‘We struggled to see each day through’

‘In that dark tunnel, we spent our energy searching for a ray of hope.’
‘It was tough; nobody can even imagine the conversations we had.’
‘Laughter had disappeared from our lives.’
‘I would tell my daughters, I might go mad.’

Anand Teltumbde being in prison during during the pandemic was a nightmare for his wife Rama and their two daughters.

After the national lockdown was called on March 24, 2020, there was no communication with Anand after he was arrested in the so-called Bhima Koregaon case. His family was on tenterhooks hoping for their nightmare to end. Finally when telephone calls were allowed, the three heaved a sigh of relief.

There were outbreaks of COVID-19 in Mumbai’s prisons and because the 16 people arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case had severe charges placed on them, they were not released on parole, though 4,000 prisoners were allowed to be released during the lockdown.

Father Stan Swamy — one of the BK 16 — died after his oxygen levels plummeted, a death which has been described as ‘A stain on govt’s reputation which will last forever’.

“How we survived those two-and-a-half years is simply indescribable. I wondered each day what the next day would bring,” Rama Teltumbde, whose grandfather Dr B R Ambedkar, is the father of the Indian Constitution, tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Neeta Kolhatkar in the concluding part of a three-part interview.

  • Part I of the Interview: ‘I never imagined I would have a jail life’
  • Part II of the Interview: ‘If my mother knew of my arrest, she would have died of shock’

How were the first few weeks after Anand was arrested?

Despite being mentally prepared for his arrest, the first few weeks were the worst.

I kept going to court every time he was produced there. I was allowed to visit him at the NIA.

I used to go between 4 pm and 5 pm, every day, for the 11 days that Anand was kept there.

We were permitted to meet for 30 minutes, but they would not mind more time.

They would seat us at a distance, which was OK during the pandemic. But one policeman would stand close by, to ensure we did not exchange any notes or papers.

After he was sent to Taloja jail, for nearly 12 days, there was absolutely no communication. We were very worried about his condition?

Although he came from a very poor family, he had no experience of sleeping on the floor or eating any type of food. Moreover, he had many ailments for which we constantly visited doctors.

Rama, what lesson have you learnt from this experience?

The lesson of a lifetime! I have no words to express my sadness for all that I have faced.

We were leading a simple life, our daughters and the two of us. Though he held top corporate posts, our lifestyle did not change.

Most times, I was busy with my younger daughter who was playing tennis tournaments across the country and then abroad.

I would accompany her as she was very small. My elder daughter and Anand would be left at home.

We delighted in the small pleasures of lives: My elder daughter excelling in her studies that would land her in medical college and get a post graduate degree, and the younger one, becoming a national champion and then a professional tennis player besides managing her grades in schools.

She got her degree from a US university and then studied at IIM-Ahmedabad, Anand’s alma mater.

Anand reached top positions in his career and also earned himself a name as a public intellectual, scholar and author.

How we survived those two-and-a-half years is simply indescribable. I wondered each day what the next day would bring.

Tomorrow was always a dread. During the pandemic, I was mortified, wondering what news we would hear.

I had no back-up plan in the event of any bad news. I lost my sleep. You are left with only your thoughts!

In fact, I would tell my daughters, I might go mad.

It was only the three of us worrying about what appeared in the newspapers, what the prosecutors had said and what the courts delivered.

We would struggle to see each day through and hope he would come out soon.

In that dark tunnel, we spent our energy searching for a ray of hope.

It was tough; nobody can even imagine the conversations we had. Laughter had disappeared from our lives.

How were the first few weeks after Anand was arrest

Prior to Anand’s arrest, we would observe every April 14 — my grandfather’s birth anniversary — with pomp to the extent that my daughters would ask me why I was doing so much.

After April 14, 2020, I haven’t celebrated it at all.

I didn’t feel like wearing new clothes, that was my predicament.

Both the daughters were abroad, so who could I tell about my worries? Also, others have their own lives to live, how could I go and disturb them? They wouldn’t know my situation.

Occasionally, someone would extend help or support, but this was a never-ending saga of my life on a daily basis.

Many people from distant states, however, would call me and offer help, but what help they could render?

The horrifying way this Act of UAPA is written, of which I never heard before, one cannot imagine what the families go through.

I wondered whether my grandfather envisaged such a draconian Act while writing the Constitution.

When our daughters were growing up, Anand was busy in his corporate life and writing books. I was with them most of the time.

After they got jobs and went abroad, we thought we would settle down in Goa and spend time visiting them. Anand had seen a house in Goa. But all this went for a toss.

His release on bail has come as a great relief to us. But that does not restore our lives.

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