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'Why Are We Being Made To Suffer?'

April 10, 2024 10:06 IST
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'The last six years have been full of uncertainty. We've been constantly worrying about what will happen next.'

IMAGE: Professor Shoma Sen. Photograph: Kind courtesy Koel Sen/X

It's been five days since Professor Shoma Sen, accused in the Elgar Parishad case, got bail from the Supreme Court, but she hasn't managed to step out of Byculla Jail in central Mumbai. Nor has her daughter or husband been able to speak to her even on the phone, since they had finished their phone-call quota for last week before her bail order came.

Waiting to meet her mother, Koel Sen recalled the many frustrations she has experienced in the six years since her mother was suddenly arrested in June 2018. The 36-year-old independent film-maker spoke to Jyoti Punwani about how these years changed her.


So what's holding up your mother's release?

A lot of things.

The bail was granted on Friday. On Saturday, we went to the NIA court, but the PP (public prosecutor) was absent. On Monday, the judge was absent. Now we're hoping she'll be out on the 10th.

That's also the day all of the Bhima Koregaon accused will be brought to court, so at least I'll get to meet her.

It must be really frustrating.

Well, in comparison with what we've gone through in the past, this is nothing. Now, we know by the end of this process, she'll be out.

The last week has been okay actually. I was following the arguments when they were being live streamed by the Supreme Court and for the first time I felt that the judges were actually listening.

In the lower courts and even the high court, you sit at a distance, you can't hear a thing when the judges are speaking; you have to rely on the lawyers to tell you what happened.

How have the last six years been for you? You were just 30 when your mother was arrested.

It's been a traumatic time, and no one should have to go through this. But it has made me more resilient and patient.

Like every mother and daughter, we would talk every two or three days whenever I was away from home. When someone that close to you is suddenly taken away from you, and you realise that person is there, but she's not going to be around when you need to talk to her...

It's very tough. You may ultimately meet her in jail, but the moment that you need her, she's not there for you.

Learning to live without the availability of your mother is an experience that forces one to grow up.

There's another thing. When you are free, you don't value relationships that much. But the fear of losing your mother, of not having her around for long -- that makes you realise how important she is. That's when both of you forget all your childhood disagreements and value each other more.

IMAGE: Koel Sen, Professor Shoma Sen's daughter. Photograph: Kind courtesy Koel Sen

What was the most difficult time for you?

The COVID-19 lockdown. Forget meeting her, my father and I were not able to talk to her on the phone for months; we couldn't even send a letter as the postal service wasn't working. We didn't know what was happening to her.

It was inexplicable to us how those inside the jail must be feeling.

I spoke to Sudha Bhardwaj (another accused in the Elgar Parishad case) after she got bail, and she told me that some prisoners simply went crazy, unable to reach out to their families.

My father and I had a very difficult time. Our anxiety levels shot up, and anxiety-related disorders set in. Not just Ma's health, but our health too was affected.

In fact, the last six years have been full of uncertainty. We've been constantly worrying about what will happen next.

At the same time, you must have had to support her too, psychologically.

I wanted to support her, but could only do so up to a point. I'd meet her in jail, be around if she needed anything. I gave my best, but there were times I'd get overwhelmed.

It wasn't just that the future seemed hopeless. It was just the overall experience.

When I would go for the mulaqaat, every time I'd walk through the jail door, anxiety would set in and I'd start feeling it's all so unjust. I used to feel: She doesn't deserve this, I don't deserve it, why are we being made to suffer this?

Feelings of frustration and helplessness would just overwhelm me. It felt like we were being subject to emotional violence in some ways.

Do you feel your mother should have been less of an activist, and remained an academic, and thereby avoided this suffering?

My mother will always do what she has to do.

Growing up, I've told her to be less active. I was worried about her strong convictions and her readiness to step up for others. I've seen her take risks, so there was a fear. As a child you want your parents for yourself.

But when she was arrested, she wasn't even that active. It was most unexpected. At that time, any question of arrest wasn't even in our minds. She was due to retire, she was making plans for a retired life.

IMAGE: Koel Sen during one of her work outings. Photograph: Kind courtesy Koel Sen

Did her arrest change the attitudes of your friends and colleagues towards you?

To be honest, I was lucky. I've received immense support from friends, they've gone out of their way to help. My colleagues too have been very supportive.

But the paranoia that gripped me after her arrest and remained with me all these years became a hindrance in communicating with others. I was always on edge, irritable and snapping at others even when they were trying to help. That did affect my relationship with some people who couldn't understand my behaviour.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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