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Two-decade-old memories of pain

An Amul hoarding of that time. Priya Dutt says even though they were frantically worried for Sanjay, they could not help smiling at Amul’s take on the situation. Sanjay was then dating model Rhea Pillai, whom he later married and divorced

March 21: When Priya Dutt broke down outside the Supreme Court this morning, her mind would have gone back to the harrowing days of the early 1990s.

In their 2007 book Mr and Mrs Dutt — Memories of Our Parents, the Congress MP and her sister Namrata Dutt Kumar have described the family’s pain during Sanjay’s arrest on April 18, 1993, and the 18 months he spent in Thane Central Jail in 1994-95.

The book quotes their late father, actor turned Congress leader Sunil Dutt, as saying: “How can I sleep when I know my son is in the same city, a few miles away from me, lying on a cold stone floor?”

One of the most poignant moments in the book comes when Sunil, Priya and Namrata, wife of former actor Kumar Gaurav, visit Sanjay in prison on Raksha Bandhan day in August 1994. It’s Priya who describes what happens next.

“Our eyes filled with tears,” she writes. “We tied a rakhi on his wrist. Sanjay looked sad and said, ‘I have nothing to give (the two of) you.... This is all I have....’”

Sanjay then gave his sisters the two-rupee jail coupons he had earned through manual labour.

“It was an extraordinary emotional moment for us. Dad broke down. We looked at each other in a long embrace and wept, unburdening our hearts, before Sanjay was led back to his cell,” writes Priya, who has preserved the coupons as mementos.

It was a testing time for the Dutts. Sunil and wife Nargis, who died in 1981, had a certain standing in film and social circles. The family had never faced a single income-tax raid at a time such raids were common in movie stars’ lives.

Sanjay Dutt with wife Maanyata, son Shahraan and daughter Iqra during the Mata Ki Chowki organised at his house in Mumbai in October 2012.

After Sanjay’s arrest, a police team had arrived at the family’s bungalow, 58 Palli Hill, with sniffer dogs. “It was a deeply humiliating experience,” Priya recalls.

Sunil was not at home, so veteran actor Rajendra Kumar, father of Kumar Gaurav, took charge and told the policemen: “I will open everything. Tell me what you want.”

Sanjay was shooting in Mauritius in April 1993 when his name figured in the case and he was asked to return to Mumbai. Priya says she was surprised to see a large police team at the airport when she arrived to receive her brother.

“We thought some VIP was coming. We later discovered that they (the police) had come to arrest Sanjay.”

Priya says Sunil would sometimes be overwhelmed by a sense of guilt, thinking that had he not resigned as Lok Sabha member or protested publicly against the communal riots in Mumbai following the Babri Masjid demolition, Sanjay might not have been targeted by the authorities.

In the book, Priya recalls the communal violence of December 1992 and January 1993.

“The situation was getting worse. Dilip uncle (actor Dilip Kumar) and Saira aunty called and told me, ‘Priya, we have news that both our homes are going to be attacked’.”

Panicky people were calling the Dutt home to say: “They are coming to kill us; they are dragging our children out of the house.”

Priya writes that the family felt helpless. “All we could do was make a telephone call to the local police station, begging for help. In the days that followed, we kept hearing horrific stories about people getting massacred.”

Sunil was known for his opposition to Sharad Pawar, who was chief minister when Sanjay was arrested. Till his death, Sunil felt that Pawar had not done enough to bail out his son.

But unexpectedly, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray came out in support of Sanjay, declaring publicly he did not believe that any member of the Dutt family could be anti-national.