'After the pandemic began, they suddenly shut down the prisons; for three months, we did not know what was happening.'
'There were no phone calls, no letters, no news from inside.'
'We were struggling to get any kind of information about them, about their health.'
Your mother is in jail.
You are outside, doing everything possible to secure her release.
Then, COVID strikes.
And, for nearly three months, in the outside world, you are seeing the devastation it has wrought.
And, every second, you are wondering how your mother is surviving the dreaded disease within those prison walls.
But you don't know.
The situation is chaotic and you have no word.
That is the trauma that Koel Sen, film-maker, columnist and daughter of Professor Shoma Sen, one of the 16 arrested in the infamous Bhima Koregaon case, went through in the first half of 2020.
"Ma was in Mumbai, but she has been charged with 'instigating violence' in Pune. It is bizarre!" Koel tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Neeta Kolhatkar in a multi-part interview.
You took to writing about your mother, and about your experiences with the law since she was arrested, on Facebook. Has this helped you cope?
It's definitely been helpful.
When I see the wishes sent by people, I feel I have a strong support system. It helps one stay afloat and keep going.
There have been instances when I have felt completely alone, when I have felt that there is no one to help me.
As an only child, the burden is sometimes too much.
At the same time, for me, these posts are also about keeping her alive in the public's memory because prison systems make you so absent from other people's lives.
Those who care for her want to see her and hear her but they obviously can't. They want to know what she's up to.
Since my father and I are the only people who get to meet her, they get to know about her present condition from us.
In a way, these Facebook posts are a means of telling our friends that she is fine.
Did you anticipate that your mother would be arrested?
It came as a complete shock to me.
In fact, on December 31, 2017, the Elgar Parishad was held at Pune's Shaniwar Wada fort to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. It was organised by a coalition of 260 non-profit organisations.
Ma was in Mumbai.
My parents had come here to celebrate New Year with me and was staying with me in this house.
I had gone out with my friends for a party and, the next day, my parents and I celebrated New Year's.
She was in Mumbai but she has been charged with 'instigating violence' in Pune.
It is bizarre!
I never imagined she would be picked up by the police.
What was your day like when they arrested your mother at her house?
It was a usual working day.
The day she was picked up, I had been working till late. I was on a shoot and out of phone coverage area.
I think she had tried calling before she was taken by the police.
After that, both my parents's phones were confiscated and they could not reach me.
I did know anything, not even that our house in Nagpur was being raided by the police.
I learnt of all this nearly three-four days later, when my maid's daughter called and informed me. I immediately went online and found out as many details as I could.
Then I started getting WhatsApp messages from my friends and figured what had happened.
I was a complete mess and I'm glad my colleagues were supportive.
When did you realise how this tragedy has affected you?
I was scared initially.
Then I grasped what had happened and the situation I was in.
I am focused on only one thing; that I have to get Ma out.
I am constantly working towards helping her and aware that she needs me right now.
It goes for all of us, the families of all the 16 people who were arrested (Father Stan Swamy passed away in 2021). All of us went through that anxiety period.
We had intense discussions and arguments about the ways to get them out. There was a lot of stress.
After the pandemic began, they suddenly shut down the prisons; for three months, we did not know what was happening. There were no phone calls, no letters, no news from inside.
We were struggling to get any kind of information about them, about their health.
I had a nervous breakdown; that's when realised I needed to take time away from all this.
I stopped speaking to the media because I felt used by them. I was constantly hounded for small things. Many times, their questions were inappropriately phrased.
I have stopped responding because they don't seem to understand and that affects you at so many levels.
What I have learnt is that, when you are in a vulnerable position, people are not necessarily there to protect you. There are many who want to pull down till you break.
Whether it is your extended family, the media or sometimes people you know... it was a mess.
I realised I had to start choosing who to speak with, what to do and with whom to share what information.
After your posts, do you see a genuine concern regarding your mother's safety?
Yes, people are genuinely concerned.
When I talk about Ma to anyone -- whether they are from the activist background or artistes -- they are shocked and concerned.
Anyone who knows me cannot imagine my mother would be in jail.
All my friends and colleagues have been extremely supportive. None of them have been insensitive.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com