“I don’t want to go to jail”, said Nupur, as I could sense a lump in her throat while being on a conference call with our lawyer Ravi Sharma.
“Nupur are you crying?” Ravi wondered, as he immediately tried to calm her that the FIRs against OpIndia were frivolous and won’t pass the test of the law even for a minute.
I didn’t say much. I was at loss. This was the same lady, whom I had asked to lead OpIndia little less than 3 years ago. She had no degree in journalism, she hadn’t written any news reports as such though had written some opinion pieces, and she just had a baby girl who needed all her attention.
In these three years, I seldom allowed her a long rope because she was a woman or a working mother, or someone who didn’t have a formal degree in journalism. I literally pushed her to work hard, to re-do articles that I thought were not good, and to learn the basics of news reporting. And I was ruthless.
She took it all on her chin too and never asked for a long rope. While it was apparent that being a mother of a toddler was going to affect your professional life in some way or the other, she did her best to manage both roles. While yelling at her for things not done, or not done in the way they should have been, I hardly ever factored in that she had a little daughter to take care of too.
That day, around three weeks back, it was the mother in Nupur who had come under pressure.
Those words, which were surely wrapped in a voice that chocked, were not of the editor, who had already spent hours and hours across three days in the police station, including at a unit called “Anti-Rowdy Section” in Kolkata. She had already been interrogated for hours; the policemen trying to put her under pressure, the interrogation being recorded on camera and suddenly the camera being switched off and policemen giving her some “advice” in a stern tone.
Not just her, her husband was interrogated too, who had nothing to do with OpIndia, except that a mobile number that was issued in his name was used by Nupur. Her father was “advised” too, that for a 70 years old man like him, it was going to be painful to see his young daughter and son-in-law go to jail.
She didn’t crack. She would come back and recount the details of what happened, showing no signs of cracking under pressure. On occasions, she would even join my dark jokes as I’d say that it was just a matter of time before she is dragged out of the house by Mamata and thrown in jail. She would laugh at it all. In fact, when after her interrogation several friends tweeted that a “mother was put through this hell for hours”, she expressed her displeasure. “I want to fight this as the editor of OpIndia. Not as a mother. Don’t hand me the victim card. I am not a victim”, she said.
Then why suddenly that sign of weakness? I got the answer pretty soon.
Those were words of a mother, not of the editor whom I had hired. Privately, the mother wept. Publicly, the editor fought and stood her ground.
We had discovered and come to the conclusion that the state government had decided to file a string of FIRs, picking up random articles published on OpIndia in English or Hindi, and the idea was to hound. And not just interrogate, but possibly to arrest and put someone in jail too. To teach us a lesson. Incidentally, Prashant Bhushan had advised “secular” ruled states to file a string of FIRs against us.
Nupur was ready to be interrogated, she already was. She was ready to jump through hoops and go through it all with a smile. She had weathered all the pressure tactics and questions, but she was not ready to go to jail. She was not ready to be away from her daughter.
This is what a young woman was put through by a machinery headed by someone who talks about Maa and is ironically named Mamata.
This is how cruel are those who are celebrated as fighting against “fascism”. This is how thin-skinned are those who are celebrated as fighting for “free speech”. This is how ruthless are those who are celebrated as resisting “rising intolerance”.
Agar dharti pe kahin irony hai, toh yahin hai, yahin hai, yahin hai.
But when I heard the words of a mother, I didn’t have time to indulge in these thoughts and wordplay. Her emotional safety was supreme, so I asked her to take the first flight and get out of West Bengal. Flights had just resumed and it was still not safe to travel. You never knew where you can pick up the Chinese virus. But it had to be done so that she feels a sense of security.
Next morning, she was in Bengaluru, and she spent a week there as Ravi finalized our petition. He was convinced that we should move Supreme Court and that we would get a favourable hearing because the conduct of the police was high handed and cases made against OpIndia, and by extension against Nupur, against me, or against Ajeet Bharti, the editor of Hindi OpIndia, were very weak.
We were not sure what will happen. After all, we were not some Prashant Bhushan or Vinod Dua to get a hearing in the Supreme Court and get relief too. But we kept hope and kept the faith.
While we didn’t get an immediate hearing as it had happened with two uber-secular names I took, the petition was listed and heard. And wasn’t Ravi, our lawyer, right? The Supreme Court literally took a few minutes and stayed the FIRs. We are going to be indebted to him, to Mahesh Jethmalani who argued for us without taking a penny, and to the honourable court that they gave us justice.
Incidentally, Nupur couldn’t wait for too long and couldn’t be away from her daughter to wait for the case being listed. Within a day or two, her fear was again gone, and she said she was ready to face the worst but she must be with her daughter. “Even if they keep me in jail for 2 days, I will at least be with my daughter for the other days”, she had said. That being away in a Bengaluru hotel was as good as being away in jail for her. Just talking daily to her daughter and having video calls was not what she wanted. “What will I tell my daughter? That I got scared, left her and ran away”, she had asked once.
Her stress was evident while she worked everyday. But she didn’t really talk about it much. She kept working. She kept her head down. She kept the faith.
But finally, one day, she snapped and said she was going back to Kolkata. We still had no idea when we would get our day in the Supreme Court. But Nupur decided she needed to be with her daughter, even if the worst was thrown at her. In a way, what made her break down initially made her resolve stronger later. It is said that nobody can be stronger than a hurt mother and that concept might be difficult for most men to understand, but that day, I realised what it meant.
She had already been back in Kolkata for a while when she got the good news that the Supreme Court had ruled in our favour. She was obviously elated.
We hadn’t said a word about these issues earlier as the matter was sub-judice, but now we can and we will.
We are not going to be cowed down by such pressure. Yes, we have personal lives too and we are vulnerable there, and you stooped to the level of trying to win by exploiting that vulnerability. That’s how low you can get, but that has only made us aim higher.
Because while you can only see how you tried to arm-twist us, we could see the unprecedented support that we received. We could see the faith people had in us, the love they had for us. We are here because we know we are not alone.
We are here to stay. We are here to fight.
And yeah, Nupur, you are still not going to get any concessions for being a working mother. You can watch Horrible Bosses again.