Jagisha Arora’s husband, journalist Prashant Kanojia, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police on August 18 over a tweet and has been held in custody ever since.
It was my birthday on August 18. The preceding night was filled with much merrymaking at home, and Prashant made his special mutton biryani. Everyone was happy. I had meticulously planned how we would spend my birthday, but the plans came undone at noon with a knock on the door.
The events of the day took me back to June 2019.
It was happening again.
When Prashant was arrested in June last year, I came into public limelight. People heard my perspective in my own words.
Today, I want to tell my story and talk about who I am. What is it like to be Jagisha Arora?
Newspapers and TV channels only call me ‘Prashant’s wife’. This is not very bothersome, but I do have an identity besides being Prashant’s wife.
I come from a middle-class upper-caste family. I was six when I lost my father. Since then, I’ve had to contend with loneliness and sorrow. In the absence of a father, patriarchy demands that the next oldest man take ‘control’ of the house and that person was my brother. I was subjected to both his arguments over small matters, and restrictions imposed on me for being a girl.
There was no mention of B.R. Ambedkar or Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule ever at home. I wasn’t particularly aware of my caste and the implications of being an upper-caste woman, which was definitely on account of the structural privilege Hindu society awards on the basis of caste. Even though we saw days of relative poverty, I never had to deal with humiliation like Dalits and other backward castes do.
I met Prashant in 2018.
We met virtually in the comment section of a mutual friend’s Facebook page. He later sent me a friend request and we spoke intermittently until, on his initiative, the frequency of our conversations increased.
He asked about my work. I worked at a call centre at the time. I was initially hesitant to speak with him as I knew he was a journalist with The Wire, but his straightforward manner put me at ease. We started talking more and more, and one day I asked him if he’d answer a question.
He said yes.
I tried beating around the bush and asked him what someone should do if they like someone.
In his typical straightforward manner, he said, “They should tell them.”
So I told him that I had gotten really fond of him.
He said nothing, and I became silent too.
We resumed our conversation, and I requested him to sing a song. And then, at 4 am, he sang to me. If I close my eyes, I can still hear him sing and I listen with a smile on my face. It was such a moment of blessed love and peace.
Before hanging up, we decided that we should go out on a date and make things more official.
Our first date was at Social in Hauz Khas village. Prashant wore a black t-shirt and looked very handsome. We ordered tea and momos. Over the course of our conversation, I spoke to Prashant about my depression and how I was being treated for it. He listened calmly and said he understood.
“I am with you,” he said.
The conversation kept flowing and we ordered one cup of tea after another. When the time to leave came, we skipped taking an auto and walked instead. We walked in the heat and through traffic, lost in each other. That was our first date.
We kept meeting after that day and each and every time, I felt the same sense of peace and happiness.
One day, I uploaded a picture with Prashant on social media. My family grew suspicious. My brother asked me to leave the house. I called Prashant. I told him that my family was threatening to throw me out of the house.
He said, “Don’t worry, you come here.”
I took my books and laptop, and I left.
I started getting threatening calls as soon as I reached Prashant’s house, and we decided to inform the police. On reaching the police station, we discovered that my family had already written a report against us. A commotion ensued, after which I decided that I would stay with Prashant. It was a time of great stress and it was because of Prashant that I was able to keep calm and have the courage to take such a step.
We decided to marry. I wanted a temple wedding, and we got married at an Arya Samaj temple in Lucknow, in keeping with the freedom to religious choice granted to us by our constitution.
Little did we know that our troubles had only begun.
Prashant holds Ambedkar and Periyar in high regard, and follows their principles. His anger and activism is directed at the caste system and inequality. Six months into our marriage, on June 8, Prashant was arrested on account of a tweet he had posted.
I was petrified.
I frantically called whoever I knew to spread the word of his arrest. I felt clueless in the face of this sudden development, but was determined to do anything to get Prashant justice. Meeting lawyers, understanding the law, interacting with the media was all new for me. I did it all for the love I shared with Prashant, and we were ultimately successful in getting him out.
It was only when I was able to hug him that I could breathe easily again. But the death threats sent by trolls on his newsfeed had a lasting impact on my mental health.
The new year came, but my anxiety over the prospect of Prashant getting arrested again did not fade away. That constant state of panic finally reached a crescendo on August 18, when there was the knock on our door at noon.
There were seven unknown men outside our flat. They asked me to call Prashant. “Prashant knows us,” they said.
Prashant was asleep at this time.
“We are the Uttar Pradesh police.”
My blood turned cold.
I insisted they tell me what the matter was. They said it was a case regarding a tweet on Prashant’s profile.
“We will go to the Vasant Vihar police station and then take him to UP,” I was told.
Our friend, who had stayed over at our place after the celebrations ended the previous night, told the men that we would come along to the police station.
They told us to stay back, and come after half an hour.
I made a flurry of calls to friends and we reached the Vasant Vihar police station half an hour later.
“Did a bunch of police get Prashant here?” I asked.
The attendant policeman answered in the negative.
By that time, I was in a complete state of shock and panic.
We were later handed a copy of the FIR, in which it was written that a sub inspector called Dinesh Kumar Shukla had filed a lawsuit against Prashant for writing a defamatory tweet against one Sushil Tiwari. Tiwari runs a page called ‘Hindu Army’.
Tiwari had posted that Islamic studies should be removed from the UPSC syllabus. Someone then tampered with the original tweet so that it read, ‘Ram mandir mein Shudron, OBC, SC, ST ka pravesh nishedh rahega sabhi log ek saath avaaz uthayein‘, i.e. ‘Let everyone demand that Shudras, OBC, SC, ST not be allowed entry into the Ram mandir’.
The morphed version of Tiwari’s post appeared on Prashant’s feed and he retweeted it. Upon verification, he realised the tweet was doctored and deleted it from his profile.
I have seen Sushil Tiwari’s profiles across social media. Islamophobia, misogyny, racism and communalism are his favourite subjects.
As I had in June 2019, I put in my all to get Prashant released. We approached the sessions court, but he was denied bail. The case was pending before the high court for four weeks before it came up for hearing. We had to put out an appeal for financial help with the considerable legal fees.
Prashant is being held for a crime he did not commit. How many times have every one of us had an instance where we retweet something on impulse and later delete it after verifying its factuality? Should this invite punishment in a democracy?
There are so many verified accounts on Twitter that habitually share fake news. Renowned journalists from the top media houses shout falsities at us every night and I don’t see action taken against them. Freedom of expression is a constitutionally guaranteed right, one which has been denied to Prashant for a second time. Why is no action taken against the social media accounts that attempt to incite riots, spread communalism and threaten women with rape?
Prashant’s crime is that he asks questions to the ruling government, and is opinionated on their policy measures. Prashant is being held for having a voice.
I hope he is released soon. Until that time, I appeal to you all to raise your voice against the injustice of politically-motivated imprisonments.
As I write this, I am wiping away tears. I have held back my pain from the time Prashant was arrested until now, but I worry for him. My mental health is hanging by a thread.
I can only hold on to my faith in Babasaheb’s constitution, and maintain my trust in the judiciary that justice will be delivered soon.
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 author