After year in jail, father’s death, Delhi HC bail for activist Natasha Narwal: ‘Imperative’

A DAY after Pinjra Tod activist Natasha Narwal’s father died of Covid-19, the Delhi High Court on Monday granted her interim bail for three weeks, saying her release is “imperative” in this hour of grief and personal loss.

Narwal, who has been in custody since May last year, is facing charges in a UAPA case registered by the Delhi Police in connection with the Northeast Delhi riots of 2020. Her father Mahavir Narwal, a retired scientist from CCS Haryana Agricultural University, passed away on Sunday evening at Rohtak in Haryana.

Narwal’s application for interim bail on grounds of her father’s failing health was filed on Friday.

A Division Bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani said Narwal’s bail will remain subject to her furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000 and providing her telephone number to the Delhi Police Special Cell and the police station that has jurisdiction over her residence in Haryana’s Rohtak.

“The applicant undertakes to comply with all the norms in force in view of the current pandemic and observe all the precautions as stipulated therein… including but not limited to PPE kit at the time of the cremation,” said the court, adding she will surrender after three weeks without fail after submitting a copy of her RT-PCR report to the jail superintendent.

The court also said that it is “exempting the applicant from filing surety in view of the circumstances that her lone sibling is currently in self-isolation owing to Covid pandemic, and further, the applicant has already furnished sureties” in another FIR against her.

Earlier, advocate Adit Pujari, representing Narwal, told the court that Narwal’s brother had tested positive for Covid on May 7 and was in isolation, and therefore, there was nobody else in the family to perform her father’s last rites.

While the Delhi Police did not oppose the bail plea, it submitted that Narwal should not make any comments or tweets about the case. Pujari told the court that Narwal would be advised not to do so.

“All that we are telling you is… we are not recording it but we are telling you she will maintain radio silence. Otherwise, we may be constrained to recall the order at some stage. We are not recording it but we are telling you,” observed the court.

Reacting to the court order, Narwal’s friends said the interim bail has come “too late”.

Akash Bhattacharya, who teaches at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru and has been a friend of Natasha’s for a decade, said, “They say justice delayed is justice denied. We have a very good example of that. The bail application was initially filed keeping in mind that her father was not well. The hearing happened after he passed away. These are not normal circumstances. Families are suffering due to Covid, and bails, paroles and release on humanitarian grounds should be considered on an urgent basis.”

Pinjra Tod activist Shambhawi Vikram said, “Uncle had been risking everything… he would make it to every court hearing, so we were constantly worried for him. When we heard he has Covid, we filed an application. We were hoping that he would pull through the weekend but it didn’t happen. Theirs was not just a father-daughter relationship, but one based on friendship and love which was inspiring for all us.”

“Even though the order today is strong and clear about the court recognising that it is imperative that she be given bail, it is too late,” she said.

Akhila Singh, a childhood friend, said, “Her brother is also down with Covid. It’s heartbreaking that the father and daughter couldn’t see each other one last time.”

The order in her petition for regular bail has been reserved since April 27.