If BJP doesn’t come to power everything will be very good, I don’t have any such hope: Ipsa Shatakshi


  • May 28, 2024
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Ipsa Shatakshi is the wife of Rupesh Kumar Singh, an independent journalist based in Jharkhand who has been in jail since 17 July 2022, charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for being a suspected Maoist. Rupesh Kumar has been working as a freelance journalist since 2014, reporting on state violence against Adivasi communities. 

 

Ipsa was a teacher but lost her job after Rupesh’s arrest, and she is currently pursuing a degree in law, in the hope of aiding the legal fight to release Rupesh. Both Rupesh and Ipsa were allegedly spied upon by the union agencies through ‘Pegasus’. Sudarshana Chakraborty for Groundxero spoke to Ipsa Shatakshi amidst the polling for general elections 2024. The transcript of the interview translated in English is given here.

 

GX: In the campaigns for the general election 2024, BJP is talking about ‘Development’ (Vikash) of the adivasis in Jharkhand, how do you view the BJP’s slogan of unleashing ‘Development’? 

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: If you take in consideration everything, the talk about the development by the BJP, you will see that it’s not ‘Vikash’ (Development) but ‘Vinash’ (Destruction). To cite an example, which instantly comes to my mind is the case of ‘Covidshield’ vaccine. Now the company has said that the vaccine has fatal side effects. But the Prime Minister and the BJP government are not bothered about what is happening to the citizens who were actually forced to take the vaccine. The government should have monitored the side effects of the vaccine on people. We have lost so many people, relatives, friends, so many others. They think only about their own benefit.

 

And if we talk about state repression, it’s obviously there everywhere, be it in tribal belts or anywhere else. Whoever is in power, BJP or Congress, repression continues, the only difference being the BJP is doing it brazenly and aggressively, Congress did more silently.

 

GX: So, you mean to say that the character of the state does not change, it is just the government that changes?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: Absolutely. So far, all the political parties who are fighting in elections, who have been coming into power as ruling parties, be it at center or state, I haven’t seen anybody breaking this chain. I haven’t seen during any regime, development for the people is happening or they are talking about peoples’ rights and demands. Anyone who talks about people’s rights and demands are facing State repression, irrespective of the parties in power. 

 

GX: In a democratic country like ours how do you view ‘elections’? What are your hopes around ‘elections’?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: See, people choose their representative through election, but there are many shortcomings to the system. The concept is good, that people elect a representative through election. But without clearing the shortcomings, claiming that in our country we have chosen the government in the most democratic way will be ‘hawabazi’ (Extravagant bragging about something). If you conduct an informal survey, I’ve talked to many people around, you will see, they do not like anyone from either Congress, BJP or any other party. But the question before them is – if not a certain politician then who? People feel they are compelled to choose or elect someone from these politicians, people have no other option. Earlier, there was booth capturing so that a party can cast votes in its favor, but now BJP is doing it at a larger level, whichever button you press, the vote will go to the Lotus (election symbol of BJP). We can see so many things like this. The concept of election, choosing your own representative through election is good, but the reality is very different. First you should get rid of the shortcomings, only then can we say that we are living in a democratic country or that we’ve chosen our representatives democratically.

 

GX: People involved in mass movements don’t participate in electoral politics. There are shortcomings in the system that you are talking about, but do you feel if activists would have participated in the electoral process, then the scene could have changed?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: It’s true that the people who are actively involved in mass movements should come forward. See, if we think that we’ll create our platforms at the grassroot level and then change the thoughts of the people, the so-called democratic government will not allow us to do that. If any party or organization tries to do that they will be banned. If a person wants to do that, that person will be accused of being a traitor, will face UAPA and will be in jail. So, you won’t be able to change thoughts at the grassroot level. I don’t have any trust in the ongoing election process, as it has too many shortcomings. We have to keep in mind these two extremes and think of some way out, if we want to bring some good, permanent change in the country. 

 

GX: Now let’s talk about your fight against the State as your partner Rupesh Kumar faces the State oppression, he is in jail for a long time. Recently Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navalkha, Prabir Purakasthya got bail. What do you think about Rupesh’s case? Is anything going to change post the election?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: No, I don’t think there will be any change. If BJP comes back to power, the situation will be worse. And if Congress and the INDIA alliance come to power, it will seem that superficially everything is alright, a change has come, but nothing will change in reality.

