THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Kerala — Nineteen years old at the time, Raihanath was pursuing a certificate course in medical laboratory technology in her hometown Chemmad in Kerala’s Malappuram district when her family arranged her marriage with a computer teacher from the adjacent village of Vengara in July 2002. Her parents worked as agricultural labourers to support six children.
A few months after their marriage, her husband Siddique Kappan left for Dubai to start a software business with his relatives, leaving his elderly parents in Raihanath’s care. Two years later, Kappan returned from Dubai after his business failed. Four months after that, he boarded a train to Delhi to start his newly chosen profession of journalism.
A mother of two boys and a girl, Raihanath (37) said that she liked being a homemaker and taking care of her extended family. Content with Kappan’s daily calls and talking about his life in the big city, she seldom traveled outside Vengara.
All that changed in October 2020, when Kappan (43) was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police when he was on his way to Hathras to meet the family of a Dalit woman who had been gang-raped by upper caste men and then forcibly cremated by the local administration.
A reporter with the Malayalam portal Azhimukham and the Delhi unit secretary of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), Kappan was charged with terrorism under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2019, and Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 124-A (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between groups on ground of religion and race) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings).
Wearing a burqa and accompanied by her three children, Raihanath is completing a year of travel in and outside Kerala, knocking at every possible door, trying to convince people that her husband did not go to UP to start a riot.
“I feel exhausted. I am finding no ray of hope, but I have no option other than to hope. I have to keep trying. Who else will fight for him?” she said.
Following a Supreme Court order, Kappan got bail for five days in February this year to visit his ailing mother. It was the only time in the last year that Raihanath saw him. His 90-year-old mother died in June.
In Mathura Central Jail, Kappan tested positive for COVID-19. Suffering from acute diabetes, he was severely injured after a fall in April. It was reported that he was handcuffed to a bed and not allowed to use the toilet at the K.M. Medical College, Mathura. Although the Supreme Court had ordered for him to be shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in New Delhi, Raihanath said that she was not permitted to see him. Even when he was released from the hospital in May, Raihanath said that the police took him back without letting her see him.
Human rights activists say that the police and prison authorities cited Covid-19 restrictions while turning back visitors even during extraneous or exceptional situations.
Months after recovering from Covid-19, Kappan’s wife said that he was plagued with poor health and a severe anxiety disorder.
“In the last 12 months, I have visited Mathura eight times to meet Kappan in prison, but every time in vain. I have not been allowed to visit him in jail,” she said.
I am finding no ray of hope, but I have no option but to hope.
When she did not receive his daily call on 5 October 2020, Raihanath tried calling him — several times. There was no answer. She was worried, mostly because she wanted to remind him to take his diabetes medication — something that she did every day.
Raihanath recalled that it was the next morning, and she was supervising the construction of their new house, when she learned that Kappan had been arrested. Her relatives had heard it on the news.
Overcome with anxiety at first, Raihanath started speaking out for her husband. As the weeks and months passed, she was more at ease saying things in public and to the press.
Telling us that she was not accepting help from any religious or social organizations with questionable credentials, Raihanath said that their deliberate attempts to portray Kappan and his family as sympathizers of the Popular Front of India (PFI).
“Neither my husband nor I have favoured any radical Islamic organizations,” said Raihanath.
Raihanath said that it was a job-related compulsion that forced Kappan to work for PFI’s now-defunct Malayalam newspaper Tejas for two years in Delhi. The PFI activists, who were arrested along with Kappan, were known to him from his days in Tejas, and he was only using their vehicle to reach Hathras, she said.
Of the three other men arrested in Mathura on 5 October, Atiq-ur-Rehman of Muzaffarnagar and Masood Ahmed of Bahraich were members of the Campus Front of India, an affiliate of the PFI, and Alam of Rampur, who was driving.
As per the charge sheet, Kappan worked as a “think tank” of the PFI. The UP Police have previously said that he was carrying pamphlets about safety for women, aimed at “amplifying social hostility and public revolt.”
On 1 October 2021, The Indian Express carried a report quoting parts of the chargesheet filed by Special Task Force (STF) police of UP, which says that Kappan did not write like a “responsible” journalist, “only and only reports to incite Muslims”, and also wrote to “sympathize with Maoists and Communists.” The IE report said that the STF accused Kappan of writing 36 provocative articles for Malayalam online portals on sensitive issues like anti-CAA protests, Nizamuddin Markaz gathering of Islamic clerics after the Covid outbreak, Delhi riots, the Ram Temple construction in Ayodhya, and the charge sheet filed against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam, who was jailed on sedition charges.
The characterization of his work as a journalist in a police case that invokes terror charges has been met with criticism.
Wills Mathew, Kappan’s lawyer, said that he was yet to receive a copy of the chargesheet, but the police claim of recovering “incriminating material and pamphlets” was false.
“Kappan is a journalist of conviction, and he has never done any communal writing,” said Mathew. “Only after getting a copy of the chargesheet will we get a clear picture. Whatever appeared in the national media so far involved nothing serious. Writing and publishing some articles, defending minority communities, must not be treated as a crime.”
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUJM), of which Kappan was the Delhi Unit secretary, has been mobilizing support for him over the past year.
Keralite and veteran journalist B R P Bhaskar said the charge sheet was a “classic case of how police are infringing on media freedom.” “The police can land any reputed journalist in India in jail using the same yardstick, and it is highly deplorable,” he said.
N.C. Asthana, a retired Director General of Police (DGP) of Kerala, said that the allegations raised by the UP Police require clear supporting evidence, and they did not appear to have it. “They will fail in any court,” he said. “The focus now must be on the early start of the trial.”
The focus now must be on the early start of the trial.
In October 2020, Congress Lok Sabha MP from Chalakudy Benny Behanan and CPI’s Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Viswam wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for his intervention to ensure Kappan’s release. Congress Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor has said that Kappan has been detained for “no reason.” After reports that he had been handcuffed to a hospital bed in Mathura, 11 Kerala MPs wrote to Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, calling for an urgent hearing.
Raihanath said that she visited Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram twice and sought his intervention, but he had taken no initiative in favour of Kappan.
After a great deal of persuasion from the KUWJ, the Chief Minister wrote a letter to his UP counterpart Yogi Adityanath in May this year to facilitate treatment for Kappan on humanitarian grounds.
Raihanath told us that she has no income to support her family and that she and her children are living on contributions from close relatives. Raihanath said that her eldest son Musamil wants to enroll in a BSc Computer Science course, but has not been able to focus on his studies since his father was incarcerated. Her son Muhammed and daughter Mehnas are still in school.
“He calls twice a week. He sounds depressed and anxious. The continuing incarceration without trial or bail has affected him badly. Financial insecurities of the family and the future of the children are also worrying him,” she said.