Reflecting on the Most Poignant Moments of Last Two Years During Anand’s Incarceration
Anand and I concealed our pain before each other, at least during those ten minutes, writes Rama Teltumbde Ambedkar on the weekly mulaqat with her husband.
This is part of our special issue on Ambedkar Jayanti 2022.
Anand and I were married on November 19, 1983. Ours was a typical arranged marriage – arranged through a common, well-meaning friend.
I played the role of a homemaker for 37 years, raising my two daughters, looking after their needs and managing our home. It was my way of supporting Anand, who could then freely and entirely focus on his professional life and social causes that he was devoted to. Even while juggling a professional career and his role as an activist, he has always been the most amazing father to my daughters, making himself available for anything that they may need.
If I look back just a few years ago, my days were occupied with mundane worries, touring with my younger daughter who played tennis, celebrating her wins and consoling her losses, keeping my other daughter company as she stayed up late nights during her exams, making their favourite foods, guiding them, and staying by them as they made life choices as adults. But these memories now seem to be from a different lifetime.
Today, at 66 years of age, when most women either enjoy retirement or a quiet life with their retired spouses, my life has taken an entirely different path. It has introduced me to another facet of myself; one I did not know even existed.
This twist of fate began the day our house in Goa was raided by the police, in our absence. Although I tried to be calm on the outside so that I could support my family, I felt terribly uneasy. As the news flashed on TV screens with pictures of my husband and our home, I booked myself a flight from Mumbai to Goa, leaving my husband and daughters behind. I wanted to see what was left of our private space, where a group of strangers had just walked in without any notice. Then, in the company of my lawyer, I travelled to the nearest police station to file a complaint.
On my way in my car, I stayed silent, telling myself that my husband and I had nothing to fear. We are law abiding citizens, who have lived an honest life, so I had no reason to believe that any harm would come to my husband, who had tirelessly worked for the betterment of the oppressed people in our society. Little did I know that this first ever trip to the police station would only mark the beginning of what is still a long, arduous legal fight, with no end in sight.
We are law abiding citizens, who have lived an honest life, so I had no reason to believe that any harm would come to my husband, who had tirelessly worked for the betterment of the oppressed people in our society.
After that episode, our lives changed in more ways than we could imagine. But Anand did not like to idle away a single moment in his life, and he expected the same from his family. He continued with his lectures, tending to the needs of his students as always. I admired how unfazed he appeared in the face of what had just unfolded a few days ago and seemed like a clear ploy to intimidate him. Anand continued to work until the very last night before his surrender, making sure that his students and colleagues were not severely affected by absence, the duration of which was completely unknown.
Although we tried to live our lives like before, clearly, we had new things to accommodate in our calendar. We now had court dates to keep track of. Anand had moved the judiciary to quash the obnoxious and false charges levied against him. It was utterly humiliating to come to terms with the fact that Anand was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA] – the most draconian and undemocratic law that could ever exist. Anand – a 70-year-old man; a husband, father, son, corporate professional, professor, activist, and author, was booked under the UAPA, a law meant for violent terrorists.
April 14, 2020
I have no real words to describe how I feel about April 14, 2020. For one, the day passed in a daze, but the memory of it is still lived every single day since. To me, prior to 2020, every April 14 of my life was a joyous occasion, as it marks the birth anniversary of my grandfather, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. For all the years I have lived in Bombay, I never missed the chance to visit Chaityabhoomi, and to light a candle and bow before the bust of this great man whose life and achievements touched the lives of millions in India and around the world.
It was utterly humiliating to come to terms with the fact that Anand was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – the most draconian and undemocratic law that could ever exist, meant for violent terrorists.
As the clock struck 12 that night, Anand was ready in his white kurta-pajamas and waited for me to come along to a memorial inside Rajgruha. He had his trademark smile, as he lit the candle and bowed before the urn which holds Babasaheb’s ashes. I followed the ritual, but my mind was fixated on what was to unfold a few hours later.
Photo courtesy: Rama Teltumbde Ambedkar
The events of April 14, 2020 have taken over all the good memories of the past years. And each April 14 since then has been a reminder of this immense pain inflicted upon us that we continue to endure every minute of our lives. I walked him that day to the National Investigation Agency [NIA] office, where he surrendered himself as per the court orders.
Even as he walked in, he remained composed. He wasn’t worried about himself; he was worried about his mother, and till the last moment he could use his phone, he continued to speak to his daughters. He told them to be brave, live a good, honest life, and that everything was going to be alright. He consoled them as they sobbed.
