Siddique Kappan has been in prison since 2020, when he was arrested on his way to Hathras, UP, to report the gang rape of a Dalit woman. Mohammed Zubair was arrested after a complainant alleged that the AltNews co-founder had hurt his religious sentiments. These are but two of numerous instances of attacks on mediapersons, and especially the non-mainstream media that have been ongoing in India over the past few years.
On July 17, independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh from Jharkhand was arrested from his house in Ramgarh by Kharsawan police. His partner Ipsa says that before Singh’s arrest, a dozen cops searched their house for nine hours and confiscated two laptops, two phones and other things.
Singh was jailed once before, in 2019, but released on bail after six months, when the cops failed to produce any evidence against him. He is currently being held in the Seraikela Jail. This interview was conducted for Outlook by independent reporter Vikram Raj on August 13.
What is the condition inside jail?
I have been kept in solitary confinement in a cell, the ceiling of which is damaged, letting water drip inside during rainy days, or with parts falling off. The facility, which was meant to house 298 prisoners, currently has close to 500 inmates. The number of security staff is half the minimum requirement. Quality and quantity of food not only doesn’t match the jail manual, it’s also unfit for human consumption. Visitors are allowed to meet inmates at a distance of 5m, through two iron grilles and a dirty glass window, through which it is difficult to recognise people. With visitors sitting in front, I have to talk on the phone. Corruption is also rampant in the jail.
Did you complain to the superintendent?
I have tried to speak to the jail superintendent (Himani Priya) many times, but she hasn’t met or spoken with me. I spoke with Siyacharan Sharma, a jail official, but they haven’t taken any concrete steps. Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Manju Kumari has reprimanded the jail administration and given strict instructions to relocate me, saying “either Rupesh should be kept like a normal prisoner, or if he is so dangerous, he should be sent to the Central Jail.” But with no change in my conditions, I’m compelled to believe that the jail authorities are in contempt of court. So I plan to go on hunger strike from August 15 over three demands:
1. The condition of the cell where I’m kept is dilapidated. I should be relocated to a safe place.
2. I’m a journalist and writer, so I should be given a notebook and pen to write.
3. The food is raw, undercooked, and unfit for consumption. It should be changed.
Note: Ipsa informs that “on the morning of August 15, the jail superintendent met him and assured him that his demands would be met, so he shouldn’t sit on hunger strike. But till the morning of August 17, they have not been fulfilled”, nor have the notebooks and pens delivered by Ipsa on August 13 been handed over to him. He’s only been given the books Ipsa had sent for him.
What have you been accused of?
I’m accused of being a supporter of Maoist leader Prashant Bose alias Kisan Da. On August 11, I was also named in case number 16/22 of Jogeshwar Bihar police station of Tenughat in Bokaro district. Another new case has been imposed on me by the NIA in relation to an agitation against the Kaimur Tiger Reserve.
So in all, there are three cases, plus an NIA special case (19/22) against me. I was actually apprehensive of this for months, when, on April 28, 2022, many newspapers of Bihar reported that the NIA had registered an FIR on April 12, 2022 in Rohtas (Bihar) police station. Taking over 123/22, a case under RC 19/22 has been registered in NIA court, Patna. Among the accused named in this case were CPI(Maoist) Central Committee member Vijay Kumar Arya along with 4 others, including one Rupesh Kumar Singh (Bhagalpur). On May 5, I had sent a statement of mine to my close friends, in which I wrote:
“Friends, I’m issuing this statement today, on May 5, 2022, for the coming days because I have doubts that the central government is using the NIA and is making a big conspiracy against me.”
What’s the reason for this suspicion?
Years ago, on June 4, 2019, a team of central IB and Andhra Pradesh State Intelligence Bureau (APSIB) abducted me, my relative, advocate Mithilesh Kumar Singh, and driver Mohammad Kalam, from Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. After being kept in illegal custody for two days, I was handed over to Gaya (Bihar) police on June 6 and described as a big CPI(Maoist) leader, and my house in Bhagalpur was registered against my name in the case. When on April 28, 2022, the name of one Rupesh Kumar Singh of Bhagalpur was highlighted in local media, I knew something was up.
