For Gautam Navlakha and Sudha Bharadwaj, house arrest means sharing their most personal space with policemen and policewomen — Delhi Police for the former, Haryana for the latter — and trying to cope with their constant presence and surveillance.
Formerly editorial director with Economic and Political Weekly, civil rights activist Navlakha lives with his partner Sahba Husain in South Delhi and it is her two-bedroom house where he is under house arrest.
The terms of a house arrest aren’t exactly codified in law but it’s understood that Husain can stay with him.
From Tuesday on, Navlakha and Husain’s tryst with men and women in uniform began and so did police intrusion. Husain, herself an activist and an author, “knew her rights”, as she puts it, and was able to seek legal help.
For a start, there were two policemen and one policewoman inside her house. At one point, the police even told them to “not shut the bedroom door” when they retired leading to Navlakha and Husain escalating the matter to their senior officers. Finally, the policemen relented and sat outside the bedroom door.
On Thursday, the first day after the Supreme Court order, the police stayed inside the house, watching and monitoring everything they did. Navlakha had access to his family and friends, he could speak to them, though the police did not let his nephew, who waited all day to meet him, to enter the house.
Those close to Navlakha say that the arrest has opened their eyes to what it means when politics comes home. The “best bits” of the ordeal, they say, are moments spent with younger persons of the family as they try to “absorb and understand what is happening.”
When the police knock came at 7.25 am on Tuesday with 15 Pune policemen at Husain’s house, she was told that the “scene of crime” was Maharashtra but they could not elaborate.
Once Husain insisted on a warrant, they returned over two hours later with documents in Marathi. The police didn’t specify any reason why their house was being searched.
Navlakha and Husain share an unconventional relationship and this meant the police have had to learn too. When the police asked about their relationship and whether they should write down “mitr,” Navlakha said, “No, it is more than that, please write ‘Life Partner’.”
For Sudha Bharadwaj, visiting faculty at National Law University, home is a compact two-bedroom flat on the second floor in Badarpur. She shares the space with her 20-year-old student-daughter. House arrest means her daughter is living elsewhere and Bharadwaj is with her lady lawyer and five other policewomen all the time. The police have moved in. The number of lawyers Bharadwaj can meet is also restricted by the police.
The neighbourhood where Bharadwaj lives is hit by severe water shortage and water has been running out in her house every day. Without any official order, police have enforced a ban on “loose items”, including vegetables and eggs from being bought or brought in to the house. Only “packaged food” like Maggi noodles is allowed.
Her part-time help has not been turning up since she was put under house-arrest. The newspapers Bharadwaj subscribes too have not been delivered and people close to her say it’s not clear if the agent didn’t show up or if the police stopped the delivery.
Bharadwaj has been denied access to her laptop, her mobile phone has been taken away and she can be reached, only indirectly, via her lawyer.
Her lawyer has moved the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) with three specific applications: first, for allowing her lawyers to meet her in her house; second, for shifting out police personnel from inside the house and limiting them to two, stationed outside the house; and, third, to let the residents of the house partake in their daily activities. The CJM has asked for the Public Prosecutor’s reply by Friday.
On Wednesday evening, when the Supreme Court underlined the importance of dissent and ordered their house arrest, Bharadwaj and her lawyer wanted to order in a pizza but that was “forbidden” by the police.