 

If I talk about me and Rupesh, you see, when Rupesh was arrested, the government which was in power in Jharkhand and still is – calls itself anti-BJP government. I came to know from various reports that the then Chief Minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren, who is in jail now, met the Union Home Minister, who was visiting the state at that time, and said that Rupesh’s arrest was a big achievement. And I also read that Hemant Soren went to a meeting of Chief Ministers from all the states with the Home Minister, and there he discussed plans to put military forces to crush Naxalwad, that is in reality the fight of tribal people to save their forests and resources, and he himself is from the tribal community. After that the air attacks on tribals started. You can take examples of Chattisgarh also. It is not that everything goes wrong under the BJP government, and if there is some other government, everything will be fine. It is not like that. The fact is that under the BJP government we are facing the most intense oppression, they are changing and twisting the laws, but it is not that we have hope from other political parties, it’s not like that if BJP doesn’t come to power everything will be very good, I don’t have any such hope.

 

GX: Rupesh was a journalist. How much support have you got from the media fraternity? Who are the ones who stood by you?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: I have received support from the media fraternity. Last time too and this time also I’ve received their moral support and help. For example, if in the jail there is any kind of problem, or if I’ve messaged someone personally, they have called on the jail administration and inquired about the issue, everyone has tried to help at their level. My father is also a journalist, so people know us. We can at least talk to them. If they are writing and reporting the side of the police and government, they write our side of the story too. But, yes, this did not happen at the local level. The local journalists are afraid. Rupesh is now in jail and there are so many problems, if I talk about those to any local journalist, they just don’t listen to it. Reporters from all the newspapers, media houses will make some excuses and will not cover it. If it was anyone else in place of Rupesh, for that person, too, there should be support, solidarity and more unity must be shown.

 

GX: Your posts on social media keep us updated about Rupesh’s case, but somehow I feel his case is not much written or discussed in the national media…

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: I’m saying the same thing. I told you the overall scenario. Nationally, there are only a few people who listen to me, try to do whatever they can, and I’ll be forever thankful to them, they give me moral support. But the solidarity and support has not reached the level it should have. Rupesh has never spoken about himself or his family, his fight was never for himself, it was for the society, whatever he has said and done – it was all for the society. So everybody should stand with him.

 

GX: If we talk about press freedom in India, we can see how India is going down in ranks every year. What are your thoughts? There are many alternative media now. How do you see their role?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: See, the alternative media is undoubtedly working, But there too, people are divided. In alternative media also there are people who believe in balancing everything, that’s how they write and present news. The truth is, if we want to become truly alternative, truly want to work for the oppressed, our number is not less. But we give in so fast before those who are in power, those who are oppressing us. Many upright journalists find themselves alone, they don’t have any option, so they too take the easy route. It’s not that alternative media is not working well, in the beginning they really work hard but gradually their inclination also changes.

 

GX: Tell us something about your personal struggle. Your partner is in jail, you have a small kid, your own life. What motivates you to fight back all the adversities?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: See, without sacrifice or without overcoming hard times, neither anything can be achieved, nor a change for good can happen and there are so many examples of such struggles. I believe without foresight, optimism and belief that we are doing good work, we cannot set examples. Rupesh and people like him want to fight the wrongs of the society at their own levels, they want to bring change. Change in the system cannot happen overnight, but with the hope that it’ll change someday we keep on fighting and that positivity gives us courage and we continue our struggle on that basis. Otherwise, there are really lots of problems. 

 

GX: Have you ever thought of joining some kind of organization?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: No, no, not at all. I’m not involved with any organization. When I met Rupesh I found that he is very vocal about oppression of the marginalized and he speaks or writes on the same issues. I felt good. Now I feel I’ve to carry forward that work without fear. But, I’m not doing anything. And even if  I want to, I can’t, because my whole time is spent on arranging bread and butter for the two of us (she & her son). This is the biggest thing for me now, because I don’t have any job. I’ve lost my job and have not got anything till now.

 

GX: Why have you lost your job? Is it related to Rupesh’s arrest?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: Yes, I feel that they became afraid and asked me to leave making some excuses. Now I give tuitions at home to a few children. I’ve really very little time now. I’ve to do all the household chores for myself and my son; I’ve to give more attention to my son so that he does not become frustrated. When I meet Rupesh at jail, he conveys to me the problems in the jail. I’ve to try to solve them. Then I’ve to meet and talk with the lawyers regarding the case.

 

GX: What are the issues Rupesh is facing in jail?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: His health is a constant issue of concern. Like recently he had an eye problem, we talked about that and brought it before the court. Even for an eye infection, you have to go through many hurdles before treatment is provided. 

