MAY 23, 2021 / DEVANGANA KALITA
Today is one year of arrest & incarceration of Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal under false charges. Sharing a letter Devangana had written to a friend last year
“Amost extraordinary thing happened in Jail yesterday evening. In my last letter, I said how with the children, we wonder about rainbows and fireflies. I had tried to explain to them – three under two kids who don’t really speak our language, one two years old who speaks a little, and four year old girls who speak a lot – how a rainbow looks like, and what it’s colours are. We only had one broken piece of red crayon with us. So we found the rest of the colours from old newspapers and tore them out to make our rainbow collage. The children were most delighted and curious, but also confused, “par aasman mein itne saare rang kaise ho sakte hain?”, the eldest one kept asking.
And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it happened, happened yesterday evening. It was that time in the evening before sunset when sparkling particles dance before our vision, remember discovering them one evening? The skies were unusually blue and clear, the evening light soft and teasing, the sun peaking in and out through the clouds, and a very light drizzle. I had a moment of anticipation, but feel scared to hope.
The eldest one screamed, ‘aunty, dekho, RAINBOW!’ Yes, they call us aunties, I guess we are now, at least half a decade older than most of their mothers, everyone keeps pointing out to me how I am growing too many grey hair, and I must colour them, but first I must comb them. Combining, braiding intricately and colouring hair is quite a communal activity in a women’s Jail.
So yeah, an actual rainbow in the sky. A magnificent fragment of the arch revealing itself in front of our ward. The children were ablaze with excitement, each of them wanted to be lifted up to get a better view. There was excitement all around, women shouted to one another, to come outside, to be witness.
As the clouds parted to open up more of the clear blue skies, a full rainbow, it’s entire arc, from one end to another, erupted through, the tiniest of the children, a Brazilian boy scream ‘hallelujah’ – to everyone’s surprise this was the first word he had spoken. He must have picked it up few months back while witnessing the loud prayer rituals to Christ every evening amongst the African inmates.
The delight of the rainbow, the entire rainbow, produced an infectious intensity, there was overwhelming emotion. Some began to fervently pray, some raised their hands and heads into the skies shaking, some cried, some stood and stared and smiled, yet another screamed duas and yelled to the gods, another cursed, some kept blinking their eyes to find and count all seven colours – were they all there? Was it actually there, real? Someone intertwined their hands with another and made a wish. Silhouettes of flocks of birds flew across the rainbow like a winter evening by the river I remember.
It was the first rainbow for many inmates – “kabhi socha nahi tha Jail mein aake pehli baar dekhungi “. It was of course a first for all the children, as one friend told them, ” This is our ticket to freedom, our path, we must find where it’s end begins”.
There was hope, so much hope, cacophonous impossible hope. Everything seemed suspended for a moment – a joy. I almost felt a melancholy, a defeat, at the rainbow’s inability to fulfil, it’s inevitable betrayal, it’s ephemerality.
It was time to be locked inside soon, as if almost knowing it, the rainbow faded away. The children became anxious, “aunty, woh kaha gaya?’, ‘Woh kyu chala gaya?’, ‘Kal aayega kya?’, ‘kyun hamesha nahi rehta?” There was a barrage of questions I could barely satisfactorily answer. I didn’t even have an answer to the basic, ‘wo kyun aata hai?’ Why and how does a rainbow come and go, Do you remember?
Today evening all the children sat expectantly staring into the skies in the park outside on their little merry go round, “wo aaj ayega kya?” I thought of that little wise boy we had met in the neighborhood one winter, and wondered if he had finally seen a rainbow in the skies of the old city.
Devangana draws Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya, based on Gond painting style by
Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam
2020 was the year of being falsely framed and arrested under UAPA, it was also the year of encountering rainbows in the skies, the polluted skies of the old city, to have found one, even in Jail. Now, we wait for a firefly”
Devangana Kalita is a gender & student movement activist, who was involved in the citizenship protests in 2019-20 in Delhi. She and Natasha Narwal were arrested by the Delhi Police on 23rd May 2020 under various false charges. She has secured bail in almost all cases, but continues to remain in prison without bail in Tihar Jail no.6 under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) – along with many other student & social political activists – which is used to silence political dissidents.