Silencing Siddique Kappan
'Siddique Kappan wrote about many of the things I write about: India's majoritarian turn and discrimination against Muslims. That he is in jail, and I am not, reflects my privilege - as a Hindu and as a journalist writing in English'. Thus opened an incisive column by Samar Halarnkar, my former colleague. Thank you, Samar, for speaking for many of us too. What Kappan has undergone has not many parallels in Indian journalism's post-Emergency history.
It has been a full year since Kappan (42), a Delhi-based journalist from Poocholamad, Vengara, Malappuram, was taken into custody by UP Police. He was arrested on 5th October at a tollgate in Mathura while on his way in a car to Bhulgarhi village in Hathras district in UP along with three others. Bhulgarhi was where a 19-year-old Dalit girl died after being gang-raped on 29th September by her upper-caste neighbors. Her body was cremated at midnight without her family's consent. Kappan, the Delhi unit secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), and working with Azhimukham, a portal, was going to report the shocking incident which had made major headlines.
According to the police they were arrested at about 4.50 pm although Kappan's lawyer Wills Mathew said it was at 10.20 am. Kappan and his non-Malayali co-passengers -Atikur Rehman, Masud Ahmad, driver Mohammed Alam- were first charged under Section 151 of CrPC, meant to prevent the commission of a cognizable offense. Later they were clamped with the UAPA too. UP Police maintained that all of them belonged to the Popular Front of India (PFI) and were intending to incite violence. All that the police could impound from them were 6 Smart Phones, one laptop, and also some pamphlets against the violence at Hathras.
In the four decades of this writer's journalist career, I have not known any mediaperson who has faced the kind of harrowing experiences that Kappan has gone through during his incarceration. Kappan's wife Raihanath (37) and their three children have not yet been allowed to even meet him except during his five-day bail period! It took nearly 50 days after his arrest for Kappan to speak to his lawyer Wills Mathews who had to travel multiple times in vain to the Mathura jail to meet him. The jail itself was formerly a school with no facilities. Kappan's lawyer has submitted that he had heard inmates constantly wailing when he visited. None of them had masks even during the height of the pandemic.
Even the copy of the charge sheet was not given to Kappan or lawyers even 100 days after its submission to the court. Except for the five-day bail he was granted by the Supreme Court in February to visit his 90-year-old and critically ill mother who had expressed her last wish to meet her son, repeated pleas for bail made on his behalf by KUWJ and his wife, went unheeded. Even when the apex court granted him interim bail, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta strongly opposed it saying he was being projected as a 'martyr' in Kerala and would use the opportunity to meet people and further his cause. Three months later, Kappan's mother Khadeeja Kutty died.
According to his wife, Kappan, who is a chronic diabetic, was tortured inside the overcrowded jail; had collapsed inside his cell, and broken his teeth. He was allegedly chained to a cot in the hospital unable to even go to the toilet and denied proper treatment. The Supreme Court did not admit the Habeas Corpus filed by KUWJ. Kappan was tested positive for COVID and shifted to AIIMS, Delhi on 30 April only after Kappan's wife wrote to Chief Justice NV Ramana seeking intervention. Yet within a week, he was shunted back to Mathura hospital prompting his wife to file a notice to the UP government for contempt of court. Raiahanath and kids who travelled from Kerala to Delhi and later to Mathura to visit Kappan were denied permission. Besides these physical and mental agonies were the heavy financial difficulties his wife and kids have been going through as Kappan was their only breadwinner.
The basic charge made by the UP Police is that Kappan and the three others were members of PFI and were going to Hathras to incite violence. Kappan and PFI have already clarified that he had no connections with the organization though he had worked earlier with its now-defunct mouthpiece Thejas. Kappan, KUWJ and Azhimukham have repeatedly stated that his journey to Hathras was only to report an incident that had stunned the nation. Besides, is it a crime to be a member of an organization that is not proscribed in the country?
According to the FIR registered on 7th October, Kappan was charged under the following IPC sections: 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc), and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) along with provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Information Technology Act. The UP police submitted to the court in December that Kappan and others were moving on the direction of Mohammed Danish, an accused in the Delhi riots.
The 5000-word charge sheet filed in April by UP Police Special Task Force contained more surprises. It called Kappan 'a PFI thinktank' who didn't write like a journalist but only to incite Muslims and wrote to sympathize with Maoists and Communists'. The charge sheet highlighted 36 articles Kappan wrote in Malayalam on various topics like the Nizamuddin Markaz, anti-CAA protests, Delhi riots, etc. It charged Kappan with hiding the atrocities committed by Muslim rioters. The most stunning revelation came from two 'eyewitnesses' claiming to have seen Kappan making speeches at Hathras inciting a crowd and distributing money the day after the incident. This was when Kappan was traveling to Hathras for the first time on the day he was arrested from the Mathura Tollgate, 26 kilometers from the village.
Kappan received a reprieve on June 15 when Ramdutt Ram, the Sub Divisional Magistrate at Maant, Mathura dropped the proceedings on all charges made by the UP Police against Kappan and others except those under UAPA. The decision followed the police's inability to complete the inquiry within 6 months as stipulated under CrPc 116 (6). Kappan should be punished if he is proved guilty. Forget his freedom as a journalist, Kappan is entitled to various rights under our laws and also the Indian Constitution as a citizen or an accused or an undertrial. Hope he doesn't face the fate of another Malayali –Abdul Nasser Madani - who has now completed 20 years as an undertrial in Karnataka. He was acquitted of all charges in the first case -1998 Coimbatore blasts-after having spent 9 years in prison as an undertrial. He was arrested in 2010 in connection with the 2008 Bengaluru blasts and continues as an undertrial for the 11th year under house arrest in Bengaluru. The Supreme Court Chief Justice SA Bobde called Madani a 'dangerous man' and denied his plea to be moved to Kerala in March this year. Poonthura Siraj, Madani's brother-in-law and vice chairman of Peoples Democratic Party who had for long campaigned for his release died of cancer last month.