What happened on that day was just the beginning of a long and still ongoing period of cruel injustice toward my husband, and suffering for me and my daughters that only gets less bearable with each passing day.
The period of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented nature globally. For me, it brought unimaginable struggles on multiple fronts. I found myself all alone, with my husband in prison and my daughters far away, unable to travel to me due to the travel restrictions. Ever since Anand’s surrender, I have been living all by myself, trying to do all I can to ensure his unjust suffering ends at the earliest, frequently overcome by terrifying thoughts.
At the age of 72 years, when people need to be cared for by their children, and be surrounded by their families, Anand and my struggles are entirely different. And all this merely on the basis of a story presented by the NIA to the court, the facts of which are pending verification.
As the new variants ravaged the country despite social distancing and lockdowns, especially in India, the news on TV was becoming unbearable to watch. In the midst of all this, Anand was in jail – in a crowded place that was filled to three times its capacity! While people all over the world spoke of isolation, and mental well-being in the times of isolation, I sat alone, worrying for Anand’s health and what had become of us! He suffers from breathing difficulty due to asthma, and I would shudder at the thought of COVID affecting him.
Needless to say, no one discusses the mental health of those inside jails, isolated from their loved ones in a horrific period such as the COVID pandemic. The national lockdown deprived us families of the otherwise tiny mercy that we have of meeting our loved ones during a ‘mulaqat’. In lieu of that, a Whatsapp video call lasting 10 minutes was allowed each week. I made sure that my phone was always on the loudest ringer volume and I often found myself checking if the Wi-Fi modem indicated good connectivity. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of speaking with Anand.
Quite frankly, my days revolved around these unscheduled weekly calls. The ritual thereafter was to call my daughters to convey the news of his being, because the calls could not be made to their phones.
This luxury of a simple video call, if one may call it so, could only be availed by me while the rest of the close family had to make do with communication via written letters. The letters were often delayed for days because of the insistence by the authorities to read Anand’s private correspondence before passing it ahead. Such was our predicament that we took satisfaction at this little mercy extended to us!
Anand’s work caused him to travel extensively during his professional career – but no matter where he went, he would never forget to call us at least once a day to check upon us. Especially on the days when his daughters had their exams, he would never forget to wish them good luck! Such was Anand, but it has been almost two years and he hasn’t been able to speak with his daughters.
He is an undertrial, implicated under falsified charges under the draconian UAPA. At the age of 72 years, when people need to be cared for by their children, and be surrounded by their families, Anand and my struggles are entirely different. And all this merely on the basis of a story presented by the NIA to the court, the facts of which are pending verification.
After the pandemic situation receded a bit, weekly mulaqats resumed. This happens once a week, for a period of ten minutes. I travel for an hour from my residence, queue up in a line to register, and then wait for my turn to meet him. My waits can be as long as two to four hours. I endure this, just to be able to catch a glimpse of Anand, across a dusty Pyrex screen, to hear his voice over an intercom. At our age, we try to make the most with our frail voices trying to overcome the otherwise boisterous conversations by other inmates with their loved ones, or the prison staff around. He too waits longingly for the day of the week when I visit him, a familiar face bringing him news of the world outside, from which he has been forcibly separated for the last two years.
Alas, with every passing day and each court hearing which leads to another court hearing, it seems that no one understands the randomness and injustice that has led to our present situation.
Like most people, my idea of jail mulaqat was loosely based on what is shown in the movies. If anything, I can surely add that the movies conveniently omit the humiliation and suffering endured by both parties.
During those mulaqats, we cannot hold hands, or even console each other with a hug. We have, however, become good at concealing our pain before each other, at least during those ten minutes.
Anand and I lived a respectful and a comfortable life until March 2020, and never, even in our wildest dreams had we imagined ourselves meeting each other like this on a regular basis.
As for my daughters, they write him letters each week, and he meticulously writes back to them. In all his letters, he tries to provide the same strength and consolation as he did over that last call with them on April 14, 2020.
It feels like for Anand and I, our lives have been placed on hold. On many occasions, I feel I will wake up from this bad dream, and I will be waiting for Anand to join me in the balcony for the morning cup of tea over the newspaper and our good natured banter! Alas, with every passing day and each court hearing which leads to another court hearing, it seems that no one understands the randomness and injustice that has led to our present situation. Perhaps they also do not realise that something like this could happen to any of them.
Rama Teltumbde Ambedkar is Dr Anand Teltumbde’s wife and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s granddaughter.
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