Ishrat Jahan was detained during the 2020 Delhi protests against the controversial citizenship law that was passed in the Modi government.

New Delhi, India – The moment Ishrat Jahan walked out of an inmate’s cell in the Indian capital city last week, her sister welcomed her. They broke into tears as their families were gathered to greet her home after two years of confinement.

«I loved my family members a lot. This separation was tough to me,» she said to Al Jazeera one week after her release from the jail.

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Jahan is, a 31-year old activist, was detained together with hundreds of other Muslims in February 2020 as part of large-scale protests against the controversial citizenship law that Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government passed in December.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) permitted non-Muslim refugees and migrants from countries around India to obtain Indian citizenship as long as they had arrived in India before December 14, 2014. When viewed in conjunction with the proposal for a National Register of Citizens (NRC), Many were concerned that the CAA-NRC plan was intended to deny Muslims. Muslim minority.

Critics criticized the CAA as CAA infringed on the Constitution of India’s secularists, and United Nations› experts called the law «fundamentally discriminatory.»

The passing of the CAA and concerns over the possibility of an NRC led to a flurry of peaceful protests across India, including Muslim women taking charge of sit-ins in a variety of locations, including Shaheen Bagh, a working-class predominantly Muslim neighborhood located in the southeast of Delhi that became the epicenter of demonstrations.

Jahan, an attorney and a former councilor for the municipal government elected from her district, organized one of the protests by women led by women in Delhi’s East’s Khureji region.

Police detain Jahan outside Delhi’s Red Fort during anti-CAA protests in the capital [File: Md Meharban/Al Jazeera]
Infuriated by the protests, certain ministers and leaders of Modi’s conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) advised their followers to disperse the sit-ins and «shoot» protesters.

The hateful speeches escalated religious riots across eastern areas of Delhi during the final week of February in the year 2020 and killed around 50; the majority of the victims were Muslims as a plethora of mosques and houses were burnt to the ground.

The police, who are accused by victims and by witnesses of collusion to support Hindu groups during the violence, conducted an arresting series of anti-CAA protesters and charged with violating a strict «terror» law, dubbed»the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The majority of people arrested under UAPA and other laws are detained. UAPA and different directions remain in jail while legal proceedings and investigations progress at a snail’s pace.

Jahan was detained on February 26, 2020. This was just two weeks after Delhi violence broke out, with police initially accusing her of unconstitutional assembly and rioting, then accusing her of being a part of a plot to incite religious riots in the capital.

Jahan shows her visiting card that says she is a lawyer, at her home in New Delhi [Md Meharban/Al Jazeera]
In a recollection of the day police detained her from the anti-CAA protests of Khureji, Jahan said she received an «ominous phone call» the following day.

«The person who called me said that some protesters retreated from the area,» she said.

When she finally arrived at the area, she found no one around except for the police in a vast group. She claimed she was «alone and stunned» as officers swooped at her and escorted her away in a car.

«I did not know why I was detained,» Jahan said.

On March 14 this week, in a rare case, an indigent judge located in Delhi allowed bail for Jahan even though she was being charged under the UAPA, which prohibits bail for accused people when the police have established the existence of prima facie evidence.

The lawyer for Jahan Pradeep Teotia insisted before the court that police wrongly accused her but without evidence to connect her to the Delhi violence.

The court agreed with the court’s opinion, stating that the position that Jahan «who was a woman … is enough to convince this court to grant the bail application in this case despite the embargoes» in UAPA and other laws.

Jahan reading a book at her home in New Delhi [Md Meharban/Al Jazeera]
Jahan claimed she can still not understand the reasons for her being held in a secure prison for two years. Jahan claimed she was «wrongly accused of being framed» when she denied the accusations of conspiracy, stating that the anti-CAA movement was a symbol of the principles of secularism, democracy, and equality under the Constitution.

«Our protests were not associated with violence,» she said. «It was also an important illustration of female empowerment.»

Jahan claimed she was upset that police branded the woman «a terrorist» and claimed she was subjected to «mental torturing» during interrogations.

«They (police) have created fake pictures and tried to include me in the picture. They attempted to link me to a few individuals. They showed me pictures of people from different backgrounds and tried their best to obtain my confession,» she said.

«My parents taught me to be a believer in the Constitution. I’ve also gone through law school. It never occurred to me that someone who believes in secularism could be accused of terrorist acts.»

Jahan shows a mobile phone photo of her leading Hindu devotees during a pilgrimage [Md Meharban/Al Jazeera]
Jahan stated that her treatment was different at the prison than the other prisoners. «I was placed under intense surveillance. As opposed to other prisoners I was not provided with tasks to do in order to pass the time. Inside the jail, a minute feels like a day.»

She stated that the initial two years of the coronavirus epidemic were the most challenging for her in jail because the government had ordered nationwide lockdowns to prevent its spread.

«There there were no virtual or physical meetings because of the lockdown. I didn’t see any of the faces of anyone from my immediate family members for months. I was held for two weeks in isolation in a cell at a minimum of seven times. These six months were difficult,» she said.

«I was able to experience the real feeling of hunger. I understood the hurt of losing your loved family members,» she said, reading a poem written by the famous 18th-century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.

«Ishrat-e-Qatar Ishrat-e-Qatar Dard she had se guarana hai Dava Jaana» (To be consumed by oceans is to experience the ecstasy of a droplet when pain surpasses all limits, it becomes the cure)

Jahan stated that she was worried about her family, who were also harassed and interrogated while in jail. «But they never let me leave to my own devices,» she said.

«During the lockdown, it put their health in danger for me. Every member of my family became infected by a coronavirus. After everyone was in their residences, my sister came to the forefront and ran a post to post in her fight to get justice.»

His sister Sarwer is also an attorney. «It is an actual legal battle that we’ve won,» Sarwer said.

In June 2020, Jahan was granted ten days› bail to be married. «It was a truly amazing day for me to return home and get married. I am extremely grateful to the justice system for putting their trust in me.»

The sixth day after she got married, she was taken back to prison. «We were all crying. The word «married» means that you imagine the possibility of a new family, a new life, and new people, and you can be with them and talk with them. But I didn’t have this privilege,» she said.

The husband of Jahan, Farhan Hashmi, told Al Jazeera he does not wish for anyone else to suffer the pain and to suffer his wife went through. «Her hands had been covered with mehndi (henna) as I left her at the prison gate. It was a very painful experience.»

Jahan said she saw the numerous issues that prisoners face in prison, and she emphasized the need to reform the prison system.

«Inmates particularly women aren’t able to access lawyers. Family gatherings are not common. If you want to call for five minutes you must be patient for months. The majority of people don’t have clothes or money.» she added.

Jahan stated that she is worried about her co-accused’s safety, currently in jail.

«I pray for them to stay in peace. Many families are struggling financially. They require our help. I’m confident they will come out someday.»

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