Devangana’s Mother Dr Kalpana Deka Kalita, in conversation with Outlook’s Astha Savyasachi, talks about what her daughter’s activism means to her, her incarceration, and her message to all mothers whose children have been wrongly put behind bars - ‘Hold on just a little longer.'
When did she Devangana step into political activism?
Even back in her school days, she was very conscious of the difference between justice and injustice. She was aware of politics and women's rights. She used to speak out against the wrong. Activism was her own conscious decision. And we all supported her. She is an independent girl who has always decided for herself. And she will continue to do so.
Were you aware of her participation in anti-CAA protests?
We were aware that Devangana had been actively engaged in anti-CAA protests. But at the same time, we were confident that she was never involved in any violence, rioting, or illegal activity.
We, being the people of Assam, have seen the NRC very closely. Many people we know have suffered a lot. They lost everything because they had no documents. There have been huge protests against CAA-NRC in Assam. I am a professor. And even in my university, all the faculty and the students participated in anti-CAA protests. I also did. It is not wrong to raise your voice against injustice.
What happened the day she was arrested?
We didn't have any idea that she would be incarcerated. When SIT informed her that she would be interrogated around 3 PM on May 23, 2020, she video-called us at around 2:30 PM, I told her ‘No need to be afraid. You haven't done anything wrong. You have protested against CAA. Go and answer the questions bravely.’
Did you get to communicate with her when she was in jail?
Initially, we were allowed to talk with her for just ten minutes in 10-15 days.
But after Devangana and Natasha protested against this, all the prisoners in Tihar jail were allowed to talk with their families in 30-minute video calls once a week. They were also allowed to make five-minute phone calls daily. Even while in jail, she kept fighting. She is a fighter.
Every time we used to see her on call, it was a great moment for us. Her younger brother used to play piano for her in the video call. It cheered her up and she loved it so much that she used to say, ‘I will have to come out to see you play.’
What is your message to families of all the political prisoners behind the bars?
To all the mothers whose sons and daughters are wrongly incarcerated, I have this to say - We have to stay strong and hold on just a little longer. Our children are not guilty. They will get justice. After all, India needs more Devanganas, more Natashas, more Gulfishas, and more Safooras.
What do you have to say to the media houses on their witch-hunt of Devangana and her friends?
We were told by our relatives how TV channels were attacking Devangana. I have one thing to say to those TV anchors - You can say what you want. But to me, the Delhi High Court’s verdict was the victory of democracy in India.
What do you want to say to the government?
My message to the government is that to build a good country, you should have the patience to listen to all kinds of people. Give space for discussion and debates. My daughter didn’t protest for herself. She did it for her country.
What makes you proud of your daughter the most?
Devangana is very honest and kindhearted. I am inspired by her every day. After whatever she had to face in jail, I am sure, she will come out as an even stronger woman. I am proud of her. She should continue her activism. Society is afraid of women who speak their minds and hearts. It makes it even more necessary for us to allow our daughters to participate in decision-making and politics and raise their voices against injustice. Let them be free and make their own choices. We should allow them to break the cages (Pinjra Todne do)
What will be the first thing you do when she comes back home?
I haven't seen her for more than a year. She used to say on call, ‘Maa, I haven’t had a single egg for a year.’ In Tihar jail, they give only vegetarian food. She is very fond of non-vegetarian and our traditional Assamese dishes. When she comes back, I will cook her favourite fish curry.’