Ranchi— Independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh completed one year in jail on July 17th, marking a grim milestone in his imprisonment. He was arrested last year over allegations of supporting Maoist groups through funding and was slapped with UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and stringent sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The police claimed that the journalist was involved in organizing funds for Maoist members. The arrest sparked condemnation from human rights organizations and journalists' bodies, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Indian Journalists Union (IJU).
In January of this year, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, wrote to the government of India, expressing concerns that "Mr. Singh is reportedly falsely charged in retaliation for his legitimate human rights work."
Rupesh Singh, an independent journalist, has been a crusader against exploitative corporates and their nexus with governments. Just a few days before his arrest, Singh exposed how industrial waste dumped in the area was threatening people's health. A young girl's face became severely deformed due to a tumor allegedly caused by the industrial waste in the Giridih region of Jharkhand. It is noteworthy that Rupesh was previously arrested on similar grounds in 2019 but was released when the police failed to file a chargesheet against him.
The Mooknayak spoke to Ipsa Satakshi, wife of Rupesh Kumar Singh, who shared their harrowing experiences.
The Mooknayak: What are the charges against Rupesh Kumar Singh, and what is the status of the cases?
Ipsa Satakshi: The allegations against him are the same as in 2021, i.e., allegations of links with the Maoists, and a chargesheet has been filed in this case. Out of the four cases against him, we have filed for bail in three cases, and he has been granted bail in two cases related to Chaibasa and Bokaro districts of Jharkhand. One case is pending in the High Court.
The Mooknayak: What kind of treatment is Rupesh being subjected to in jail?
Ipsa Satakshi: Initially, the treatment meted out to Rupesh was not good; he was subjected to mental torture as he was kept with sick people. After we wrote applications and media pressure mounted, he was removed from that environment and placed in police remand and later in isolation. He was housed in a dilapidated building in SaraiKela district, where there was extensive water inundation during rains. Rupesh protested against the conditions, but the authorities remained unresponsive. On August 15th, he began a hunger strike, which led to some partial improvements. He wrote a letter to the Honorable President on September 8th, demanding adequate food among other things. On September 13th, he observed a hunger strike on the death anniversary of Jatin Das, similar to other political prisoners. I last spoke to him on September 9th. On September 12th, he was transferred to Ranchi Jail, initially kept in a punishment cell, possibly due to his demands. When I visited him, I was not allowed to speak to Rupesh, and he was unaware of my visit. After six days, he was moved from the punishment cell. Subsequently, on April 17th, he was transferred to Beur Jail in Patna in connection with a case lodged against him, where he has remained ever since.
The Mooknayak: How are you managing your family after your husband's arrest?
Ipsa Satakshi: When Rupesh was arrested, I was teaching at a private school. However, due to the case, I was unable to devote time to the school, and after three to four months, the authorities asked me to discontinue. I now sustain our livelihood by providing home tuitions.
The Mooknayak: How has the case and the proceedings impacted your child?
Ipsa Satakshi: The case has taken an emotional toll on our son. When he went to meet his father in jail, he asked him how many more days he would be there and when he would come back. Rupesh replied that he would be back on his birthday, which is July 31st, and therefore our son is hopeful that his father will be home by then.
The Mooknayak: What kind of support have you received from civil society and the journalist fraternity?
Ipsa Satakshi: I have received immense moral support from people following Rupesh's arrest, and I am grateful to everyone. CPI (M-L) MLA Vinod Kumar Singh raised his voice by writing a letter demanding Rupesh's release. Organizations such as Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Jharkhand Jan Sangharsh Morcha, and Adivasi-Mulvasi Vikas Manch have organized programs protesting Rupesh's arrest. The demand for his release has also gained international attention, with an advertisement by CPJ (Committee to protect Journalists) in The Washington Post calling for the release of Rupesh and five other journalists. Rupesh has always advocated for the rights of the downtrodden and Adivasis, whose lands are being seized through the corporate-government nexus, leading to their suppression. In tribal-dominated regions of Jharkhand, aerial strikes are being conducted. I am hopeful that Rupesh will be released as he has never done anything detrimental to society. However, I am also apprehensive that the government, resenting his work, may impose further cases to keep him behind bars, as their main objective is to suppress the people's voices.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Vikram Singh Chauhan, an independent journalist and civil society activist based in Chhattisgarh, said, "The allegations against Rupesh are clichéd. Even in Chhattisgarh, the Raman Singh government used to frame activists in similar cases. Rupesh Kumar Singh is among the 40 individuals who were under covert government surveillance using the Pegasus app. They cannot prove anything substantial in court; their main purpose is to suppress the voices of the people. I believe that he will be released soon as the charges against him lack substance."