Identity, Mental Health and the State: Being the Wife of a Political Prisoner

October 21 was another day filled with despair until I got the news that my husband Prashant Kanojia had been granted bail. I started dancing happily as soon as I heard it – I could not truly put into words how I have spent the past two months, which have had a massive impact on my mental state.

In my mind’s eye, I recalled how some people had actually celebrated his arrest. A few went as far as to prescribe on social media that my husband should be “killed in an encounter”. Upon reading such comments, I could not quite get a hold of myself, and also suffered from many anxiety attacks.

After a few weeks of struggling to get myself out of the pit of despair I found myself in, I started fighting for Prashant’s release with the help of some friends. I took to social media and spoke with various media organisations in an effort to remind everyone that Prashant was in jail as a victim of the State. This fight was not just for Prashant, but against a fascist government.

Besides my friends, I also got the opportunity to interact with people from various walks of life – from Bahujan activists to political leaders, I tried to communicate with them all. Each day brought with it an innate tiredness that was hard to shake off, but my love for Prashant gave me courage to continue on.

For me, the struggle I have faced over the past few months has taught me that if we want to fight forces of fascism, we have to be united and organised. Our fight is not over – we need to continue on for other companions who dared to criticise the government and stood for justice that have also found themselves in the firing line.

Most of all, I know now that to fight a dictator you need both courage and the power of love on your side.

Also read: Prashant Kanojia Arrest: When the State Stepped Into My Marriage

We have been living in an era of fear for many years now, and each day brings with it the trepidation of a fresh attack on those who dare speak up. This has been so normalised that asking a question has been made synonymous with committing a crime.

Meanwhile, a mob has been prepared that stands ever ready; a mob that has been given impunity by the State.

In all this, how is a wife of a journalist, a woman who also has her own identity, to be reprimanded? What a profound effect it must have on her mental state. I live each day with the fear of an attack on my partner, living in the dread that a mob would actually attack only because they do not agree with his views.

Because of the way Prashant writes and speaks without fear, I live with the constant anxiety that someone may actually follow through on a death threat. Why would an intolerant mob go to such an extent? That’s because Prashant wants to end the caste system in Indian society. He talks about equality in society. He talks about peace in society.

This is who Prashant Kanojia is – a man of honour and integrity. That man is my husband, my best friend, my cornerstone. He has given meaning and purpose to my life, and we’ve always been each other’s sheet-anchor and conscience-keeper through all the fair tidings and rough seas of our voyage together.

Amidst all this, we both live with the fear that if something happens to him, how will I live. Even to marry Prashant, I had to be separated from my house because my family did not want me to marry outside our caste. They did not want to accept my relationship with him. I decided to leave the house and came to his house. After this, I started getting threats but I did not go back. I did not want to go back to suffocation and discomfort.

It is not easy being the wife of a political prisoner. Fear accompanies us on a daily basis. I have not been able to sleep properly since he was arrested. When I sit down to eat, I wonder whether he has eaten or not.

I am on medication for anxiety attacks. When the court gave us a date after four weeks. I physically couldn’t leave my bed for two straight days. A friend helped me find a doctor to help me cope with my mental state. Since Prashant and I live alone – as my family was against our marriage – I didn’t have emotional support one would expect from their blood. I am lucky that many friends and Bahujan activists stood with me.

Despite all this, people asked me to not be aggressive. With my husband in jail over a tweet and my mental health in shambles, why was I expected to stay calm? I will continue to fight against this regime. I know many people are not with me and that’s completely okay.

My love has the power to make my goals possible. My husband’s fight goes beyond a particular person or a particular party. It is against a specific ideology, one which propagates fear and hate.

With Prashant now on bail, what is it that I plan to do? As far as I’m concerned, our fight will continue, and it will also be about reclaiming my identity – my efforts shouldn’t be reduced to the fight of a “wife”. It is the fight of a rational, thinking individual who is a participant like many others against state repression, patriarchy; of a person who longs for a democratic and peaceful rights based society. I shall strive to work hard in order to exhibit why it is important for people in our society to consider a woman as a person in her own right and not only as a dependent.

There are thousands of people with Prashant, praying for him and us. The road ahead will not be easy, I know this, but we will need to navigate and explore new terrains to create the chance of a better future.

I want to end with a few lines of a poem written by Avtar Singh Pash.

हम लड़ेंगे
कि लड़े बग़ैर कुछ नहीं मिलता
हम लड़ेंगे
कि अब तक लड़े क्यों नहीं
हम लड़ेंगे
अपनी सज़ा कबूलने के लिए
लड़ते हुए मर जाने वाले की
याद ज़िन्दा रखने के लिए
हम लड़ेंगे.

(We shall fight, comrade…
We shall fight
Because one gets nothing without a fight
We shall fight
Wondering why we did not fight until now
We shall fight
To acknowledge our guilt
To keep alive the memory of those who died fighting
We shall fight, comrade).

Jagisha Arora has an MA in History and has worked as a freelance writer. She writes on issues of gender, caste and democracy.

Featured image provided by the author