Batool had her hands full with her pregnancy, Monis was kept busy by his demanding job as an engineer, Bushra would derive moments of joy by going on a ride with her husband in his new car that he was paying for in installments, Raihanath was content with her ‘regular house-wife duties,’ and most of Sanjida’s life would revolve around taking care of her husband – a heart patient for whom they had finally managed to save enough for a crucial surgery. The common thread that ties them together is that their seemingly ordinary lives changed drastically two years ago.
Sanjida’s Husband Atikur Rahman, Raihanath’s husband Siddique Kappan, Bushra’s husband Mohammad Alam, and Monis' brother Masud were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police on their way to Hathras in October 2020 to meet the family of a Dalit woman who was allegedly raped and later died of the injuries.
Batool’s husband Rauf Shareef was arrested in December that year for allegedly funding the four previously arrested men’s trip to Hathras. All of them were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.
The persistent fight to have them released from jail has meant that the lives of their families have changed forever. Each of their families have at least one family member who is either preparing for or aspiring to have a career in law.
'Wife Was Pregnant When Rauf Got Arrested, He Hasn't Met His Child Yet'
Rauf, a resident of Kerala, was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in December at the Trivandrum airport where he was going to catch a flight to Oman; he had been working in the country for a few years as a manager in a firm, his wife Batool said. At the time, Batool was 5 months pregnant, when she was informed that her husband has been charged with money laundering. “My heart was in my mouth,” she told The Quint.
In February 2021, the Special Court for Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in Kochi granted him bail and Batool breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought he will be home in time for the baby’s delivery,” she said. But her respite was short-lived. The Uttar Pradesh STF had obtained a warrant for him to be brought to Mathura, from where he was then arrested. He was subsequently moved to the Lucknow district jail.
Their child, a baby girl, is now nearly one-and-a-half years old, but Rauf has neither met nor seen her even once. In May 2021, a month after the child’s birth, Rauf’s lawyers moved the court requesting that a video call be allowed between Rauf and his child, but the court did not grant the request. “Now he is in Lucknow jail, but I am here in Calicut and can’t travel regularly with a toddler, so meeting him even briefly is out of the question,” she said.
Alam, the Driver, Got Arrested Just Days After Buying Car
Mohammad Alam had been working as a driver for a few years and was finally able to buy a car just months before he drove Kappan, Masud, and Atikur to Hathras. He brought the car home on 26 September and was arrested 9 days later on 5 October. “He hadn’t even paid the first monthly installment of the car before he was taken away,” his wife Bushra told The Quint.
Alam was given bail in the UAPA case on 23 August. However, he continues to remain in jail on money-laundering charges.
The two got married on 11 March 2019. “He has been in jail for longer than we have been married,” she said. She said that she doesn’t have any savings of her own and that the family’s only source of income had been the 2-3 thousand rupees that Alam was able to earn in a day as a driver.
Just like Alam, Kappan too has been given bail in the UAPA case but not in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case lodged by the ED.
Siddique Kappan's Children Are 'Proud of Him'
Siddique and Raihanath’s 9-year-old daughter Mehnaz’s video had gone viral last month when she spoke about her incriminated father at her school’s Independence Day celebration. Speaking about the various freedom fighters, she said, "Remembering all those freedom fighters, my request is not to take away the freedom and rights of the ordinary citizens.” She also said, “I am the daughter of a journalist who has been put behind bars, by being denied the basic civil rights available to all Indian citizens.”
“Kappan would ask me if the kids are being insulted by friends and neighbours. I would always pacify him saying that everyone here knows the truth and stands by him... My children are broken seeing how their father has been subject to such torture. But they are proud to be Siddique Kappan’s kids. We are all very very proud of him and have absolutely no embarrassment in admitting that,” Raihanath told The Quint.
Raihanath also said that her daughter couldn’t have not mentioned her father in the Independence Day speech.
