On June 4, Rupesh Kumar Singh, 33, a social activist and independent journalist, Mithilesh Kumar Singh, 45, social activist and lawyer at Ramgarh Civil Court, and his driver, Mohammad Kalam, 42, went missing while on their way to Aurangabad from Ramgarh, near Ranchi. Aurangabad is Mithilesh’s ancestral village and is situated some 50 km from Gaya, Bihar.
When the trio didn’t arrive at Aurangabad as expected and could not be reached over the phone, Mithilesh’s family decided to lodge a missing persons report at the Ramgarh police station. The report was filed the next day.
On June 6, around 1 pm, Rupesh’s brother received a call from Mithilesh who asked the former’s family to not worry. He also said that Rupesh was fine and they were on their way back to Ramgarh. Before Rupesh’s brother could ask anything, the call was disconnected. “We immediately rushed to Ramgarh police station and informed them about the call. At the same time, we were also concerned about not bothering police too much, but just wanted to keep them updated,” said Ipsa Shatakshi, Rupesh’s wife.
The next morning, Shatakshi was taken aback when she saw a news update about her husband in the local daily, Prabhat Khabar. According to the report, “Rupesh, Mithilesh and Mohammad Kalam were arrested with explosives from Dobhi More at NH-2, near Sherghati, around 30 km from Gaya.”
At around 8 am on Friday (June 7), a unit of Bihar Police searched Rupesh’s house in Ramgarh and Bokaro, and seized his mobile phone, laptop and some “Naxal literature”. “I kept asking them for a copy of the search warrant, but they didn’t produce any. They took away his laptop, a few books on Lenin, Marx and other ideological stuff,” Shatakshi said, adding, “The police also took my father and brother-in-law with them, and they also couldn’t be reached later.”
Is it a plot to target Rupesh for his Left ideology? “Rupesh always used to say that when you stand for the causes of poor and the marginalised, the establishment will try to crush you. That’s exactly what happened today. He has been arrested for working on Dalit and tribal issues. There is not an iota of doubt that the police is trying to implicate him in a false case,” Rupesh’s wife told Newslaundry. She added, “We all have seen how other activists like Sudha Bharadwaj have been falsely implicated. What is their crime? Only that they speak for the weaker sections of society and oppose the loot of the government.”
Meanwhile, on June 6, Gaya Assistant Superintendent of Police (Naxal) Navin Kumar Singh and Deputy Superintendent of Police Ravish Kumar held a joint press conference with three masked persons (Rupesh, Mithilesh and Kalam) in the background. According to them, the arrests were made during joint operations of the Cobra Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force and the local police. “We were tipped off that an explosive-laden four-wheeler was heading towards Chhakarbandha in Dumaria. Subsequently, we beefed up the security along NH-2 and started checking the vehicles approaching Chhakarbandha,” Ravish Kumar said.
Police officials claimed that they had recovered a huge consignment of detonators and gelatin sticks during the security check. They also seized some Naxal literature. However, according to local reporters who attended the press conference, some of the said “literature” were articles written by Rupesh in Laal Mati, a magazine in which he is the editor. Besides being an editor, Rupesh is known to be a revolutionary poet.
The police officials further stated that the accused were carrying the explosives from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, and Rupesh primarily supplies explosives to Maoists. The seized explosives they were allegedly carrying this time around were meant to harm security forces in Chhakarbandha and Bankey Bazar. The accused have been charged under Sections 414 and 120B of the India Penal Code, along with other sections under the Explosive Substances Act.
Shatakshi, however, rubbished the charges levelled by the police. She hardly remembers Rupesh having enmity with anyone, barring one incident during Rupesh’s college days. “When Rupesh was a student activist associated with the All India Student Association (AISA) in 2010, he was kidnapped from Bhagalpur. His political opponents taunted him saying, ‘bahut neta banta hai. Vidhayak banne ka sapna dekhta hai. Bataenge tumko‘ (Oh, you are trying to be a politician and dream of becoming an MLA. We will teach you a lesson). He articulates things very well and has always been upfront against the state’s atrocities on the poor and marginalised.” The charges levelled by police officials and the subsequent rebuttal by Rupesh’s wife have made the case ambiguous.
Furthermore, the reporting of arrests of alleged Maoists or Naxals can become one-sided as local journalists have to rely on information provided by the police and security officials. “We requested police officials to let us talk to the accused, but they never agree,” a local journalist said, on condition of anonymity.
As far as recovery of gelatin sticks and detonators go, Murari Kumar, a lawyer practising at the Gaya court said seizure of gelatin sticks and detonators have turned out to be fake in many cases. “I have handled a few cases and found that recovery of explosives and arrests are staged,” the lawyer added.
The authors are Patna-based freelance writer and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.