gatherings in their locality, while observing norms of social distancing.

Along with the social media participation, a two-hour-long centrally organised programme was also conducted by Pinjra Tod.

Theatre and music groups such as the Aahvaan Project, Sangwari Group, Sharmishtha Malick from Bengaluru-based Urban Folk, along with co-founders Shilpa Mudbi and Aditya Kothakotha participated. Sabika Abbas Naqvi, a performative poet, who is also the founder of Sar-e-Rahguzar: Poetry on the Streets, presented her poetic critique of Indian state and liberals.

The online programme stated how journalists, students and activists like Gautam Navlakha, Zargar, Meeran Haider, Sudha Bharadwaj, Akhil Gogoi, Ishrat Jahan, Safoora Zargar, Gulfisha, Devangana and Natasha are all in jail under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), thereby demanding the immediate end to criminalising dissent in India.

“A very far-fetched conspiracy is being created, such that the blame for the pogrom in Delhi is being shifted from actual perpetrators to peaceful protestors,” Maitreyi, the moderator said.

“Peaceful protestors are being demonised. After the amendment, UAPA has turned even more dangerous and arbitrary. Individuals are being called terrorists.”

The first performance by Vedi Sinha from the Aahvahan Project started by asking forgiveness from everyone, who believed in love and humanity. Irrespective of the religion, caste and gender-related boundaries, Vedi aimed to question the truth of existence, pain and trauma present in everyone.

“Unfortunately, what is scarier than the leaders, is the thinking—that apart from me, myself and I, everybody else is wrong. The truth today is that the state has fallen to committing atrocities… it already had. But now, quietly people are being picked up just for speaking up,” she said.

After the online programme, Pinjra Tod’s twitter handle tweeted: “

All our love and rage for those fighting at the front lines and carrying the Anti-CAA movement further. Not even a pandemic can bring us down. The right wing troll brigade can try all they want.”

A joint press conference was addressed by a few Members of Parliament on June 1 in solidarity with students and activists arrested recently by the central government. The opposition MPs also strongly criticised the amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) passed by the previous Lok Sabha.

The panelists included D.Raja (CPI), E.T. Mohammed Basheer (Lok Sabha from Ponnani, IUML), Haji Fazlur Rehman (Lok Sabha Saharanpur BSP), Kunwar Danish Ali (Lok Sabha Amroha BSP), Manoj Jha (Rajya Sabha RJD), Majeed Memon (Rajya Sabha NCP), Syed Nasir Hussain (Rajya Sabha Karnataka INC), Nadimul Haque (Rajya Sabha TMC) and Shafiqur Rahman Barq (Lok Sabha Sambhal, SP).

“Behind the guise of the pandemic, the government is centralising all powers in its hands. The rights of the state governments, migrants, Adivasis, etc are being undermined in the name of fighting the pandemic. The aggressive neoliberal policies of the government are undermining democracy in India,” stated D.Raja.

“The Home Minister must be held accountable,” he said.

Highlighting the arrests of the Pimjra Tod activist Manoj Jha stated: “The brazen manner in which Delhi Police is operating during the pandemic is atrocious. Even the courts are not functioning currently. The entire manner in which anti-CAA protests have been linked with the Delhi riots shows how a narrative is intentionally being manufactured to fit the domain.”

According to Fazlur Rehman, “Around 40,000 people have been arrested recently. Such arrests, especially during the pandemic, are nothing but a part of the shameless tactics to distract people from the government’s failure in containing the epidemic.”

He further asked, “When the Supreme Court itself issued directions for the release of prisoners due to the pandemic, why are such rampant arrests being made?”

Referring to the Centre’s failure to track and isolate international travellers who brought Covid-19 to India, Majid Memon asked, “Did Trump’s visit to India in February also cause transmission of coronavirus? Why is the Indian government undertaking no investigation regarding it?”

Memon further pointed to the hypocrisy of the Delhi Police in not even initially lodging FIRs against Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Kapil Mishra, and Abhay Verma.

Syed Nasir Hussain strongly stated that “No PM is above criticism. A politician cannot become God.” “Many ministers of the ruling dispensation right now hailed from student political parties during their days. How can they stop it now?” he asked.

Hussain emphasised that “The protest movement against NRC-CAA was suspended due to the pandemic. It was not called off. Currently, it is our Indian democracy that is under quarantine. Maximum pandemic, limited governance.”

The MPs also discussed the possibility of a virtual Parliament being convened in the coming months.

Irrespective of the arrests and the growing active cases during the pandemic, the MPs present said they strongly believed the anti-CAA protest movement would not die down.

Additional reporting by ANANYA SINGH