Jharkhand Journo Slapped With UAPA in Jail for Over 365 Days
Rupesh Singh in front of his residence in Ramgarh. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@Article14live
“Do not fight only for me. Fight to save the Adivasis. Fight the battle for water, forest and earth”—these were Rupesh Kumar Singh’s last words when he spoke with his partner Ipsa Shatakshi last time.
It has been over a year since the 37-year-old freelance journalist from Jharkhand was arrested for the second time from his home in Ramgarh. In 2019, he was jailed for six months for his alleged Maoist links but was released after the police failed to file a charge sheet.
Singh reported on tribal issues across Jharkhand for digital publications like Janchowk, Media Vigil, among other platforms before his arrest.
His last report revealed the impact of factory pollution on the tribals in Giridih. He was arrested within a few days of the report going viral on social media.
Early morning of July 17, 2022, 10 cops from Kharsawan landed at Singh’s house with an arrest warrant. His six-year-old son was shocked that his father was being mistreated and his neighbours were confused about his arrest.
For the next eight hours, according to his family, Singh was untraceable. Later, they learned that he was being questioned in Ranchi.
Singh was slapped with Sections 10 (the penalty for being a member of an unlawful association) and 13 (unlawful activities) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967; Sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly, inducing delivery of property), 467 (forgery of valuable security, will, etc.) and 471 (using a forged document as genuine) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860; and Section 17 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908.
“Since he was arrested under the UAPA, it seems like the police have the licence not even to take the trial forward,” Shatakshi told Newsclick.
“Out of the four FIRs lodged against him, he’s not even named in three. His name was added as per the alleged claims by leaders of a banned party,” she alleged.
Singh’s son Agrim, who turned six on July 31, would always ask him about his return during court visits. Initially, Singh told him that it would take some time but promised him eventually to be present on his birthday.
“Since Rupesh promised him to be present on his birthday, Agrim has been asking me when his birthday is and how much time was left before his father could be there with him,” a visibly sad Shatakshi said.
Since Agrim has become extremely sensitive to conversations about the police and his father, Shatakshi leaves the house whenever she receives a call about her husband.
Singh’s arrest affected Agrim’s schooling and Shatakshi’s profession. He had to change his school due to the “discrimination” he faced. “The behaviour of certain teachers towards Agrim changed after Rupesh’s arrest. His class teacher didn’t answer my calls when I wanted to know the marks he scored in the last test,” Shatakshi said.
Shatakshi, a former teacher, too faced discrimination at her school. One group of colleagues boycotted her after Singh’s arrest and the other supported her believing that he did nothing wrong.
In 2019, teams of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Andhra Pradesh State IB arrested Singh in Hazaribagh. On June 6, the Gaya Police took his custody after he was jailed “unlawfully” for two days. He was accused of being a key figure in the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) but was granted bail after more than six months.
Two years later, Singh’s name was on the list of 40 people whose numbers figured in a leaked database related to Pegasus hacking software.
Subsequently, the couple petitioned the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Centre to put forward materials “with respect to all investigation, authorisation and/or order(s) pertaining to the use of Pegasus on the petitioner”.
“When the Pegasus story came out, we were initially scared. But once the matter was in the apex court, we were relieved and thought nothing would happen. We didn’t expect the police at our doorstep,” Shatakshi said.
People familiar with Singh and his work said he was “fearless”. Media Vigil founder Abhishek Shrivastava said that media organisations in Delhi don’t cover issues in states like Jharkhand and Odisha. “There is a lot to cover in these states, but they get little attention.”
Mentioning regional journalists who work in remote areas and bring out unheard stories, he said, “Either journalists have an understanding with the state government and report accordingly or are fearless. Rupesh chose to be fearless. He wasn’t even recognised as a journalist by several in the fraternity—even bodies that support harassed journalists.”
Jan Chowk founder Mahendra Mishra seconded Shrivastava. “Rupesh was jailed because of his reporting from the rural and tribal belts of Jharkhand. The Giridih story possibly triggered his arrest—there can’t be another reason,” he told Newsclick.
Despite the social boycott, Shatakshi continues to fight with the support of her family and friends. “The battle is tough, but I will continue to fight.”
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