Days after he got bail, journalist Siddique Kappan sat at a park bench near his house, chatting with a former colleague. His wife Raihanat walked around, staying close to her husband and their daughter, who sat on a swing with a phone in her hand.
Kappan walked out of a Lucknow jail on February 2, 2023, 28 months after the Uttar Pradesh police arrested him on October 5, 2020 when he was enroute to Hathras to cover the rape and murder of a Dalit girl. According to conditions imposed by a Supreme Court order, Kappan is required to stay in Delhi for six weeks before he can go to Mallapuram, his hometown in Kerala.
Is he looking forward to going home? "No," Kappan said. “My mother passed away when I was still in jail. There is no one there for me, just nostalgia,” he told BOOM. “I will go for some time, but I know I will return to Delhi,” he added.
BOOM met Kappan and his wife at their Delhi residence where he spoke about his case, his time in jail, and how from writing stories, he became the story. "As a journalist covering the UAPA, I never imagined I would fall victim to this act," Kappan said.
"From writing stories to becoming the story"
Siddique Kappan told BOOM that his career as a journalist began in 2009; in 2014 he started covering the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) beat full-time. "At the time of my arrest, I had just started working on a book on UAPA," Kappan said from his compact room in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area.
“On my laptop, I had data on how many UAPA cases were registered in India. How many accused, how many acquitted, how many cases in each police station, and how many registered,” he said. But the case on him is something he never expected. “From writing stories, I became the story,” Kappan said.
It's still difficult for him to imagine what he and his family went through in the past two and a half years, he says. “Mera yeh crime tha, ki main reporting karne gaya (my crime was that I went to report),” Kappan said.
The journalist said that he did not even know he was booked under UAPA until he found out later through media reports. That's when Kappan knew that he was going to be behind bars for a long time.
Kappan likened the UAPA to other draconian laws like the now-repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA). “In UAPA, the case is such that it is up to the individual to prove his innocence,” Kappan said. “It is impossible to get bail,” he said explaining the nature of the draconian law.
"Life can be very difficult for someone who is branded a terrorist. In such times, you will not even get legal aid,” he said.
“I have seen that when allegations like ‘terrorist’, ‘foreign funding’, ‘deshdrohi’ traitor are leveled on people, there is a huge hue and cry in social media. Here, in such cases, even your family will get scared; that my son, or my father, or my husband, or my brother is a terrorist,” Kappan said.
“I have seen so many cases where people don’t have advocates to fight the case for them. Their families are illiterate, and some don’t have money,” the 42-year-old said.
Kappan said that there are cases where people who may have been wrongly accused have admitted to their guilt only to get out of jail. They may have stayed behind bars for more than five years for a crime that attracts less punishment on conviction. But instead of applying for bail, they would simply plead guilty.
"Have not lost faith in journalism"
Everything is not bleak for Kappan. The journalist admits that because of his background and profession, he and his family had it much easier than others. “My wife and my children have been my frontline defenders,” Kappan said.
Kappan is grateful for the help he got from his colleagues, friends, politicians, social activists, politicians, and lawyers. "They all came forward to help," Kappan said. His case was so politicised, that the journalist felt he was more like a "political prisoner”. "It was just a political vendetta," he added.
It is not lost on Kappan that so far he has got off easy. “I think, if compared to other cases, I got out in only two years, which is early,” he added.
In jail, Kappan said he was allowed to read newspapers. He would follow his case through the papers. "From reading opinion pieces—not the news, the views, he clarified—there were many who supported me. Only a micro-section of the media was highly communal and targeted me," the journalist said.
This has kept my faith in journalism alive, Kappan said.
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