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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Elgar Parishad case: In letters to kin from jail, a slice of life of detainees

The letters written by the activists reveal a slice of their lives behind bars

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Published: December 21, 2019 3:17:36 am
In picture Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj and Rona Wilson

Seven of the nine incarcerated activists, academics and lawyers in the Bhima-Koregaon-Elgar Parishad matter have written letters from the prison to their family members, which The Indian Express has accessed. They reveal a slice of their lives behind bars.

Sudha Bharadwaj

Academic, activist and lawyer, Bhardwaj writes in Hindi. In one letter, she draws parallels of the case with what the British tried in 1929 to establish as the “Meerut conspiracy case”. She recalls the search of her house on August 28, 2018. “…two months of house-arrest, and nine months in Yerawada jail’s separate ward, there is only one so-called childish and non-credible ‘evidence’…there is some evidence and material, then we can plan how to battle it, but a fake electronic file? How does one fight that?” she writes.

Sudha thanks all those who think of her and fight for her. “…the sun rising after a long night, or showers after the unbearable heat. All this fills me with hope for betterment and progress in the human life.”

Varavara Rao

The Telugu poet and activist writes that he was “the last person to come to Yerawada jail” of the nine in this case. He speaks of time spent close to the gallows, where the “tip of the gallows was always visible”.

Describing fellow occupants and discussions, he writes, “…our discussion shifted to Harry Potter…. She was in such a hilarious mood and while talking to us she crafted a paper bird, with a small tail and wings. If you pull the tail, the bird will move its wings and fly into sky, into Azadi ….but alas, we don’t have tails to be pulled so that we can fly into sky without wings…”

Shoma Sen

Academic and prominent activist Sen writes, “Sitting where I am, I can see how little has changed as we approach the 72nd Independence Day. Women, mostly from unprivileged, lower caste backgrounds, barely literate, married off at 14 or 15 years of age, form the bulk of those who are languishing in jail. They are living examples of how patriarchy functions in society and in the judiciary.”

Vernon Gonsalves

In his letters, the activist has described his nightmares. In a letter titled Restless, he writes, “Finally, I must get up — to the silent steadfastness of the chipped granite walls around me. They are not closing in. There are also those familiar bars with their unwavering shadow patterns. It feels good to know I’m not being broken down, not being flattened out. Nowadays, it’s despair that’s dominating. The scenery is beautiful, but enveloped in a gloom of terror and sadness. War echoes in the distance. Someone is being bombed. A child cries, and the lovely lake turns a ghastly red. I awake with a chill and a shiver. My beloved bars calm me, bring warmth. I’m behind bars. In their embrace, what have I to fear?”

Mahesh Raut

An activist with work among tribals, Raut has written a poem in Hindi, which is about the “free displaced” he sees himself as. The slogan of ‘Jal, Jangal Jameen’ (Water, forest and the land) has an echo in it.

He speaks of the “burning and falling of localities, where the workers are displaced and those who opposed that were beaten, some buried, and were declared victims of an “encounter”…

Rona Wilson

A research scholar who has worked on the condition of political prisoners, Wilson wrote a letter on August 12 about the ‘GDP of fear’. The letter comments on the Jammu and Kashmir situation after the reading down of Article 370. “The deafening silence to the level of dehumanisation, mistreatment, brutalisation and debasement of like of the people of J&K is a direct measure of our own dehumanisation. The deep securitisation of our minds, the dark fears in the far recesses of our minds, benumbed in the self-imposed ‘security’ of our gated selves.” Wilson adds; “What will it take to break the chains that shackle our minds?”

Sudhir Dhawale

The rights activist has written a letter detailing his views on why it has been necessary to “create a category of urban naxals”. “As investigation into Gauri Lankesh’s Murder progressed by the efforts of Karnataka police, pressure was starting to mount on the Maharashtra government and its police to arrest masterminds of the killers of Dabholkar-Pansare. People began to point out that the Hindutva camp is behind these killings…All these happenings pushed the Hindutva camp onto a backfoot. This is the background for the fictitious enemy call of ‘Urban naxal’.”

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