The lightness and laughter of Sudha Bharadwaj

The lightness and laughter of Sudha Bharadwaj

I spoke to Sudha Bharadwaj over the phone for two hours. Out on bail after spending more than three years in prison, where she was packed for her alleged role in the 2018 Koregaon Bhima violence, I felt a mournful, weary voice recount her experiences during captivity. Or a voice against those who scripted his arrest on October 28, 2018. But Bharadwaj can laugh. She laughed at how, as soon as she entered Pune’s Yerwada Jail, she was asked to take off her clothes so that she could be searched. She laughed at how she could see life—trees and people at large, for example—through the prison bars that formed the Death Row yard, where she was kept. She laughed out loud, paused for breath, and then laughed at the question: Is there class bias in Indian laws?

Life became relatively easy when Bharadwaj was shifted from Yerwada to Byculla Jail in Mumbai. She lived in the barracks here along with others. She laughed again as she described how the prisoners would peep into the bathroom and asked her to hurry. He said that the Byculla jail sought bail for Aryan, son of film star Shahrukh Khan. Haha, gone.

His voice was sometimes dying. The daughter of a top economist, who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, did not laugh as she recalled how she sacrificed a luxurious life to work among the industrial workers of Chhattisgarh. His vision was the misery he witnessed in the labor camp set up for workers who built the infrastructure for the 1982 Asian Games.

Sudha Bharadwaj was released on bail after spending more than three years in jail for her alleged role in the 2018 Koregaon Bhima violence.

She then met Shankar Guha Niyogi, the eminent trade union leader who had formed the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). She went to Chhattisgarh, taught in the schools where Niyogi’s union ran, then began unionizing workers and also became a negotiator for workers in her dealings with lawyers representing her in matters involving large corporates. “Sister, be a lawyer,” suggested the activists, who can tell whether their lawyers were bought or not? Bhardwaj became a lawyer in 2000.

These details of his life were published in the media. The middle class was surprised by the decision to give up their US citizenship. Truth? She laughed. She said that she was an accidental child when her parents were on post-doctoral fellowship in the United States.

At the age of 23, she went to the US Embassy to surrender her American passport. She imitated the authorities who asked: had she consulted her father or husband? Did she know she would never be able to join the US military? “Well, sir, I don’t think I want to join the US Army,” she recalled.

His “no” can be as spontaneous as his laughter. Between 2012 and 2014, Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court Yatindra Singh asked Bhardwaj whether he had paid income tax. His income was below the lowest taxable slab. Singh asked: Will she consider becoming a judge? No, who will represent the workers?

The lawyer, Bhardwaj, was dragged into the prison, where he wrote at least a hundred applications for fellow inmates who were granted bail, but could not raise bail or money so that they could get out. Or for their interim bail during the brutal second wave of COVID-19. No wonder, hearing that Bharadwaj got bail, he danced for her and made her dance too. She laughs of conspicuous satisfaction to those on whom love shines.

She laughed at the time of his arrest. After working for 30 years in Chhattisgarh, she moved to Delhi to teach at the National Law University. She wanted to focus on her daughter, who was a school dropout, and wanted to earn money for her college education. It was then that they came for Bharadwaj, turning him away from his daughter.

Since then, the two have met in prison, seeing each other across a glass wall, but only able to talk over the intercom, placing the phone at the side of the visitor and the prisoner. Bharadwaj did not laugh as he described his pain not being able to hug his child, which sometimes breaks down.

Out on bail, Bhardwaj has been judicially barred from leaving Mumbai and Thane. Can she identify with singer Bob Dylan’s line: “The birds in the sky are bound by the paths of the sky”? She laughed: “That’s me, tied up.”

She said she had to figure out how to make a living in a new city. teach law He replied with a laugh, “Now tainted by the case, will any institution accept me?” Here is a chance for those who advocate liberal prices for cash-rich private institutions to live up to their claims. They would fear state surveillance, she said, torn.

Bharadwaj’s laughter has a philosophical touch. It is his way of interacting with the Kafkaesque world, to create a distance between himself and the absurdity of life, not to be overwhelmed by the pangs of the earth’s plight. The lightness of his being is a sign of freedom, a freedom that is difficult to stop completely, a feeling that is impossible to break. You cannot be Sudha Bharadwaj without learning to laugh.

The author is a senior journalist
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.



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