It is so surreal, sitting here writing this letter to you, addressing this letter to you as ‘Professor Hany Babu’. It is so incredibly ridiculous that anyone could possibly believe you to be the ‘terrorist’ and ‘conspirator’ they claim you are. (I would laugh if it didn’t make me want to cry.)
You, who I saw for the first time when you came to mine and your daughter’s school exhibition three years ago, as you stood quietly, smiling, nodding, with your hands awkwardly in your pockets while Jenny Aunty and I excitedly giggled and chattered over literature?
You, who passed in a blur of silver on the street under the glare of the sun at 8 in the morning, driving your daughter to school, as I desperately tried to wave to her from my bus window?
You, arrested a day after she turned 17. (Were there remnants of the cake, still, in the fridge, when they came for you?)
And for what? For fighting for the anti-caste movement and ensuring that all children should be able to at least dream of coming to their dream universities? For reading the books that they took in as ‘evidence’?
Or was it for having the audacity to fight for the basic human rights of another human being, for fighting for the freedom of speech and ideology in these times of neoliberal Hindutva? (I am sorry, I forget, is that what was so ‘criminal’?)
Uncle, I, too, want to address you as ‘Sir’ and ‘Professor’.
I want to say that the only reason I am outraged and bereaved is that because what is happening to you is, fundamentally, inarguably and inexpressibly wrong.
I want to say that the only reason I am in utter and complete disbelief is that after this, any and all pretence of democracy and justice and freedom of expression is gone, and we don’t even have tatters of denial to cling to, and that everything about ‘justice’ we rote-learned in the first chapter of our sixth-grade civics book, never existed at all.
I want to say that everything that I am feeling, and typing with shaking fingers, has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the fact that I remember one random day last year when you bought me and Farzana’s friend orange bars from a nearby stand, and that the wind was blowing and we were laughing and you were there and now you are not.
Because as much as I want you to be only ‘Professor Hany Babu’, yet another name in the ever-continuing list of incarcerated academics and lawyers and activists, relentlessly mentioned in Instagram stories until you are not. You are not another undeniable ‘proof’ of classic-history textbook fascism. For me, you are just Uncle.
And I want every single one of you reading this, to know that. To understand what this means, and why you, you who read this on your laptop or phone in the safety of your home for whom this basic violation of human rights was not enough, who has the privilege to ‘debate’ and call it an ‘issue’. Why it is you, who above everyone should care and weep and shout in protest every single day Uncle is in jail.
Because you are not safe. You are not safe, and neither is your neighbour, your friend’s father, and your father.
If my seventeen-year-old friend’s orange-bar buying father was not safe for daring to advocate for the rights of fellow human beings, then neither are you.
And, if you have even the slightest of fear and horror because of that, then you will resist, then you will fight, fight for Uncle, for Professor Hany Babu, as hard as you can, until you don’t have to until you can wish him in person.
Until then (because, ‘then’ is coming, and ‘then’ is coming soon),