By Uma Sudhir
I knew the little story I wanted to tell hardly stood a chance with all national television channels obsessively focussing on the drama on Ramlila Grounds in Delhi, the night before and the morning after. And yet I knew that tell the story I must. Because the picture stayed in my mind. Of a 8-month pregnant woman, her stride such a giveaway on advancing months, pulling herself, carrying a 4-year-old on her waist, holding by the hand another 8-year-old and also ensuring the elderly woman with her doesn’t get left behind in the melee.
The family was waiting to meet Papalal who has been inside Chanchalguda Jail in Hyderabad for three days now. No one had imagined he would end up there. But his mother says, “Those insaniyat ke dushman had planned to put him there and they have succeeded. What crime has my son committed? Why has God allowed this to happen in the name of religion.” She asks this, holding her hands up towards the sky. I have no answer.
Papalal’s `crime’ was to bring home a child, not even four, who he found crying at the site of a bomb blast at Hyderabad’s Gokul Chat Centre in August 2007. And what apparently irked fundamentalists was that he and his wife continued to take care of the child as their eldest daughter even though she belonged to a different religion and despite warnings and threats. Finally, even Papalal’s brother turned against him, unable to put up with the social pressure and ostracisation. The two fought, there was exchange of blows, cases were booked.
On Thursday, Papalal was suddenly taken to court by the police and then to jail. Seeing him break down, his wife and children were crying and I noticed his 4-year-old daughter was wildly putting her hands up towards her dad, gesticulating to him to carry her. I don’t know if the child was trying to console him or get consoled herself. Sonia was standing by her dad, a scared look on her face, the tears wouldn’t stop rolling. And then as he was being taken away in the police jeep, his 8-month pregnant wife Jayshree, lifting the child, ran behind the speeding jeep, asking when he would be back, what she should do now. Not that Papalal had any answers.
After NDTV aired the story of Papalal and his child Sonia, there have been several people coming forward expressing support for Papalal and his family and even offering help. But Jayshree doesn’t even have a bank account. A bank account the family had has lapsed a long time ago, for want of balance. But Jayshree needs money quite desperately. Not only to run her home and feed her children when her husband is away but to arrange for bail so that Papalal can come out of jail. Lawyers have said she must have upto 30,000 rupees ready. Where will that come from, when in the last couple of years, she has pawned virtually all her virtually to meet household expenses.
Jayshree tells me they had set aside some money for some scans and tests her doctor had asked her to undergo and that is what has come in handy today, even to take an auto to the jail. Four-year-old Ekta has been asking repeatedly for Papa and I overhear Jayshree telling the child that since her dad was injured the other day, he is inside there (indicating the jail gate) to get medicine and treatment and that she would see him shortly.
After a three-hour long wait, the family got 10 minutes with Papalal. When they came out, Sonia was crying inconsolably and Jayshree was trying to wipe her cheek, telling her, “Papa will be come soon. Didn’t the lawyer uncle tell us? Don’t worry, beta.” I almost suspected that, adding to the trauma of seeing her father in jail, somewhere she probably blames herself for it.
Jayshree tells me Papalal was finding it difficult to stop his tears before the children. He is worried what would happen next. She tells me the children are terrified, specially at night. They are remembering daddy and crying.
Jayshree is trying to be brave but she is scared and worried about when he will come home. She has however, told Papalal inside that help is on the way. I ask if she has second thoughts on still keeping Sonia with her. She looks me straight in the face and answers: “Would anyone think like that about their own daughter just because there is trouble? Is it such a crime to keep this child with us?”