By Abhay Kumar
Adivasi Rights journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh completes one year in jail. In his absence, the family has suffered hardship. Her wife Ipsa Shatakshi has been fired from her teaching job at a private school, yet she remains resolute in waging the battle outside.
While 38-year-old Rupesh is put in jail and the family needs more financial support, Ipsa was asked to quit the job. Apart from the family needs, she has to pay for the education of six-year-old son, Agrim. Amid this financial crisis, she has to offer private tuition. From pursuing the legal battle to fighting for the release of her husband, she works as a brave woman. Even in this difficult time, she is pursuing law and doing a course in journalism through the distance mode. Earlier she did B.Com and M.Com and earned a degree in Bachelor of Education. During an interaction, she is optimistic and firmly believes that Rupesh would be released soon. Her political conviction keeps her resolute and unwavering.
At present, Ipsa lives in Ramgarh (Jharkhand) while his husband is imprisoned in Patna’s Beur Jail. When Rupesh was earlier kept in Ranchi Jail, it was much easier for her to meet him because of the relative proximity of the jail to her home. Not many people know that Rupesh and Ipsa became friends through social media. She has been very active on social media platforms and Rupesh first noticed her there. Her father Vishad Kumar is a journalist and politically left-oriented person. Rupesh has also been associated with the left organisations since his student days. Their shared political worldviews brought them closer. In 2016, they finally got married.
In an online interview with the writer, 38-year-old Ipsa recalled that a few colleagues at her school were quite helpful. But later the school authority decided to fire her. The authority did not say it bluntly but employed an excuse: “I was being advised that I should focus more on my husband by leaving the job. Perhaps, the school authority was under pressure not to keep me further. I was given unsolicited advice that earning money should be less important for me than focusing on my husband’s case.” When she lost her job, her life became ever more difficult. Later, she had to offer private tuition to feed her family. Moreover, she had to pay the tuition fee for her young child’s education.
Remember that one year ago on July 17, 2022, Rupesh was arrested from his hometown Ramgarh by Jharkhand police. Since he was relentlessly writing against the exploitation of natural resources in Adivasi areas and raising voices against the attacks on their lives and liberty through his pen, he became a thorn in the eye of the establishment. As an exercise of silencing him, he was first arrested in 2019 under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Since the Bihar police failed to file the charge sheet, he got bail in December 2019. But again he was arrested last year and charged with several provisions of the IPC. So far, he has been charged with four cases including draconian UAPA. At present, he has been incarcerated in Beur Jail.
Earlier, Rupesh alleged that his phone was put under surveillance by Pegasus (spyware). To substantiate his claim, he said that whenever he reached any Adivasi area for reporting, he noticed that some unidentified people were already present there to persuade the local people against him. According to him, this was an indicator that his movement was being monitored. Against this regime of surveillance, he, along with some other journalists, moved to the Supreme Court.
While Rupesh has been brought up in Bhagalpur, he has reported extensively from both Jharkhand and Bihar. For the last seven years, his stories were windows for the outside world to the ongoing system of exploitation of Adivasis and the resources owned by them. His writings have exposed the nexus between the State and the corporate forces. He wrote on topics which hardly figure in the mainstream media. He has been unambiguously eloquent against the ongoing militarization process in the Adivasi areas and in the name of combating “left-wing extremists”. He wrote with substantive evidence that such an exercise has resulted in the gross human rights violation of a large number of Adivasis. He has provided a valid critique of the developmental model that the ruling classes are forcing upon the people. He has also argued that the areas inhabited by the Adivasi community are bereft of the basic amenities including the safe drinking water, while, at the same time, the localities occupied by the outsiders and business classes have every facility.
As a journalist, he wrote several stories against the ongoing plunder by the corporate forces. He even highlighted the violation of the special provisions enshrined in the Constitution for the protection of the Adivasi lands. He wrote that regimes, irrespective of their ideologies and social base, were busy robbing the Adivasi communities of their lands and resources and passing them to the rich and the corporate forces. These concerns raised by independent journalist Rupesh have made him a special target of the ruling elites.
Much of the writings and speeches of Rupesh are available online. He has mostly written for Hindi newspapers and news portals. His concerns have largely been ignored by the mainstream media as well as a large chunk of the alternative media. He could only express himself at a few alternative media sites. Even though he has got little space, he could raise serious questions about the model of development and the plight of the Adivasi community. Environmental degradation in Adivasi areas, the lack of basic facilities such as safe drinking water, electricity, schools and hospitals, the looting of natural resources, the illegal occupation of Adivasi lands, their human rights violations and the increasing militarization are some of his central concerns.
The strength of Rupesh has been his ability to reach the spot and report from the conflict zones. Slowly, he got admiration from the Adivasi community. He is seen as a people’s journalist. His substantive writing and his growing credibility among the Adivasi communities made him an ire of the establishment. Even the Hemant Soren Government, which claims to be a champion of the Adivasi rights to which Rupesh has dedicated his journalism, remains silent about his suffering.
In January this year, Ipsa sent a letter to chief minister Soren and sought justice for him. The letter was later published by the media and was quite debated. However, she has not received any acknowledgement from Soren so far, not to talk of any formal reply from him or his assurance to address her grievances. In her letter, she asked the chief minister to spell out what wrong Rupesh had committed. She claimed that Rupesh was doing exactly what Hemant Soren spoke as an opposition leader. Both spoke against the exploitation of the Adivasi community. But when he, she alleged, came to power, he had forgotten his promises to the Adivasi community.
Having said this, she explained the reason behind the two-contradictory approaches of the ruling classes. She said that when leaders were in the opposition, they would speak about the suffering of the people; but when they came to power, they would forget their promises. “This is the real character of the power. Greed and profit are their major motives” said Ipsa. While the so-called government has disappointed her, she appreciated the efforts made by the progressive forces in supporting the campaign for the release of Rupesh.
Giving the details about his case, Ipsa said that Rupesh is currently charged with four cases including the UAPA. Out of four, he has got bail in two cases. In jail, Rupesh has waged several struggles for the rights of prisoners. Even during his stay in jail, he was hit by chicken pox. Despite all these difficulties, he is pursuing M.A. in History from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and has recently appeared for the first-year exam. He is also going to appear for another exam for a journalism course in December. She recalled that during her last meeting, Rupesh assured her that she should focus on the education of his son and be less concerned about him. She said that even in jail, his study and struggles are going on: “Rupesh continues to struggle for his rights and he keeps his study on.”
Despite facing a lot of hardship, Ipsa believes that the struggles of Rupesh are much bigger than her own struggles. She emphasised that even the State repression did not deter his spirit to continue his work. She said that Rupesh had done nothing wrong but just carried out his task of being a journalist: “Rupesh has been kept in jail because the establishment does not want him to write about the issues of Adivasi. That is why a new case has been slapped on him recently.”
Ipsa Shatakshi is not off the mark when she says that the journalism of Rupesh has created discomfort for the ruling establishment. In the process of the plunder of the natural resources in the Adivasi areas, his journalism is seen as an impediment. But what is the way out? Her answer is the need to forge wider solidarity and gather the courage to speak for the free press. She, therefore, makes an appeal that all journalists should raise their voices against the attack on the media by expressing their solidarity with all political prisoners.
Watch the full interview here:
(Dr Abhay Kumar is an independent journalist. He has also taught political science at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University.)
Ph.D. (Modern History)
Centre for Historical Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University
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