‘If Gandhi Assassin is a Patriot, I’m a Terrorist and Proud to be a Journalist’

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Journalist Siddiq Kappan, arrested on the way to Hathras, UP, to report the infamous rape and murder of a Dalit girl, opens up about his incarceration under the draconian UAPA law and extraordinary ordeal of 28 long months in the Mathura Jail

SPECIAL INTERVIEW | SIDDIQ KAPPAN

Siddiq Kappan, who had been arrested when he was on his way to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras to cover the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit woman in October 2020, was released on February 2nd 2023 after languishing more than 28 months in jail. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court in two different cases. In an interview with Clarion India’s Waquar Hasan and Ghazala Ahmad, Kappan talks about his imprisonment and treatment at the hands of police and authorities, the impact of incarceration on his life and family and the predicament of Indian journalists and the media. Excerpts:

You had been arrested when you were going to cover the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras in UP. What were the circumstances of your arrest? What really happened at that time of arrest? 

On 5th October (2020), we were going to Hathras. When we reached the Mathura toll pass, there were searches going on there. We didn’t know why. I was half asleep. The police came to us and asked why and where we were going. I showed them the Press Club of India’s identity card. I had a Press Club id but not the id of the news portal I was working with. I showed them the Press Club id and told them that I’m going to Hathras. I told them I’m a journalist.

When I told them that I’m going there to report, the police officials forced the driver out of the car, sat in the driver’s seat of our cab and turned it towards Delhi. We were made to sit there for half an hour. We asked them what the issue was. Let us go back to Delhi if there is any issue in going to Hathras. There were three or four police officers there at the time. They were making calls to someone and we were locked inside the vehicle. Then, they told us they would allow us to go but asked us to come to the police station for five minutes. We were made to sit there at the police station from 10 am to 5 pm. During that time, I opened my laptop and started doing my work. The police official told us that they are waiting for calls from someone. Four people including the cab driver were made to sit there. 

After 6 pm, some official in civil dress came and asked: ‘Who is Siddique Kappan, the journalist from Kerala?’ I was then taken into a room where they started questioning me. Questions posed to me by them were bizarre: ‘How many times have you been to Islamabad? How many times have you met Zakir Naik, (a religious preacher now in exile in Malaysia)? Who is your girlfriend? Are you a Moist? Are you a supporter of DSU (A JNU student group)?

First, they tried to project me as a Moist and Communist supporter. The interrogating officer had my phone. They asked me: ‘Why do you have the phone numbers of all these Muslim leaders?’

I had the phone numbers of some Muslims leaders in my laptop. They asked me about that. I asked him what’s wrong if I have these numbers. I’m a journalist. Then, he slapped me. They wanted answers which they liked. I do not know the name of the official who was questioning me. They harassed me mentally as well as physically. They asked me whether I ate beef. They asked me why I studied at Jamia Millia Islamia. I told them that I was not a regular student at the Jamia but was doing a distance course to study Urdu. Then they asked me why I wanted to study Urdu. I told them I also studied Arabic. Then they asked me why I wanted to learn Arabic.

During the questioning, he slapped me repeatedly after removing my glasses. They hit me in the leg with a stick and slapped me on my head. He kept slapping me. After every question, there was a slap. 

When he went away, another officer came. There were officials from military intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Squad, Lucknow. I have lost the count of how many officials questioned me. They did not introduce themselves nor were they in uniform. There were many of them. If I asked them anything, they either slapped me or abused me. The police and jail officials have a habit of routinely abusing people.

There were many journalists out there to cover the incident. Why were you targeted? 

I was a secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists at that time. After the Delhi riots in February 2020, two Malayalam television channels had been banned by the Central government for two days. At that time, I had protested against the Union Home Ministry’s order imposing the ban on the channels. Being a secretary of the state Journalist Union, I led the protest in which CPI(M) leaders also participated.

Perhaps I had been their target since then. When I was giving a speech during the protest, some police officials had come and asked about me. The official took my personal details, name and telephone number. I feel that since then I had been in their sights.

