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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » 'I Couldn't Believe I Was A Free Man'

'I Couldn't Believe I Was A Free Man'

Last updated on: February 10, 2023 01:53 IST
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'How long can you keep a person in jail using false cases?'

IMAGE: Journalist Sidhique Kappan shows the thumbs-up sign after being released from the Lucknow district jail, February 2, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Delhi-based journalist Sidhique Kappan was imprisoned in Uttar Pradesh for more than two years.

He corrects Shobha Warrier, "I was in jail for two years, and five days short of four months."

Only a person who has experienced the horror of getting arrested while on his way to report a crime will know the magnitude of being in jail for doing his duty.

It was on October 5, 2020, that the Uttar Pradesh police arrested Kappan along with three other young men in Mathura under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The UP police alleged that the journalist was linked to the Popular Front of India, a Muslim organisation based out of Kerala, and charged him with sedition under UAPA.

Finally, after a prolonged legal fight, on February 2, 2023, Kappan walked out of jail after being granted bail in the case.

As per the bail norms, he has to be in Delhi and report to the police for six weeks.

After more than two years, he is with his wife and three children who have traveled from Malappuram in Kerala to be with him.

Shobha spoke to Kappan five days after his release.

Though she has spoken frequently to his young wife Raihana Kappan from November 2020 onwards, it was the first time that she was speaking to Kappan himself.

The first of a two-part MUST READ Interview:


You came out of jail as a free man after two yearrs. What was in your mind when you looked around?

That was a moment I couldn't believe I was released from jail and am a free man. When I saw so many journalists waiting for me outside, most of them my friends from Delhi, I wondered whether it was all real.

There was a time I was also with a mike or a notepad and pen to talk to people. And there I was, a newsmaker with my friends making me the news! Being on the other side of the fence was an unexpected and unusual feeling.

My journalist friends asked me, are you happy? I couldn't answer the question in English or Hindi or Malayalam. I don't know what I was feeling then. Though I said I was happy, I didn't feel any emotion at that particular moment. What I felt was, maybe something that is indescribable.

I didn't know what was happening to me. I couldn't believe I was a free man, and I was not going to be in jail anymore.

You were close to getting bail several times, but it was denied in the end. Though some of the people who were with you got bail, you didn't. When did you get the information that you would be out of jail the next day?

Oh no, I didn't know anything the previous day. Only when they called out my name just before the release that I knew I was going to be a free man. Twelve people were released that day, and I happened to be the 12th man!

First, it was the deputy jailor who does the release verification by stamping two times on your hand. He would do that after we remove our shirt and examine whether we had any bruises on the body.

Then, I was sent to the jailor. In fact, when the jailor stamped on my hand that it became a reality for me. Till then, I was totally clueless.

He then told me in Hindi with a smile on his face, "Sidhique, a lot of media people are waiting for you there. Speak to them carefully. Don't get carried away and say anything against the government or the police or the jail administration. If you talk anything against anyone, there are chance of slapping more cases on you. So, be careful."

I felt a bit nervous thinking of such an eventuality.

Only when I stood in the middle surrounded by all my journalist friends, did I truly feel that nobody would take me in, and I was a free man. I also felt I was safe and they would not be able to take me back.

I read that journalist Kumar Sauvir who furnished your bail bond, was waiting for you outside. What did you two talk when you met him there?

Four people who have never met me or know me came forward to stand surety for me. If not for them, I would not have been able to talk to you today.

The police tried to dissuade them from supporting me saying, if I ran away they would be in trouble. But they couldn't use such tactics against Kumar Sauvir saab and Professor Roop Rekha Verma madam.

Though Kumar Sauvir saab was in the hospital due to a paralytic attack, he was there outside the jail waiting for me. I couldn't believe instead of me going to him, he had come to see me. The moment I went near him, he just hugged me.

We didn't say a single word. Both of us just stood there hugging each other. Words had no meaning between us at that moment. A word like thanks was too small to express what I had to say.

Tears flowed from his eyes and finally he said, this is an unusual moment. But I had nothing to tell him. No word I have learnt had the power to express my gratitude for what he had done for me.

Did I speak to him later? No. Maybe I spoke to him through my silence.

Before leaving Lucknow, did you meet Professor Roop Rekha Verma?

Of course. My first visit was to see Roop Rekha Verma ji. She hugged me the moment I entered her house. We also stood like that for some time without uttering a word.

Later she said, "During this dark period, as a person who believes in justice and truth, what I have done is a very small gesture."

When you were in jail for a crime you had not done, at any point, did you lose faith in humanity? And when total strangers like Kumar Sauvir and Professor Verma came forward to help you, did it restore your faith in humanity?

When there was a lot of pressure in the lower courts, I thought I would not get out of jail for five years. In fact, I had told my wife and children that it would take five years for me to go back to them.

Do you know why I felt that way? For 10 years I was working as a journalist in Delhi covering all the UAPA cases. If I were to say I am the only journalist in India who has specialised in UAPA cases, it is not an exaggeration!

Till the day I went to jail, I had covered those cases. In fact, I have collected the details of all the people who were arrested under UAPA including the names of the police stations, through RTI from the home ministry.

This data was there in the laptop I carried with me.

Naturally, I knew what would happen if you were arrested under UAPA. That was why I warned my wife and children not to expect me for the next five years.

It even takes six months to file a charge sheet in the UAPA cases.

It was only due to the support of so many major newspapers, senior journalists like N Ram, and many human rights activists all over India that I am a free man today. So many senior journalists whom I have always admired but never met, supported me during this period.

I also knew what the police had were false cases against me, and there was no truth in any of them. How long can you keep a person in jail using false cases?

But as an accused in a UAPA case, it was up to me to prove that I had not done anything wrong.

Even today, some people ask, why did a journalist carry pamphlets with him? There are people who are educated but blindly believe all the lies perpetrated by the police.

So, it is tough to come out of false cases and prove yourself innocent.

Is it not ironical that a person who has done such detailed study on UAPA cases, had to go to jail under UAPA?

Yes, a person who has taken PhD in UAPA cases going to jail under UAPA is akin to a cancer specialist dying of cancer.

Another irony is, I was one journalist who had been constantly writing against atrocities against women, and Dalits, and here I got arrested when I was going to write about a Dalit girl who was raped and murdered.

We don't project ourselves as Hindu journalists or Muslim journalists; we are just journalists. When you were working as a journalist, at any point did you become conscious of your Muslim identity?

Never. When I was working, I never felt any discrimination because I was a Muslim.

Only when I went inside the jail, did I realise that I was a Muslim! Because I am a Muslim, I was called a terrorist, a terrorist who was funding terrorism.

Using phrases like terrorist, person funding terrorism, etc, they tried to disassociate those who were supporting me. And they were able to make many good people in this secular society move away from me when they described me as a terrorist.

Do you know how the Hindi media described me? The 'so-called journalist'! When I was the secretary of the Delhi unit of the Kerala Union of Journalists!

I was also a member of the Press Club of India, New Delhi. I went to Hathras with the Press Club of India card with me. I showed the Press Club of India card to the police, but what did they say? I only had the visiting card of Tejas which was closed in 2018.

Did you read anywhere that I had with me the Press Club of India card? Let the UP police show what they have taken from me.

They also publicised that I was not even working as a journalist, and I had not done a single story for six months.

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