On 29 December 2019, the Chennai police detained Gayatri Khandhadai, a human rights lawyer, who participated in the anti-CAA ‘Kolam’ protest in Besant Nagar of Chennai. In a press conference held on 2 January 2020, the Chennai Police Commissioner, A.K. Viswanathan allegedly claimed that the detainee might have ties with certain Pakistani organizations and said that the police would probe the Pakistani links of her.
The commissioner said that the protester Gayatri Khandhadai’s Facebook profile showed that she is a researcher at Bytes for All-Pakistan, which seems to be a body linked to the Association of All Pakistan Citizen Journalists. He further added, “Police will look into Gayatri’s Facebook and other social media interactions and see if there are any connections with Pakistani agencies.”
However, the detainee Gayatri clarified that in 2016, she had only filed a report for ‘Bytes for All’ (a Pakistan based advocacy group) highlighting the discrimination faced by religious minorities in nine Asian countries.
“In this report, I have also written about the discrimination faced by Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It would have been nice if the police had read the report completely and then addressed the press conference,” Gayatri stated. She further added that “By revealing my Facebook profile during the press conference, Chennai City Police have compromised my privacy and security. Chennai City Police Commissioner is responsible for my safety and security.”
Henri Tiphagne, founder and executive director of People’s Watch and senior advocates T. Lajapathi Roy and M. Ajmal Khan, condemned the police action against the protesters and stated that the police are targeting human rights defenders including Ms. Khandhadai and Arappor Iyakkam. They further asserted that “A complaint regarding this has been submitted to the National Human Rights Commission and we will take steps to ensure that the issue was taken by the Bar Council of India.”
The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.S. Alagiri demanded the charges against Gayatri to be dropped off immediately and stated that she was not associated with any organization in Pakistan but had only undertaken research for a Pakistan based research organization. He further stated that such action against Gayatri was vindictive on the part of the government.
“In the 80-page report filed by her about minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Indonesia, there is nothing that is supporting Pakistan. If he finds such a thing in the report, the Police Commissioner must furnish proof,” Mr. Alagiri said.
Earlier on 3 January 2020, advocates at Madras HC staged protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.