“I am currently living alone at home. My husband is in jail, and it has been over two months now,” she says sombrely. This is something you don’t hear every day in common conversation. But Jagisha Arora is living this reality. On August 18, her birthday, the Uttar Pradesh police came knocking on their door to arrest her husband Prashant Kanojia. It was over a piece of fake news he had shared on Twitter and later deleted, but which the FIR claimed could have potentially disrupted harmony between two communities.
The arrest of Kanojia, a vocal Bahujan journalist, is being touted as an example of the authoritative crackdown on dissenting voices in the country, and is being actively opposed by many public personalities, lawyers, academicians, thinkers, and journalists. And spearheading the call for his release is Arora, his wife.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Arora opens up about her marriage to Kanojia, the pushback she faced from a patriarchal family and society, and the need for feminism and the anti-caste movement to go hand in hand.
Her Dissent Against Patriarchy At Home
Arora says she had been brought up in a patriarchal household rife with gender differentiation. It wasn’t too smooth growing up as a woman in a family where her father had passed, and brothers abused her freely. She was told that decisions of the house were not hers to take. “Tum ladki ho, tumhe neeche ho ke baat karni chahiye,” was what she got to hear whenever she voiced her opinions.
She was made aware of the irregularities of power in gender stereotypes very early on. “My parents did not focus on my education as much as they did for my brothers,” she says. But despite the suppression, she actively protested. Arora says she questioned her mother often, and the role she played in the house – always working in the kitchen, always doing domestic chores, in stark contrast to the men of the household who didn’t do any of it.
Her turn to feminism consolidated fully when she read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. For social work, she became attached to NGOs, which prompted her to travel more, meet more people, and solidified her stance as a feminist.
Marrying At The Intersection Of Feminism & Caste
Arora hails from an upper-caste family, so the pushback on her decision to be with Kanojia, who belongs to an oppressed caste, was immense. “When I was dating my current husband, I had uploaded a picture with him. My brother told me you have 15 minutes, either you delete that picture or leave the house. I resisted and left the house. After which I began receiving threat calls saying we’ll harm you. So, we had to go to the police station, where my entire family came, tried to talk to us.”
Her family did not support her in her choice to marry Kanojia. “It’s Brahmanical patriarchy I would say. I’m an upper caste and took the decision to marry outside of it. My mother questioned that, but I maintained I want to marry him and will marry him. Because I feel when a woman takes a decision, society, family, culture calls you out. It’s very difficult for a woman to take any decisions.”
What gave her the strength to resist? “I was living in suffocation, in a cage at home. My resistance was a result of years of oppression, years of abuse.
People always ask why are women aggressive? We’re aggressive because we have faced centuries of oppression, and we don’t talk about it. There’s caste, there’s patriarchy. And we want to maintain both those things.”
This outlook has impacted the major decisions of her life. “I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t want to bring my children into a country where they’ll face patriarchy, casteism, and communalism.”
The Need To Annihilate Caste
Arora is known for actively opposing societal injustices of gender, caste, marginalisation, and politics. For that, she is trolled and threatened routinely. “I face verbal abuses, trolling, and rape threats daily on social media. If Prashant and I post a picture together, we face trolling. People comment that he got into journalism because of reservation, he doesn’t deserve it. When we both write something, we face trolling.”
How must the fight move forward? The direction feminism and activism should take if we, as a society, seek equality of citizens? “Annihilation of caste is justice. If the Brahmanical caste system doesn’t end, patriarchy will never end. Because of the caste system, women from marginalised or Dalit communities have faced more sexual violence than UC women. We have to accept our privileges first. Many people deny their privileges, and that’s the root cause of the problem.”
“Every feminist must acknowledge the caste structure. We have to end this system which is stopping us from moving forward.”
Speaking On Her Husband’s Release
On August 18, the UP police arrested Kanojia over a tweet that they claimed was allegedly meant to defame Sushil Tiwari, a member of the Hindu Army, a right-wing outfit.
“My family didn’t contact me, they didn’t ask whether I’m fine or not when Prashant was arrested,” she says. But she soldiered on. Arora has been fighting for the release of her husband, and all political prisoners, that day on. She has been leading the social media campaign #ReleasePrashantKanojia, with several noted voices standing in solidarity with her. She says she is reaching out to whoever she can to rally support for her husband. “The legal process is loose,” she says, and she is still awaiting a date for hearing.
Meanwhile, those opposing Kanojia are of the view that as a journalist, he should have verified the fake news before tweeting it out, regardless of the fact that he soon deleted it. “The thing with fake news is that if you want to wilfully spread it, you will not take it down. You will circulate it, you will not apologise for it,” Arora says. “That is what our news channels have been doing, be it on the Sushant Rajput case or the Tablighi Jamaat case. Prashant deleted his tweet as and when he found out it was a morphed image. He wasn’t ‘spreading’ it. And when he deleted it, that means he realised his mistake, right?”
The Appeal Of A Fighting Woman
“I feel like crying when I think of you, but your love gives me the strength to fight this situation, this system,” she tweeted recently. October 11 was their wedding anniversary, an occasion Arora marked with a picture and message for her husband whom she is being kept apart from.
Happy anniversary @PJkanojia
Thank you for being there. Thank you for coming into my life. I am sharing the happiest moment of our marriage which is the smile on my face. I love you. I miss you. pic.twitter.com/o2nS60WSy0
— Jagisha Arora (@jagishaarora) October 10, 2020
“People from marginalised communities or women always face tone shaming. They’re told not to talk about certain issues, be careful in the way they talk. Don’t talk about caste, don’t critique governmental policies. My husband always talks about these issues. It’s not just a tweet he has been arrested for. He is being politically targeted for questioning the government,” she tells us.
Her appeal is for everyone to raise this issue and talk about her husband more. “This country needs Prashant. This country needs young leaders like him. I am fighting a fight for my husband and the others in jail by questioning the state directly now. I was scared in the beginning. But I’m not scared anymore.”
Watch her full interview on patriarchy here, for Sisterhood with Shaili:
Views expressed are the author’s own.