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NL Interview: Sudha Bharadwaj on trade union activism and why Chhattisgarh will always be home

The trade unionist and lawyer sits down with Newslaundry in Mumbai.

WrittenBy:NL Team

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Sudha Bharadwaj loves mathematics, wonders whether she gave her daughter the “right” kind of childhood, and became a lawyer when she was 40 years old.

“Had I not become a lawyer,” she says, “I don’t think I would have been very easily accepted as a leader.”

Sudha, a human rights lawyer and trade unionist, was released from Mumbai’s Byculla Jail in December last year after spending three years in prison. She was arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence and was repeatedly denied bail until December 1. Speaking to Manisha Pande in Mumbai, Sudha says she now wants to go to her real home, to Chhattisgarh, where she’s lived since the 1980s.

In this interview, Sudha talks about her childhood in Bilaspur and her educational journey, culminating in Jawaharlal Nehru University and IIT Kanpur. Her mother, a JNU professor, helped shape the ideology of this self-proclaimed Marxist – though she confesses her mother had many “apprehensions” – who began working with trade unions at the age of 25.

Working with people on the ground, Sudha is only too aware of how “alien” the judicial process is to the majority of India’s population. “The notification comes out in the gazette. You are somewhere, miles away in a village which is not even accessible, and nobody even tells you about it,” she says. She also thinks it’s important for young lawyers to cut their teeth by representing the most marginalised.

In Byculla jail, where she remembers she once saw Rhea Chakraborty, Sudha continued her work, trying to secure legal aid for those imprisoned with her. She believes in the importance of a “united front” – the farm law protests are an example, with people holding differing ideologies coming together – and worries that the lack of this unity gives rise to dogma.

This, and a lot more.

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