After that, a little-known website linked with the RSS ran an article against me. The article claimed that Siddique Kappan took money from the Popular Front of India (PFI) and spent it to create riots. Fake news was spread about me. I had sent legal notice against the article pointing out that I’m not associated with the PFI, Congress or any other party. I was targeted by the RSS and BJP due to these reasons. This is what I feel.

Many journalists had gone to Hathras to expose the failures of the police and administration.  Perhaps the government thought if the Hathras rape got highlighted like the Nirbhaya case, there may be threat to their power. I may have been scapegoated to divert the attention from the rape.  

Kappan along with his wife and and daughter (Photo- Clarion India)

When did you get to know you had been arrested? What happened after the arrest?

On 5th October, I was kept in detention at the police station. Next day, I was taken somewhere else from there. I don’t know where. The Innova car in which I was being taken had the BJP’s flag. The in-charge of the police station was driving the vehicle. I was taken to Mathura SDM’s office and presented before him. I came to know that I was arrested and had been booked under IPC 151.

I spoke to the Mathura SDM and said that I can get bail on the personal bond as I was booked under 151 IPC. The SDM told me that they will allow me to go only if someone comes to take me. Then I was sent to 14 days custody. I was kept in a school which was converted into a quarantine centre and temporary jail.

In the quarantine centre, we were made to sit on the floor where 40-50 people were in a room. There was no toilet facility. A bucket was kept in the corner of the room for toilet needs. I was kept there for 21 days. In November, I was sent to jail. The jail too was overcrowded with around 80 being kept together. Till that time, I had not contacted my home and neither informed any family members. They did not know where I was. At that time when my lawyer came to see me he was not allowed. 

What were your biggest concerns or worries when you were in jail?

I did not know I was also charged under the draconian law UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). I thought since I was booked under IPC 151, I would get bail within days. But some days later, an ED official came to question me. At that time too, I did not know that I was also booked by the ED. Nobody informed me of the cases in which I was booked. I was thinking that if not today, I would go out the next day.

I had not committed any crime. I did not violate even a traffic rule. I cooperated with the officials.  Would I go with a pen, notebook and laptop to commit a crime? I went to report along with a friend.

In the jail, I had been tense. Both my mother and child were not well. My mother’s condition was particularly worrying. I did not know what was the situation of my mother’s illness. A month passed by, and I could not contact my family members over the phone. After 45 days, I was allowed to avail phone facilities. I was told that I can talk either in Hindi or English. Then I told them that I’m from Kerala and I want to talk to my mother who does not know Hindi or English. After some argument, I was allowed to talk in Malayalam for only two minutes. That day my family came to know that I was in Mathura jail. I also came to know that I had been booked under the UAPA.

Many serious allegations were made against you. What did you know about those allegations? What do you have to say in your defence?  

I came to know about the allegations against me when I read a Hindi newspaper. The newspaper published big, white lies about me. I was linked with the Popular Front of India and some 100-crore fund. I was accused of going to instigate riots in UP. All these allegations were exposed in the Supreme Court for what they are. The Allahabad High Court also demanded to know what the ED has to do with a paltry sum of Rs.5000. 

Take the case of industrialist Gautam Adani. He has been accused of many things but the ED has not even called him for questioning. In my case, first I was accused of money laundering Rs.45000. I told them that it’s my money which I credited into my account. Then, I was told that Rs 5000 was credited in the account of the student who was with me, that’s why I was booked by the ED (Enforcement of Directorate). The ED is a premier agency of the country. How many people will believe in this agency if they would level such false allegations.

The ED is supposed to investigate the issue of money exceeding Rs. 1 crore. If I have Rs. 5000 or 45000 or 1 lakh in my account, what is the problem? Do the citizens have the right to have money worth Rs. 1 Lakh in their account? I’m a journalist and I have a monthly salary. 

Your imprisonment caught international attention. Apart from you, there are other journalists like Rupesh Kumar and Fahad Shah who are still in jail now. What do you say about them? 

In India, many journalists have been jailed in the last 8-9 years. During the Covid 19 pandemic, if someone published or aired the failures of the government, they were reportedly jailed. How many journalists were detained and thrown into jail during that period, does anyone know? These journalists should be released as soon as possible. We need to raise our voice for them.

