National

Of Remembering And Resistance, Resisting Through Remembrance

A thousand days is long enough to believe that you are no longer the person who fought the feeling of being imprisoned at every little instance.

These were the flowers Apeksha used to take for Umar
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On one of the occasions when he was brought to the Court for a hearing, I had taken a bunch of flowers to give him surreptitiously, as a gesture of gratitude for all the ones that he had been getting for me on my jail visits. But before he was briskly taken away, a policeman saw the flowers in his hand, snatched them and threw them on the floor. As difficult as it would be to describe incarceration as an outsider, one can say that incarceration is an experience that is made up of countless such cruel gestures, the agony of which gets intensified when the powers are constantly working to make you believe that you are a criminal even when you have committed no crime. 

A thousand days is a long time -- long enough, to start forgetting what the world on the outside was like. I remember him telling me during one of my visits, “You know, as I spend more time inside jail, I find it more difficult to deal with the utter chaos and the din of countless people inside the courts on my production days. On one occasion, as I got back from the court and got off the police van inside Tihar, I caught myself unwittingly saying ‘Chalo, ghar aa gaye’.” A thousand days is long enough to forget how the days and nights have passed inside in all these years. “It is only after some of the prisoners, who were sent out on parole during Covid to decongest the prisons, returned and said to me, ‘You’re still here!’, that I realized how long I’ve been inside.” A thousand days is long enough to believe that you are no longer the person who fought the feeling of being imprisoned at every little instance. He says to me, “Earlier, when I had just come to jail, and the jailor would come to lock the cells after sundown, I would always argue for a few extra minutes to take a walk in the yard. Now, I go in without any protest.” 

Through the countless prison notes of philosophers and thinkers of the past, history has borne witness to the fact that imprisonment is not just a means used by the powers-that-be to isolate those who are fearless from the struggles they have led and to render these struggles leaderless, but to also break the spirit of these young minds so that no one else dares to go beyond the lines that have been drawn around them. The gameplan of this regime is two-pronged: to strengthen the divide that has already existed in our society for decades, while also erasing the solidarities that many like Umar have attempted to build over these fences. If the solidarity that the farmers extended to the Muslim women of Shaheen Bagh led to them emulating this mode of protest to raise their own demands before the government, then the regime worked towards ensuring that this mode of protesting itself was criminalized. If today, the farmers are once again coming together to stand by the women wrestlers protesting against rampant sexual harassment and demanding the resignation of the Wrestling Federation Chief, then the government’s strategy has turned to criminalising these leaders themselves to break the protest. 

And even though those like Umar, who have spent so many precious years of their youth behind bars are acutely aware of the tried and tested politics of hate that this regime stands for, this knowledge seldom makes encountering the dehumanization of incarceration an easier task. If anything, the fast-spreading wildfire of fake news and Whatsapp forwards that vilifies marginalised communities like the Muslims in our country makes it that much more difficult to keep one’s larger political aims in focus inside jail. In one of my visits, Umar told me about what kind of impact propaganda works like The Kashmir Files has on the environment inside jail. “Suddenly, those who up until now would only look at you with suspicion from a distance, would find in them the courage to come up to you and say that all terrorists belong to your religion.” 

Visiting Umar in his court productions and in Tihar has been nothing short of a series of reality checks. Every time the fight against the communal and unjust agendas of this regime becomes exhausting on the outside, I remember what my fellow Comrades are fighting on the inside. And remember, we must. For remembering is equivalent to bearing witness, and if the worsening censorship of what we speak makes us feel throttled, we must remember that in keeping the memory of our struggles alive, we keep these struggles alive as well. We remember, not just so that we can continue to find the strength to fight, but also because in the era of short-lived news cycles, remembering itself is also the fight. We must remember, as Umar says, that the worst of the dictatorial regimes across the world saw an end, and the perpetrators were brought to justice, only because those who survived their violence, remembered what they had done. At a time when this regime is working so hard to turn myths into facts, to transform our temporal and spatial realities by renaming cities and streets and celebrating cowards as freedom fighters, it is in our act of remembering that we resist. 

When I get to meet our friends who are jailed from time to time, I latch on to every word they say, every emotion they express, and every experience they describe, to remember them, and remember alongside them. I write what they have to say from the inside so that those of us who are on the outside continue to build the solidarities that these young leaders dared to build across the fences erected by this regime. And in every message of love, of hope, of remembrance, of prayers, of waiting, that someone on the outside, known or unknown, sends me for these prisoners, I see these fences crumble.

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