 

Now Rupesh is in Shahid Jubba Sahni Jail, Bhagalpur. There most of the convicts are beaten very badly, the diet given to the convicts is really bad, the ingredients supplied for preparing the prisoners’ food are kept aside and food is sold to them. I gave a petition to the judge. Now some changes have happened. Egg, cottage cheese are now included in the diet. But still there are problems. Medical issues are ignored even though we have talked a lot about this. And attempts are made so that he cannot communicate with family. I can meet him on the 9th day of a month. Legally, we can talk over the phone twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. But the jail administration keeps saying the phone is not working. For a long time they have been saying that phones are out of order, so we are not able to talk even once in a week, or can talk maybe once in 10 days, and that too for only 5 minutes. Now imagine in that 5 minutes we can talk, he will talk about his health, we’ll discuss legal issues, we’ll talk about our son, our son also wants to talk – whatever it is, it has to be within 5 minutes! Twice in a week means 10 minutes in a week, now they have stopped even that too and gives the excuse that the PCO is not working. The court has said that once in a month an E-meeting can be organized, but it was not given as a written order but was told orally by the court. And even after the court’s verbal order, from February to May, only one E-meeting has been arranged so far. Where Rupesh is kept now, that place is almost 350 kms away from where I stay. I don’t have any source of income, I don’t have money, if I’ve to go, I’ll have to take our son, and that becomes more problematic. If an E-meeting is held our son can also see him. They keep on inventing new ways to make things harder for us.

 

GX: Do you stay alone with your son or with your parents?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: My father lives with me.

 

GX: Your father is a journalist, your partner is a journalist too, have you ever thought about becoming a journalist?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: In my teen-age days, I used to write articles. After studying I became a teacher. My family also encouraged me to become a teacher, I did my B.Ed. I didn’t get a government job. I taught in college, in government school, though these were contractual jobs. Later, I got a job at a private school. But when Rupesh was arrested and put into jail, he used to call me to contact somebody, many reporters used to call me to talk to them – I had to receive the calls. At that time, 4 days a week Rupesh used to call and that call might come at any point of time. Suppose I was taking a class at 11 AM, suddenly my phone rang. All these created a negative impact on the school administration. They told me, “We have good faith in you, you were teaching quite well, but you are not giving your 100% attention nowadays, what’s the reason?” When I told them everything. They asked me to take care of my husband first and apply for leave. When I submitted my leave application they told me to write discontinue in place of leave and said that when everything will be alright, I may come back and rejoin. 

 

The biggest problem for me right now is not having a job. The situation I’m in right now, it’ll be better for me if I’ve a work from home or a part-time job. I took admission in a journalism course. But, I didn’t have time to pursue it. Now, I’m studying law. My family is supporting me to do the course. After completing law, hopefully, there will be some opportunities to earn.

 

But I’ve this faith that come what may, I’ve to do this, carry on the fight. If I had to compromise I could have done that much before. 

 

GX: Narendra Modi always talks about empowering women calling them ‘Stree Shakti’? How do you view the conditions of women?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: There are so many issues in the context of women, their education, development, jobs, social status, status within their families – women have to fight everywhere. In the family also, the men are those who are listened to, their words matter. Nobody is actually bothered about women’s issues. Women wrestlers fighting for justice did not get much support from political parties; nobody comes forward when women face some wrongs. Even when a woman candidate is nominated or elected, she is seldom taking any decision, be it at the panchayat level or state level. Using women as pawns to fulfill their own political agenda is an old way and it’s still continuing. Under Narendra Modi it has definitely increased.

 

One positive thing is that the unity amongst women has increased. The more women are working outside the more the unity is increasing. But on the other hand the TV serials are playing a big negative role to mislead common women. The background I come from I can see these serials impact a large number of women and help bind them in the shackles of sari, bindi, jewelry etc. Our main issues, important questions vanish. 

 

GX: What would you like to convey to women like you, people like Rupesh who are fighting to change the society?

 

Ipsa Shatakshi: My appeal is – whoever forms the government, so many political parties are there, there are alliances/gathbandhan – we the general public will not benefit from any one of them. The general people will have to continue the fight for survival and betterment of the society. But if we want to increase our strength, if we truly want to bring some change in the society, we have to forge unity. If any of our friends is in jail or has passed away, we would not forget that friend, the battle has to be fought together, and then only it’ll work. Otherwise after 4th June whether BJP comes to power or any other opposition party, it’ll be the same. 

 

Also read:  “If the movements have to go forward they have to be inclusive to defeat fascism” – Seema Azad

 

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