Jailed For Waving A Black Flag At Adityanath, This 23-Year-Old Girl Is The Face Of Dissent In UP

Piyasree Dasgupta

LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — A few hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a forum of investors in the city last month, police constables surrounded Pooja Shukla as she stepped out of her friend's house in Ismailganj.

Shukla, a 23-year-old activist with the Samajwadi Party (SP), said the policemen and women dragged her to a waiting jeep, snatched her phone, drove her around the city for five hours and only let her go when she pretended to be ill. Another group from the police, she said, raided her house in Sarojini Nagar, where she lives with her parents.

"They abused me for hours inside the car," Shukla said. "They narrated how encounters are done by the police. Then they said that I have been creating problems for them and I might get into big trouble."

This wasn't Shukla's first brush with the law: images of her sparring with the police have been widely shared among university students in the city. Last year, she spent 26 days in prison after she was arrested for waving a black flag at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath when he visited Lucknow University.

Shukla, a slight young woman with an outsized presence, is one of a cohort of student activists who have been drawn into politics by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) crackdown on universities. The student upsurge began in January 2016, when the suicide of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula triggered protests on campuses across the country.

A few months later, the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya—and the widespread media coverage that followed—marked the first real signs of dissent against the Modi government.

Now, as the country is preparing to go to the polls again next year, students such as Shukla are a visible part of the opposition to the BJP.

"She is aggressive and not easily intimidated," said Rahul Singh, national president of the student wing of the Samajwadi Party, explaining why the...

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