“My daughter was told to speak during Independence Day. I didn't know what could Kappan’s daughter speak on freedom. My daughter got very perturbed and said she will talk about her father. I helped her write it and then she recited it at school,” she said.
'Praying That He Doesn't Die': Atikur Rahman's Wife
Sanjida, Atikur Rahman’s wife, doesn’t have a picture of her and her husband together. “There might be some pictures on Atikur’s laptop or mobile, but I don’t have those," she said. So, when she misses her husband too much, Sanjida makes picture collages of the two using mobile apps.
Her longing is often coupled with a high degree of concern, especially lately. Atikur was admitted to Lucknow’s King George's Medical University (KGMU) hospital last week, after his health deteriorated significantly. The Quint had earlier reported how his left side is paralysed and he is highly disoriented, as per his family.
Atikur has been a heart patient since 2002, suffering from an ailment called aortic regurgitation. In November 2021, after an urgent plea was moved by Rahman’s family in the Allahabad High Court, he was taken for heart surgery in AIIMS, Delhi. However, the family alleged he hasn’t been given proper post-surgery care in the jail due to which his condition has worsened.
“For the longest time, I would pray for his release. But now, I am praying that he doesn’t die. The way he is being treated, and with his worsening condition, I worry he might die in jail,” Sanjida said.
28-year-old Masud had cracked the NET entrance and was preparing for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) exam when he was arrested. His lawyers put in an application court requesting that he be allowed to sit for the exam scheduled for November 2020, but the request was denied. “This was extremely heartbreaking for him,” his brother Monis told The Quint.
Monis, who used to work as an engineer in Delhi, is now constantly shuttling between Lucknow and Delhi – he doesn’t just attend the hearings of his brother but of the other accused as well. His parents, back in Uttar Pradesh’s Bahraich, are often worried for him. “They feel like one child is already in jail...what if they do something to me too, they are perpetually scared,” he said.
Family Members Pursuing Law To Help the Arrested
As gloom surrounds the families of the arrested men, not all of their time is spent being cynical and hopeless. Instead, a few members of the families have decided to get enrolled in law courses while others are pushing themselves to learn social media and engage with journalists.
“My daughter always wanted to become a teacher and now she just wants to become an advocate to fight for her father and people like him... She reads all the newspapers and when she notices a person, charged under UAPA is being released, she will save that news clipping, to understand under what circumstances they got the bail,” Raihanath said.
"I never understood all this when it happened. But since his arrest, I speak to my lawyer everyday to understand what UAPA, PMLA, sedition and other terms mean. It has become my everyday ritual now," she added.
Batool, Rauf’s wife, was just 20 when she got married and had only completed her Bachelors in economics. After she delivered her child, she realised that she wanted to study law. “Rauf was charged with UAPA and a bunch of other cases. Earlier I knew about these laws only superficially, but when UAPA came to our home...I started understanding the depth of it. But the legal jargon is so complicated, I decided to enroll in a MA LLB course,” she said.
Batool is hopeful that a legal degree will help her. “We survive only because of laws and can change our lives with laws,” she added.
Batool isn’t the only one.
Monis, Masud’s brother, has also decided to prepare for law entrance exams.
“I was an engineer and happy in my job. But then this happened. Our lives changed completely, so I am keen on studying law,” he said. Monis said he has noticed a palpable change in his mother back in Bahraich too. “She used to hardly watch any news on TV earlier. Today, she follows every minute of news,” he said. Bushra’s brother too has enrolled in a law course.
Sanjida, Atikur’s wife, now spends most of her time on social media –running pages demanding his release. “Everything is so new for me. Before this, I had never known social media. Today I am forced to be so active there, and I have had to teach myself how to do press conferences, how to face the world,” she said. Sanjida's younger brother, 24-year-old Fazlu Rehman, is appearing for the MA LLB entrance exams this year. "He was always interested in law. But today it isn't a matter of interest, it's a matter of compulsion now," Shekhawat, Sanjida's father told The Quint.