Tuesday, Dec 05, 2023

‘Today, They Have Arrested Me. Tomorrow, They Can Do It To You Too.’

Overlap Political

‘Today, They Have Arrested Me. Tomorrow, They Can Do It To You Too.’

An interview with independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh from Jharkhand who has been languishing in Seraikela Jail after being arrested on July 17 from his house in Ramgarh by Kharsawan police.

Illustration: Saahil

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.

The repressive State Media reports on Rupesh Kumar Singh’s arrest
The repressive State Media reports on Rupesh Kumar Singh’s arrest

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.

The repressive State A Maoist camp
The repressive State A Maoist camp Photo: Rajesh Kumar

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.

‘I’m accused of being a votary of CPI(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.’

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.

The incarcerated scribe
The incarcerated scribe The incarcerated scribe

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.

‘I write agai­nst the anti-people policies of the government, who want to give tribal land to corporates. and there’s a lot of such land in Jharkhand.’

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.