“A most extraordinary thing happened in Jail yesterday evening”

Today is one year of arrest & incarceration of Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal under false charges. Sharing a letter Devangana had written to a friend last year

“A most extraordinary thing happened in Jail yesterday evening. In my last letter, I said how with the children, we wonder about rainbows and fireflies. I had tried to explain to them – three under two kids who don’t really speak our language, one two years old who speaks a little, and four year old girls who speak a lot – how a rainbow looks like, and what it’s colours are. We only had one broken piece of red crayon with us. So we found the rest of the colours from old newspapers and tore them out to make our rainbow collage. The children were most delighted and curious, but also confused, “par aasman mein itne saare rang kaise ho sakte hain?”, the eldest one kept asking.

And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it happened, happened yesterday evening. It was that time in the evening before sunset when sparkling particles dance before our vision, remember discovering them one evening? The skies were unusually blue and clear, the evening light soft and teasing, the sun peaking in and out through the clouds, and a very light drizzle. I had a moment of anticipation, but feel scared to hope.

Flowers from Jail

The eldest one screamed, ‘aunty, dekho, RAINBOW!’ Yes, they call us aunties, I guess we are now, at least half a decade older than most of their mothers, everyone keeps pointing out to me how I am growing too many grey hair, and I must colour them, but first I must comb them. Combining, braiding intricately and colouring hair is quite a communal activity in a women’s Jail.

So yeah, an actual rainbow in the sky. A magnificent fragment of the arch revealing itself in front of our ward. The children were ablaze with excitement, each of them wanted to be lifted up to get a better view. There was excitement all around, women shouted to one another, to come outside, to be witness.

As the clouds parted to open up more of the clear blue skies, a full rainbow, it’s entire arc, from one end to another, erupted through, the tiniest of the children, a Brazilian boy scream ‘hallelujah’ – to everyone’s surprise this was the first word he had spoken. He must have picked it up few months back while witnessing the loud prayer rituals to Christ every evening amongst the African inmates.

The delight of the rainbow, the entire rainbow, produced an infectious intensity, there was overwhelming emotion. Some began to fervently pray, some raised their hands and heads into the skies shaking, some cried, some stood and stared and smiled, yet another screamed duas and yelled to the gods, another cursed, some kept blinking their eyes to find and count all seven colours – were they all there? Was it actually there, real? Someone intertwined their hands with another and made a wish. Silhouettes of flocks of birds flew across the rainbow like a winter evening by the river I remember.

It was the first rainbow for many inmates – “kabhi socha nahi tha Jail mein aake pehli baar dekhungi “. It was of course a first for all the children, as one friend told them, ” This is our ticket to freedom, our path, we must find where it’s end begins”.

More flowers from Jail & a newspaper cutting finding its way inside prison: ‘the Milky Way galaxy rises in the sky between Palestinian Jericho and Israel’s Ein Gedi’

There was hope, so much hope, cacophonous impossible hope. Everything seemed suspended for a moment – a joy. I almost felt a melancholy, a defeat, at the rainbow’s inability to fulfil, it’s inevitable betrayal, it’s ephemerality.

It was time to be locked inside soon, as if almost knowing it, the rainbow faded away. The children became anxious, “aunty, woh kaha gaya?’, ‘Woh kyu chala gaya?’, ‘Kal aayega kya?’, ‘kyun hamesha nahi rehta?” There was a barrage of questions I could barely satisfactorily answer. I didn’t even have an answer to the basic, ‘wo kyun aata hai?’ Why and how does a rainbow come and go, Do you remember?

Today evening all the children sat expectantly staring into the skies in the park outside on their little merry go round, “wo aaj ayega kya?” I thought of that little wise boy we had met in the neighborhood one winter, and wondered if he had finally seen a rainbow in the skies of the old city.

Devangana draws Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya, based on Gond painting style by
Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam

2020 was the year of being falsely framed and arrested under UAPA, it was also the year of encountering rainbows in the skies, the polluted skies of the old city, to have found one, even in Jail. Now, we wait for a firefly”


Devangana Kalita is a gender & student movement activist, who was involved in the citizenship protests in 2019-20 in Delhi. She and Natasha Narwal were arrested by the Delhi Police on 23rd May 2020 under various false charges. She has secured bail in almost all cases, but continues to remain in prison without bail in Tihar Jail no.6 under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) – along with many other student & social political activists – which is used to silence political dissidents.

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Devangana Kalita Written by:

Devangana Kalita is a gender & student movement activist, who was involved in the citizenship protests in 2019-20 in Delhi. She and Natasha Narwal were arrested by the Delhi Police on 23rd May 2020 under various false charges. She has secured bail in almost all cases, but continues to remain in prison without bail in Tihar Jail no.6 under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) - along with many other student & social political activists - which is used to silence political dissidents.

14 Comments

  1. Mridula Mukherjee
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    Beautiful. Natastis obviously a very talented young woman. It’s a real pity she has to suffer so much for fighting for just causes. But she will come out stronger. And win.

  2. Nikhat
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    Awwww…so much optimism. Never give up Devangana and Natasha. Woh subha ayegi when all you political activists will walk out free and proud from the confines of the prisons.
    Till then persevere. We are with you. Much love and hugs.
    PS: your letter was so moving.

  3. Hartman de Souza
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    Lovely piece!!! Just what we needed. I hope she does a book putting these experiences down.

  4. Gita Ramaswamy
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    Beautiful piece! the dried flowers and the painting
    are a bonus

  5. Ratish Deb
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    I don’t want to encounter a rainbow in the sky-sometimes out of sight obstructed by the cloud. I want Debangas, come out of the jail. They might see the the rainbow in it’s full blown arch.
    And that will happen when these ‘Biranganas’ are in the street, in the field and the sea where from they can have a full view of the rainbow.

  6. sonia khurana
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    Beautiful. I was mildly surprised by the mention of Brazilian child, in prison here..

  7. Nalini Singaravel
    May 24, 2021
    Reply

    A touching piece of writing. Wish good things happen to her.

  8. Zeenat
    May 25, 2021
    Reply

    It is so beautifully written, I hope it soon makes it way to English school textbooks. More power to these brave ladies.

  9. Sadhna Jain
    May 25, 2021
    Reply

    This is so sensitively written piece.Thank God for hope, though there is frustration and helplessness for being victimized for being yourself

  10. Smita
    May 25, 2021
    Reply

    Creating a verbal rainbow.Awesome

  11. Nababrot
    May 25, 2021
    Reply

    We are eagerly waiting for her release. She has an enormous potential to motivate as well as upliftment of the needy society. Expecting her wonderful experience will definitely be disclosed in writing. Let her release…

  12. Prasanta bora
    May 25, 2021
    Reply

    All iz well baa …God bless you

  13. Gargi Deka
    May 29, 2021
    Reply

    This is just so beautiful. Devangana’s letter reverberates the beautiful colours of the rainbow filled with so much hope and love. She’s like the bright end of a dark tunnel. Kudos to her and many like her for being the strong human, the inspiration and the hope.

  14. Dr alban pais
    June 4, 2021
    Reply

    A beautiful expression of hope,iam sure it will come true one day, when u will reach the other end of the rainbow 🌈 your perseverance and sacrifice will surely bring victory to many. God bless.
    Dr alban pais

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