Former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan was arrested by Delhi police in connection with the northeast Delhi riots probe on 26 February. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

By Anand Mohan J  / The Indian Express 

Granted bail on March 14 in a Northeast Delhi riots case, former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan says her faith in the judiciary remains strong and that she will continue to oppose the citizenship amendment act (CAA).

Ishrat is an accused in the main conspiracy case where the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has been invoked by police. While granting bail, the court had noted that she was not the one who gave the idea of a chakka jam, nor was she physically present in Northeast Delhi during the riots or part of any group or organisation.

Ishrat, who got married on June 12, 2020 when she was briefly released on interim bail for 10 days, said: “My mehendi was still etched on my hands when I returned after my interim bail was over. Most couples go on vacations together but I spent my time back in prison, in isolation. I have not even seen my in-laws’ house properly and I am glad I get to do that now. My husband’s family has fully supported me through this ordeal. I still find it unbelievable that I have been released. My faith in the judiciary is strong.”

She was arrested on February 26, 2020 and spent two years behind bars. “I am adjusting slowly and starting small like using a mobile phone again. I spent 11 stints in Covid isolation. These days I wake up in the morning and think my roll call is being done by the jail staff. During festivals we used to get special food with a sweet dish called ‘bada khana’. I used to distribute it in jail… This Holi, I told my mother I will distribute it at home too,” she said.

“The incarceration was 50 times tougher due to Covid. For the first year, I was not even produced at court. I did not know the allegations against me and that took a toll. I saw my family for the first time after eight months had passed,” she said.

Ishrat had a Quran, a few books, two buckets and trays with her in jail. She used to kill time reading newspapers, which she said were “heavily censored” by jail staff, and was unable to sleep due to frequent commotions in her barracks. She had applied to teach the children of inmates, who spend their lives with their mothers in incarceration. However, when that was rejected, as were other options like working at the prison library, she instead taught yoga to elderly prison inmates.

“The women inmates in my prison were from the backward areas of Northeast Delhi. They don’t even understand the meaning of thank you and please. You deal with them with love. I salute the women who work in this heat, with blisters on their fingers from operating the chulhas in the kitchen. I came from a well off family and was relatively better off. My case may have been bigger, but that doesn’t make their struggle any smaller,” she said.

Jahan said she plans on working for the welfare of women inmates, and help them with better access to legal counsel, revamp the mulaqat system as “many inmates haven’t seen their family members for over 4 years”, and push for prison authorities to set up a food factory inside the jail.

She also intends to keep her protest alive. “This was my trial by fire and I passed. I have nerves of steel now, learned the value of time and became wiser. I will fight not just against CAA NRC but also against any injustice. I was a different Ishrat Jahan before my arrest,” she said.

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