“Love and Rage”: Natasha and Devangana’s letters of hope and resistance from Tihar Jail 6

A rendition of Sultana’s Dream, made by Devangana Kalita in Tihar Jail, where she has been incarcerated without facing trial since May 2020 in relation to the Delhi violence. Sultana’s Dream is a feminist story written by the Bengali writer and political activist Begum Rokeya, which was published in 1905.
Illustration by Devangana Kalita/Courtesy Pinjra Tod
A rendition of Sultana’s Dream, made by Devangana Kalita in Tihar Jail, where she has been incarcerated without facing trial since May 2020 in relation to the Delhi violence. Sultana’s Dream is a feminist story written by the Bengali writer and political activist Begum Rokeya, which was published in 1905.
Illustration by Devangana Kalita/Courtesy Pinjra Tod

It has been over a year since Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, members of the women’s collective Pinjra Tod, were arrested in relation to the communal violence that swept northeast Delhi in February 2020. Through this period, Narwal and Kalita have remained incarcerated in Tihar’s Jail 6—the women’s prison—as under-trial prisoners, having repeatedly been denied bail. In May 2021, Narwal was granted interim bail for three weeks, following the death of her father, Mahavir, from COVID-19.

Kalita and Narwal are doctoral students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in the centres for women’s studies and for historical studies, respectively. They are accused under several different first-information reports related to the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 and the violence in February, and have secured bail in nearly all of these.

The duo was first arrested on 23 May, in an FIR related to a sit-in protest against the CAA. The next day, they secured bail, with a Delhi court noting that they were “merely protesting against the NRC and CAA, and … did not indulge into any violence.” Within minutes of being granted bail, the duo was arrested in a second case, under more serious charges, including rioting and attempt to murder. They were accused of instigating crowds at the Jafrabad metro station in Delhi, preceding the communal violence. Once again, little was produced in terms of evidence apart from their participation in the anti-CAA protests. In September that year, while granting bail to Kalita in the second case, a Delhi High Court judge noted that the Delhi Police “failed to produce any material” that she had instigated any crowds. In Narwal’s case, a Delhi district court ruled that none of the videos submitted by the police as evidence “show the accused indulging or inciting the violence.”

Six days after being arrested in the second FIR, on 30 May, Narwal was arrested again, under FIR 59 of 2020, a case investigated by the special cell into an alleged conspiracy behind the Delhi violence. On 5 June, Kalita was arrested in FIR 59. The case accuses them, alongside at least twenty other activists, of offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a draconian legislation that enforces a high standard for bail and is often used by the state against its dissidents. They have been incarcerated under this FIR since.

In the year that followed, both Narwal and Kalita wrote numerous letters to members of Pinjra Tod, which would sometimes take up to a month to be delivered. The duo wrote their letters over several days, with one letter often having several dates at the different points, indicating when those portions were written. Narwal and Kalita talked about their daily lives in Tihar, their struggles and anxieties, as well as the moments that gave them hope and strength. Edited excerpts from the letters have been reproduced below.

Devangana Kalita is a member of Pinjra Tod and a doctoral student at the centre for women’s studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Natasha Narwal is a member of Pinjra Tod and a doctoral student at the centre for historical studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Keywords: Delhi Violence Pinjra Tod Tihar Jail Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act
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