'My father lived on minimum money and helped others.'
'What was he to gain personally? No name, fame like a politician who work for votes.'
'His sort believe all humans deserve better lives.'
Journalist and human rights activist Prashant Rahi has been in different jails over the last 14 years.
Last Friday, October 14, the Nagpur bench of the high court discharged Rahi and several others only for the court's verdict to be overturned by the Supreme Court the next day!
"How was I to assume that he would pay such a huge price and he would face such consequences that we will be made to look like villains of society and I would end up fighting court cases for actually a great cause that my father has dedicated his life to," Prashant Rahi's daughter Shikha Rahi tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Neeta Kolhatkar.
The second of a multi-part interview:
Is your father being harassed in jail?
Yes. The Mumbai blast convicts who are in the same jail have been harassing him since the beginning.
Initially when Baba was arrested and his life term conviction, they were not friendly, my father made friends with them first.
He learned Urdu from them, hung around them, even kept a fast during Ramzan.
But there is a limit, because he said they turned out to be hardcore religious fanatics. He is a democrat and liberal. Their ideologies and views clashed.
They had begun imposing their values and beliefs on him, they tried to subjugate him and he isn't the sort to listen.
They even attacked him in the past, once.
They would swear at him, curse and say nasty things to my dad.
They once threatened him with me, that they will try and abduct me and some day they said something dirty about me.
That day he lost his cool and threw chai at them.
Then the jail woke up, but instead of threatening these gangsters, they threatened to file a case against my father!
None of the jail staff is getting these gangsters transferred because they are the ones to harass my father and other prisoners.
Baba has tried to hide it all from me and due to that pressure of keeping everything within himself, he is falling ill.
We tried to explore if he should be shifted to Nagpur jail, but it is worse in any urban jail.
Since the first case was filed against your father in Uttarakhand in 2007, you have been running around alone handling the courts, the jails and all legal battles.
I have seen you as a vulnerable, young, professional wanting to make it in the film world, while you dealt with your harsh realities.
From a scared, reticent, sort to a bold lady who is proud of her father.
How has this 15-year journey of personal struggle been for you?
In 2007, I was 24. Now I am turning 39.
I knew what my father was doing, but I never thought it would happen to him.
See, if my father was a gangster, then you'd know he is doing something illegal and the consequences that he would face.
My father has dedicated his whole life towards a humanitarian cause, worked to help the working class who have been denied their rights.
He quit his safe job with The Statesman in Delhi to be a freelancer, did translation jobs just to lead a minimalistic life among the working class.
He would help them to deal with their struggles while here in our country today, anyone is scared of standing by another person, however close they may be.
He was an engineer from Banaras Hindu University and could have taken up some corporate rich paying job.
He lived on minimum money and helped others. What was he to gain personally? No name, fame like a politician who work for votes.
His sort believe all humans deserve better lives and equal rights and that a few are exploiting the working class for their profits.
How was I to assume that he would pay such a huge price and he would face such consequences that we would be made to look like villains of society and that I would end up fighting court cases for actually a great cause that my father has dedicated his life to.
I feel deprived often that I am not getting a father who pampers his kids like others have, but I never regret it. I feel extremely proud of my father.
How was I to dream such bad consequences for such great work? It seems for any State either you are working for Pakistan or you are a Naxalite, instead of addressing the root problems.
How have you as a person changed in these 15 years?
Has your journey across various prisons and courts and dealing with the authorities made you a confident person today?
Of course, it did change me completely, though in different stages.
It has been so long this battle that I see myself change over a period of time.
My father's parents were traditional, felt bad for him not having a regular income.
I, however, had no doubts in my mind for the kind of work my parents have been doing.
The first time my father was arrested, the first thought that came to mind was to go and just get him out.
It took four years and eight months to get him the first bail, but the motivation was always to get him out.
In Uttarakhand, it was rare for a daughter to fight to free her father.
Fear was never an option for me. Maybe because of the way my parents have raised me, in such a fearless and open environment, that I don't fear anything.
If my father is in prison, then there was only one option -- to get him out.
I would go all the way from here (Mumbai, where she lives and works) to Dehradun, Haldwani, sometimes Pauri. In those 10-20 minute mulaqats, he would only shoot instructions regarding his case. Yes, it was all important because there was no alternative.
His help was mandatory to get him out of jail, for me to go to court and battle it out there.
Sometimes it would get to me and often I would feel he has not asked how am I doing.
Then I would overcome this emotional low and question my feelings because actually he is the one in jail, so I can't expect him to ask about my life.
Yes, sometimes he would say "Sorry, beta, I haven't asked about you, how are you?"
But this is not a normal father-daughter meeting in a long time.
The first four years of his arrest, I would feel extremely burdened and I would not tell anyone about my father and that he was jailed for his work. None of my friends knew about it.
Once or twice when there had been a conversation, I got the feeling that the opposite person was not convinced with my story. They were like this is my side of the story, maybe there is another side to it.
I was young and after that I stopped sharing, which was not good. It ended up being bottled up in me, running around single-handedly.
I would also not tell my mother about it and it became a huge burden.
Emotionally I felt how long was I to continue with it while I knew I couldn't give up on it? It was extremely difficult.
The moment he came out, I stopped getting involved completely in his legal affairs. Now as I look back I feel bad about it.
Once or twice we had a confrontation because at that time I felt any other person after coming out from jail would sit quietly at home.
But he continued doing what he was doing in Uttarakhand, helping the working class fearlessly.
Since he believed those languishing in jail have no legal aid and funds to fight the cases, he continued helping them.
In fact, he was the link between the lawyers and these political prisoners.
I didn't want him to feel I am restricting him, but I would tell him, 'Baba, I won't be able to go through this all again.'
He returned the money I had given him, saying I couldn't dictate how he should live.
We fought and I walked out of the house and went to the railway station. It was all very filmi!
I sat there for a while and he came to comfort and reassure me. He explained things to me.
It doesn't go through his skull to sit and do nothing when he sees things going wrong in front of his eyes.
Then he was picked up from Raipur before the Maharashtra police brought him here (Maharashtra).
At that time I broke down completely. I had just met with an accident and my bones were broken so I was physically and emotionally broken.
Luckily, at that time Surendra Gadling handled the case and he had come out.
Did you get to spend time with your father? Have you both been able to bond anytime?
So when Mr Gadling got Baba out, actually at that time we did spend together.
I was grown up by then and we got some time where we made peace with things. I truly begun to bond with him.
He then took me to Banaras, to his university, how he had helped people during the floods there and how they had begun to work in the villages then.
After we began to bond, he was convicted. I was completely devastated.
It was like the moment I get close to someone, something happens and they are taken away.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com