I have seen that some newspapers which are very popular are working as PRO for the government. They publish lies, support the government and criticise the opposition. They are doing this for the sake of advertisements. If they don’t have government ads, their media cannot be run for more than a month. Therefore, most media houses support and appease the government. This is not journalism but PR.

The UP editions of Hindi newspapers, Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala called me a “so-called journalist”. It means the ones who support the government are “real journalists” and the ones who question or criticise the government are “so-called” journalists. Arnab Goswami (of Republic TV) is a real journalist while Siddique Kappan is a so-called journalist. I’m proud of being a ‘so-called’ journalist at this time. If the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi is a patriot, I’m a terrorist. I was also called a “terrorist”.

Kappan with his wife Rainath Kappan (Photo- Clarion India)

What was the worst moment of your incarceration? 

 In the 28 months, I was kept in two different jails. In Mathura jail, I did not get an opportunity to meet my lawyer or receive books. There were a few Hindi newspapers from the so-called media houses. I had to read their lies. I did not get books nor did I get access to the library. I was disturbed by these things. It was obviously my first experience of going to jail. But now I know what happens in jail, especially in north India. You go to any jail in Uttar Pradesh, you will get cannabis, cigarettes and bidis but you won’t get a pen and a book. I had to fight the jail officials for three months to get some books. Urdu is strictly prohibited in the jail.

Will the imprisonment of 28 months make any impact on your journalism? 

Sure. Soon after coming out of jail, I told my family, friends, supporters and journalist friends that the 28-months imprisonment was a training school for me. It was training for the future course of life and profession. I got an oriented course. I got an idea of how to go ahead in such bad times. I got courage to do things. I was not so powerful before October 5, 2020. Now, I’m stronger. If this government continues to follow such policies, we will get many strong journalists. That’s why I would like to thank the government.

Recently, I read in an English newspaper that the police lied that they did not know at the time of arrest that Siddique Kappan was a journalist. But I had shown them the Press Club of India id. Even now, my press club id is in Mathura trial court under seal. I have been working in the media for the last 10-11 years. I had different Ids. They took all these.

You are free now. How do you feel now?

I never thought that I would ever go to jail. Now, I feel the value of freedom and how important freedom is for us. For the last 28 months, my hand was held by a policeman. Now, my child holds my hand. My wife is there to hold my hand. I had no freedom to do what I wanted – to eat and drink. I was not able to read a book. Keeping a pen in the jail is a crime. I bought a Rs 5 pen from a police official for Rs. 60. This is also illegal! But if you have money, you can buy anything in jail.

There are many poor people in the jail. There are Rohingaya refugees and Kashmiris. Many of them don’t even have the luxury of lawyers or legal defence. They have been kept in solitary confinement and high-security jails for 10-15 years. They are all under-trials. 

How did your family survive when you were in jail?

Many people supported me. I have a lot of hope for India. Many people are secular. Many are good journalists. They are not ‘so-called journalists.’ They supported us. My wife, wife’s family, friends – all of them supported us. India has been turned into Myanmar.

Did you face any issues from common people after your release?

So far, I have not faced any such issue. Instead, I have received a lot of support. International media such as BBC, CNN, The Guardian and international journalists called and interviewed me. Some of them even came to meet me to show solidarity with me. Common people know what is happening in India. The BJP got only 40% votes. That means 60% are good people out there. People are not foolish. They know everything.

Even after getting bail, you remained in jail for several weeks. What was the issue? 

The UP Police were delaying my verification process for the release. They seemed to get sadistic pleasure if I spent another day in jail. As you know, former Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma offered surety for my bail. Such people still do exist in the country. That’s why I got out of jail in 28 months.

Do you have anything to say on the current situation in India? 

Everyone knows what is the current situation of India. Take the latest issue for example, a foreign company showed us how big lies were manufactured for the rise of an industrialist. But Indian journalists are living in fear. They are scared to criticise anyone because they can be hauled up by the ED or the CBI. Indian journalists do not enjoy a good image in foreign countries. They are viewed as the supporters of the government, not the supporters of the people. The so-called mainstream media stands with the government. They dutifully take press releases from the government and glorify its actions. This is the situation in India.

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