On December 6, after almost six months in jail, journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh, 33, and lawyer Mithilesh Kumar Singh, 45, were granted bail by the Court of Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate in Sherghati in Gaya district of Bihar. Since Bihar Police failed to file chargesheet within the stipulated time of 180 days, they were released as per The Code of Criminal Procedure.
On June 6, Rupesh, Mithilesh and their driver Mohammad Kalam were arrested by the Cobra Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force and Bihar Police in a joint operation, while they were on their way to Aurangabad from Ramgarh, near Ranchi, Jharkhand. Both were booked under various sections of Indian Penal Code, Explosive Substances Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Until recently, Ipsa Shatakshi, Rupesh’s wife, had been his only connection to the external world. While Mithilesh has remained aloof from media, Rupesh, after his release, has made serious allegations against the security agencies.
According to Rupesh, the officials who arrested him were planning to kill him by orchestrating an encounter. When he realised this, he began pleading saying he was a journalist, not a Naxal like they had assumed. But one of the officials told him that the order for his encounter had come from the higher-ups in the administration, he claims.
After his arrest, he adds, while he was sitting handcuffed in a car with a cover over his face, he kept on asking where he was being taken but received no response. He says he heard certain words such as ‘encounter’ being used by the officials. It left him terrified.
The officials, he claims, kept on accusing him of being on his way to meet Sandeep Yadav, a Naxal commander.
After a drive of a couple of hours, Rupesh alleges, they stopped and the policemen started loading explosives into his vehicle. When he resisted, he says the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Gaya, Ravish Kumar told him, “Oh Rupesh ji, we have arrested you, how could we leave you so easily? We will put our best effort to strengthen the case against you.”
He says even when a press conference was organised, he, along with Mithilesh and Kalam, were brought only for a photo-op. They weren’t allowed to address the media.
Rupesh firmly believes that his articles on the alleged killing of a tribal worker Motilal Baske had irked the security forces, for which he was being framed.
Talking about Motilal Baske’s alleged encounter killing, Rupesh recounts, “On June 9, 2017, Motilal Baske, a tribal palanquin worker, was killed by CRPF. Next day, it was widely reported in local newspapers that Motilal Baske, shot down by CRPF, was a decorated Naxal with a reward of Rs 15 lakh over his head. Suspicion about the killing emerged when I saw the image of Motilal Baske in newspapers. He wore a vest and lungi and hawaai chappals (slippers). This is an unusual attire for a decorated and wanted Naxal. I went to ground zero and reported the nitty-gritty of the said encounter. I also reported that Motilal Baske was a beneficiary of a number of government schemes and also an affiliate of Draupadi Murmu, the then governor of Jharkhand. Critical questions were raised on Baske’s killing in my report. This led a movement in the region and locals started a massive protest against the security agencies. Opposition parties questioned the killing. Questions were also raised in Jharkhand Assembly about the alleged encounter.”
His report questioned the security forces, and soon after he learnt from his colleagues that some officials had inquired about him.
While the security forces never approached him directly or tried intimidating him, they kept an eye on him, Rupesh states. During the interrogation, he says, they repeatedly asked him why he wrote against the establishment and why he didn’t write about the government’s policies.
He claims that one of the officers during the interrogation confirmed that they had been tapping his phone calls for a year.
However, Rupesh also believes that it wasn’t only Baske’s story that infuriated the security forces. It was his general inclination towards left-wing politics that put him on their radar. He had also reported on the police’s combing operations in Naxal-affected areas of Jharkhand, the condition of mine workers, and displacement of tribals.
The police seized his documents and laptop containing his upcoming book. Rupesh claims to have been working on a book for the last couple of years on how the nexus between politicians and corporates has led to massive loot of land, leading to the displacement of indigenous communities in Jharkhand. “That would have been a massive expose. I am afraid that is destroyed,” says Rupesh.
He claims the police seized around 100 to 150 books from his library. However, they only listed seven, which included Salaam Bastar by Rahul Pandita, Laal Galiyara by Ramsharan Joshi, Basic elements of Communist Party and Khun ki Phankudiyaan by Ngugi wa Thiong’ o.
Soon after Rupesh was arrested, his family was forced out of their rented apartment in Bokaro. A few of his friends even cut ties or denied any affiliation with him.
Speaking about his political affiliations, Rupesh acknowledges that he was an activist with the All India Students Union, the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation. But in 2012, he left owing to political differences. Since then, he says, he hasn’t been affiliated with any political party and has never met any Naxal. Not even as a journalist.
Rupesh asserts that he wasn’t physically assaulted during his time behind bars because of the support and nationwide solidarity that he received.
Talking about his future course of action, he says he is consulting with his lawyers to get the case against him dismissed by the court. “There is a certain pattern in the arrests in the country. Be it the arrest of Rupesh or the activists of Bhima Koregaon; dissenters are being framed. It’s political. How can you afford to remain apolitical in these highly political times!” he argues.
(Author is New Delhi – based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)