They are trying to make arrests an everyday affair: Jagisha Arora, Prashant Kanojia’s wife

Jagisha Arora leading a protest demanding the release of her husband, Prashant Kanojia, on 10 June 2019. Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
13 October, 2020

On the evening of 17 August, the Uttar Pradesh Police lodged an FIR against Prashant Kanojia, a journalist, at the Hazaratganj police station in Lucknow. The FIR—filed on the basis of a complaint by Dinesh Kumar Shukla, a sub-inspector at the police station—accused Kanojia of sharing an “objectionable” post with a morphed image of Sushil Tiwari, a leader of the Hindu Army. The next day, the police took the journalist into custody and he is still in jail.  

This is not the first time that Kanojia has been imprisoned. In June last year, the state police arrested him on the basis of a complaint by Vikas Kumar, another sub-inspector in Lucknow, for a tweet about the state’s chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, popularly known as Adityanath. He was released within a week on the basis of a Supreme Court order.

Kanojia’s wife, Jagisha Arora, spoke of the arrests with Vishnu Sharma, a Hindi translation fellow at The Caravan. The conversation was originally published in the publication’s Hindi website, the Caravan Hindi, on 6 October. Arora said that her husband was being targeted for being a journalist from the Dalit community.

Vishnu Sharma: Under what circumstances was Kanojia arrested?
Jagisha Arora: Around noon on 18 August—my birthday—Uttar Pradesh Police came to our house in Delhi to arrest Prashant. I opened the door and asked who they were. “Call Prashant, he knows us,” they said. When we learnt that they were from the UP police, we asked them, “In which case do you want to arrest Prashant?” But all they said was that it was in connection to a tweet. When asked what was this tweet was, they said I should find out on my own.

The police told us that at that moment, they were taking Prashant to the Vasant Vihar police station for getting a transit remand. They told me to reach the police station in half an hour and find out about the matter. After 15–20 minutes, when I reached the Vasant Vihar police station, I came to know that they have not come there. I had taken the mobile number of one of the five–six policemen who had come to pick up Prashant—when I called the number, I was told that they have crossed Noida.

VS: They lied to you about the transit remand?
JA: Yes, they lied. While they were taking Prashant, I insisted that I will come along him to the Vasant Vihar police station, but they refused. They were from the police, what could I do? We could not have said much. I think they must have taken the transit remand before coming to our house, and to stop me from accompanying him, they asked me to go to the Vasant Vihar police station instead. 

Later, a copy of the FIR was sent to me. Sub-inspector Dinesh Kumar Shukla had complained that the image shared by Prashant was aimed to harm the reputation of Sushil Tiwari. 

If you look at the social media accounts of Sushil Tiwari, you will know that he talks about removing Islamic Studies from UPSC, he shares communal remarks and inflammatory language on YouTube and Facebook. He talks about things like killing Muslims. Such videos are still available. 

On the other hand, Prashant received a morphed image which said, “Shudras - OBC SC ST - will not be allowed entry into Ram temple. Everyone raise your voice together.” As soon as Prashant came to know that it was a morphed photo, he removed it from Twitter.

That image had been circulating on social media for a long time. We do not know who created it. The police did not take any action on the person who made the photo. Moreover, the police did not even take any action against Sushil Tiwari, who shares very communal and Islamophobic posts. But even though he had deleted the post, they arrested Prashant on the basis of a screenshot. He has been arrested due to a tweet he posted by mistake.

VS: Why do you think Prashant is being targeted?
JA:  The main reason for this is that when Prashant worked in The Wire, he had reported a lot on the UP government. He had exposed that during the Bharat Bandh of 2018, the Meerut police had locked up minors by saying that they were adults. It became a big issue. 

Amnesty International took cognisance of it and said that the children should be released. Apart from this, too, Prashant was vocal in his criticism of the UP government’s functioning. The government is targeting all those who question it, all those who expose its wrong policies. The government wants to make arrests an everyday affair so that no one raises their voice and everyone is scared. 

VS: What steps have you taken for his release?
JA: I first went to Lucknow Sessions Court for his release. They rejected our appeal without giving any concrete reason. After that we went to the high court, which scheduled a hearing for four weeks later, on 19 October. At the hearing, the government will give a counter on why Prashant should not get a bail. I am reaching out to many people about this, and I post on Twitter every day. I am talking to other journalists and Bahujan activists in Maharashtra. I am speaking to Dalit journalists, [saying] that they should all raise their voice for Prashant. 

VS: Where is Prashant? When was the last time you met him?
JA: He was initially kept in the quarantine centre for seven days, and then shifted to the Lucknow Jail. I personally do not know how he is. I have only been able to speak to him once, on 19 August, when he had appeared in the court and his lawyer made me talk to him on the phone. We are not allowed to meet him in jail.

“The police’s intention is to target Prashant for one thing or another,” Arora said. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

VS: What is the status of the case for which he was arrested last year?
JA: Nothing has happened in that case. The police could not prove anything [in court]. 

The police’s intention is to target Prashant for one thing or another. One case is hardly over and they file the next. People share so many things on social media—people spread communalism, they are Islamophobic but no action is taken against them. Action is taken against Prashant because he is an easy target, he is a Dalit. 

After seeing what is happening in Hathras, I have absolutely no hope from the UP police and the administration of any positive development. They are deliberately trying to make arresting people a regular affair.

VS: Recently, we have seen several young activists, including Umar Khalid, being arrested. Do you see any parallels between Prashant’s case and these arrests?
JA: Absolutely. Prashant used to speak his mind very openly. Umar Khalid and others who have been arrested were also vocal. Prashant actively raised his voice in the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, as well. He said this should not happen. He was reaching out to people in various places, sharing his views, meeting women. He was protesting very actively. 

He criticised the Prime Minister [Narendra Modi] and Yogi Adityanath in this matter. The government is unable to tolerate that people are writing against it, so they are directly lodging people in the jail. There was no case against Prashant. He has been arrested for a tweet that he had deleted.

VS: You said that you have absolutely no hope from the UP government. Could you elaborate?
JA: This government is anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim. You can look at statistics of atrocities against Dalits and Dalit women in UP. The state would be at the top in such cases.

VS: As you said, the police misled you while arresting Prashant. Have you filed a complaint regarding this?
JA: We did not get a chance to complain—a fear is being created within us that if we complain, matters will become worse for us.

VS: Has the police threatened you?
JA: The police has not threatened me directly. But there are many people who give me rape threats. Along with fighting for Prashant’s release, I am fighting another battle.

VS: Are you getting support from your family members?
JA: I am 28 years old and Prashanth is 27 years old. Both of us have gone against families for an inter-caste marriage. We got married two years ago, on 11 October. He is from Mumbai and I am from Delhi. 

I am not getting any support in this matter from my family. They tell me, “We told you to not get married.” They rarely call me, and whenever they do, they say this. They want us to get divorced. Prashant’s family is supportive, but they are in Mumbai and cannot travel at the moment.

VS: Would you like to say anything to our readers?
JA: I want to make an appeal: Justice from the courts will come whenever it comes, but I want people to talk about Prashant. It has been more than a month since I last spoke to him. I have become mentally disturbed. I want to tell people that they should  speak up for political prisoners. Don’t forget them. If  a third person, a police inspector can be so concerned about Sushil Tiwari’s “defamation,” you should also be concerned about Prashant’s arrest.

This interview was originally published in the Caravan Hindi. It has been translated and edited.