Govt should be afraid of people, people shouldn’t be afraid of govt: Anirban Bhattacharya wrote in his prison cell

NEW DELHI,AZAAN JAVAID : In Jawaharlal Nehru University and elsewhere in the country, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, following their surrender in front of the Delhi Police, had been in a way, rechristened.

“Umar-Baan ko riha karo” (Release Umar and Baan. The latter being Anirban’s nickname), was one of the many slogans raised by people who had come out in support of the arrested JNU students.
While the name Umar-Baan might have been a result of rhythmatic sloganeering, the two, who were on Friday granted bail, share quite a friendship. So much so that during an interview with dna, Anirban said there were was a moment when he felt happy that he had been arrested along with Umar.

Anirban, of course, has a reason for saying this. “I served as a cushion to Umar. Being from a Hindu-Brahmin family, my presence in the entire incident deflated the narrative that was built around Umar to demonise him as an anti-national terrorist. It was easier to make people believe that Umar, who comes from a Muslim family, was a criminal or a fundamentalist. It was said that Umar travelled to Pakistan, received arms training and did things that have, over the years, been used to witch-hunt Muslims. At one point, I really felt happy that my name was there with the police, otherwise a script for Umar was already in the making,” said Anirban who is due to submit his PhD thesis on plantation workers of Bengal.
Anirban’s parents had to leave their home residence in West Bengal as soon as they saw pictures of their son flashing on all news channels. His mother also fell ill in the process and he says his brother, who stays in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, also lived in fear for quite some time. Anirban however sees all of this as an occasion which has made him more stronger.
While speaking to dna, Anirban shared many of his experiences, including the time he had to remain ‘underground’, him resurfacing on the JNU campus and finally the time spent in prison.
“One of the saddest days was when Comrade Kanhaiya got arrested. I wanted to come out as I felt it was difficult for Kanhaiya to deal with this all alone, but the atmosphere of hatred stopped me. When I met Kanhaiya during our joint interrogation, I hugged tight. I won’t forget what he told me that day – he said I should pursue my PhD even if I am jailed for a longer period. And I was prepared to do the same,” said Anirban.
Umar and Anirban were however, released sooner than they expected.
“Our cells were adjacent to each other. Umar and I used to get two-three hours of face-to-face conversations. But we used to talk all day as we could clearly hear each other even though a wall separated us. On our last day in prison, most news channels were showing news of ‘Shaktiman’, the horse injured during a protest. Umar was however watching some other news and he yelled out to me ,”Baan bail mil gai”.
Anirban also said that he won’t forget the time he spent in prison. “See, when the state apparatus speaks, it does so in one voice. So everyone in the police department had already made up their mind that we had done something wrong. They even used to say that Umar’s activities are understandable, but I was a Bhattacharya. How could I do something anti-national? But when the state apparatus is enforced on the ground, there are contradictions among individuals who represent the state. I met many officials who identified themselves as Ambedkarites and thus anti-RSS. When I was leaving prison, some guards even said they will miss us. I remember, on one of the days when it was raining, a guard made a paper boat for me,” said Anirban.
When asked if he feared what lies in the future, Anirban said, “The threats made to us are real and we won’t be taking any rash steps which could create issues in the future, but I cannot separate myself from politics. Whatever has happened in the last one and a half month, will not stop us from talking about the rights of Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, women and all oppressed sections of the society”.
Anirban says he was lodged in the same cell in which Kanhaiya had spent his time. “Before leaving, Kanhaiya had written on the wall of the cell, ‘India, the largest democracy in the world. Let’s think… equality is indispensable to democracy’. When I left, I also wrote something. I wrote ‘People shouldn’t be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of its people.’