Speak Hindi: Siddique Kappan, Rauf Shareef challenge new jail “rule”

On 16 January, Raihanath Kappan, wife of jailed journalist Siddique Kappan, finally got a call from her husband, who was unreachable since shifting from Mathura Jail to Lucknow jail on 21 December last year.

Before Raihanath began her five-minute call, she was instructed to only interact in Hindi — a language she can’t understand or speak. 

“There is too much to say, too much to ask,” laments the mother of three. “I don’t know how to translate it.”

Since then, the five-minute call that happens every three days has become a tiring task as she has to spend the day waiting at a relative’s house to have access to a “translator.”

Last December, a local court in Mathura transferred the ongoing case to a special NIA court in Lucknow. Kappan, along with seven other alleged PFI activists were transferred to a High-security jail in Lucknow. 

But for Fathima Bathool, wife of Kappan’s co-accused, Rauf Shareef, she had not heard from him for weeks. Both wives have planned to move to court for proper interaction with their jailed husbands.

Kappan, a Delhi-based Malayali journalist, was arrested along with three others on 5 October 2020 on his way to Hathras to report a caste-rape incident. Later, Campus Front of India leader Rauf Shareef was arrested from Kerala in the same FIR for conspiracy. 

Eight people have been accused of intending to start a caste-based riot and creating communal disharmony. The 5000-page charge sheet is filed against them who are also booked under UAPA, India’s stringent terror law. 

Activists and human rights groups have criticised the case weapon to shift the focus from government failure. 

“For two weeks there were no calls. I got desperate and found the number on google,” Raihanath told Maktoob

She learnt that her number was sent to verify to the Superintendent of Police in Malappuram, Kerala, who missed checking their mail. 

Once resolved, she thought her “misery will drop down a little”. But the new jail system, in a distant land, has kept her grueling.

“They have returned the books, pen and even money order sent to him. There is no such law and they know the court will allow us eventually. But they just want to harass us,” she added. 

“Lost in Translation” 

For Bathool, the process has been even harder. Phone number verification has been rejected. She hopes that her husband is informed about it and will initiate the process.

In the last two months, she only heard once from Shareef after an appeal to the jail superintendent through Raihanth. 

“The call lasted for 40 seconds. I had to share it with my mother-in-law. We were asked to speak in Hindi. I rushed, but there was too little time,” laments Bathool

Bathool gave birth to a girl while Shareef was in jail, who never met her father.

“He is a very emotional person. He would say, he can’t stand watching them come to jail and leave from his eyesight,” says Bathool. 

Both the wives said they were adapting to the pattern in Mathura jail, where both got to speak to their husbands every day.

Shareef had conveyed that he is “fine” through a fellow prisoner who was released recently. 

“Someone called and said he had a message for me from my husband.”

Both wives told Maktoob that they are keen on BJP losing the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, to access “minimum justice.”

A harassment pattern

“There is no provision in the jail manual to stop prisoners from speaking their own language,” states Advocate Abu Bakr Sabbaq. 

“The accused has the right to get his proceedings and charge sheet in the language he is literate. But often prisoners are denied synch rights in cases like these,” Sabbaq told Maktoob.

Raihanath plans to go to Lucknow and sort things out herself.

Both the families have decided to go to court to ensure they can talk independently.