What is in the NIA FIR about?
On May 4, 2022, I extracted the FIR copy (RC 19/22) from the NIA website, registered in the NIA police station in New Delhi. According to it, on April 12, Maoist leaders Vijay Kumar Arya, Rajesh Gupta, Umesh Chaudhary, Anil Yadav, Rupesh Kumar Singh and unknown others came to collect levy for CPI(Maoist) to Samhuta village under Rohtas police station. They were also trying to recruit members for their banned outfit. Interestingly, of the five named in the FIR, four have both their names as well as that of their respective fathers, and their full addresses mentioned, but against Rupesh Kumar Singh, there’s neither the father’s name nor the village or police station mentioned, only Bhagalpur as hometown.
Where were you on April 12?
On April 12-13, 2022, I was present in Suresh Bhatt Auditorium, Nagpur to participate in a programme organised by Vira Sathidar Smriti Samanway Samiti, Nagpur (Maharashtra). I’d also gone “live” on Facebook that day.
Have you been to Rohtas?
I’ve never been to Rohtas. I’d been to neighbouring Kaimur on March 27, as a journalist, to cover a three-day padyatra by Kaimur Mukti Morcha on March 26-28 against Kaimur Tiger Reserve.
I also wrote a report on it that was published on the web portal Janchok on March 29. I’ve been doing journalism for the last eight years in Jharkhand. Due to my pro-people journalism, in 2019, I was implicated in a fake case under UAPA and sent to jail, where I had to stay for six months. Later, in the Pegasus spyware case, along with the cell phone numbers of me and my spouse Ipsa Shatakshi, the mobile number of another family member came up, against which Ipsa and I have filed a writ petition in the SC, for proper investigation.
If the NIA tries to drag me into this trial, then it is clear they will attack my freedom of speech. Because I’m a journalist, it is the duty of a journalist to write the truth and expose anti-people policies of the government.
Why do you think both central and state governments are conspiring against you?
Because I am a journalist and I have been doing this kind of journalism since 2014. You can see hundreds of my reports in different magazines and web portals, yet the government is accusing me of this. The reason is clear—I write and speak against the anti-people policies of the government. The governments want to give tribal land to corporates, and there’s a lot of such land in Jharkhand. Whose land is this? It belongs to the tribal people. This loot is not possible without expelling tribals, so the government initiated a war against them under the name of Operation Samadhan-Prahaar. There are incidents of oppression and exploitation of tribals by security forces every day. I raise these questions in my reports, which expose the policies of the government.
There are few people in Jharkhand who bother to speak against the government. That’s why it’s harassing me. There may be governments of two different parties at the Centre (BJP) and the state (JMM), but their purpose is the same—to hand over forests and mountains to the corporates. They scare and kill tribals here so that the latter leave the land and run away. To justify these anti-people actions, they call it anti-Naxal operation. By reporting such incidents, I expose the hollowness of the State. When they accuse me of being a Maoist backer, they hope to stop my pen.
What will be your strategy, going forward?
I know I’m innocent. This is also known to both my family and the government. Police can’t produce any evidence against me in court, so they are making me an accused in various other cases to keep me in jail for a maximum number of days. I’ve decided I’ll take this fight as far as I can—to the Supreme Court if necessary. I’ll try my best to come out as soon as possible and once again report the anti-people policies of the central and state governments as a journalist.
Any message for the youth, media and progressive people of the country?
I’ve received a message from my family that since my arrest on July 17, many journalists and progressive organisations across the country and abroad have raised their voices for me. I thank them wholeheartedly. I also want journalists and democratic organisations who are silent on my arrest to understand that the government is trying to suppress each and every voice standing against it. Today they have arrested me, tomorrow they can do it to you too, and someone else the day after.