‘I became that woman’
Raihanath told Newslaundry the sequence of events leading up to Siddique’s arrest.
It was August 2020. The first wave of Covid had just subsided, and the family was holed up at their home in Malappuram. Siddique received a phone call from a journalist friend, asking if he could interview lawyer Prashant Bhushan for a story.
Siddique boarded a train and arrived in Delhi on September 1. He stayed on after the assignment, rooming with friends and acquaintances. “Kappan’s bag was his office, his home, his room, everything,” Raihanath said.
Then, on September 30, news trickled in from Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. A Dalit woman had been gangraped on September 14. She succumbed to her injuries two days later and her body was forcibly cremated by the UP police.
“Kappan told me he wants to go do the story,” Raihanath said. “He was waiting to find friends and colleagues to go with him for two reasons: One, he struggled with the Hindi language so he needed someone with him. Two, he did not have enough money to travel alone.”
He called his wife around midnight on October 5. “This was the usual time he’d call me,” she said. “We would talk about our day and only then would we sleep.”
It was their last call before his arrest.
Raihanath didn’t hear from him on the morning of October 5. She called him in the afternoon, but he did not pick up. She still wasn’t worried though. “I knew his phone was not working properly and maybe he was busy.”
When he hadn’t responded to her calls and texts by 8 pm, she got worried. She knew he had wanted to go to Hathras, but he hadn’t discussed any specific plans with her to do so.
“He is a sugar patient and sometimes used to faint. I was worried he may have fainted in his room and no one would know,” she said. “I didn’t even have his friend’s number to call.”
She checked her phone at 2.30 am and noticed he had read her chats. “I sent him an angry voice note,” she recalled, “asking why he wasn’t responding to me. It remained unread until the next day.”
On the morning of October 6, a neighbour told her that, according to news reports, Siddique had been arrested on October 5.
Raihanath’s immediate response was relief. “I had imagined the worst, I thought something had happened to him healthwise,” she said. “So to know he was alive was a relief.”
Siddique had gone to Hathras with Atiq-ur Rehman, a PFI activist and PhD scholar from Muzaffarnagar; Masood Ahmed, a PFI activist from Bahraich; and Alam, a cab driver from Rampur. All four were arrested.
Meanwhile, calls began pouring in from Siddique’s friends and colleagues, assuring her that arrests were “normal for journalists” and that a “lot of people in Hathras were being arrested”. They told her Siddique would “soon be released”.
It was a day later, when she heard Siddique had been charged under the UAPA, that a deep worry set in. She didn’t know much about the law, she said, but she had “some idea”.
“Kappan used to talk to me about these things,” she said. “Once, he interviewed GN Saibaba’s wife. He told me about her life after her arrest. All that came back to me in a flash. Suddenly, overnight, I became that woman.”
How did she explain everything to her children?
She paused before replying. “To be very honest, I don’t remember much of what I told them. Now, when I look back at video reports from those initial days, the faces of my children make me cry,” she said. “They looked so confused and shocked.”
The case has taken a toll on the family. “My eldest son is 19. He wants to travel with his friends and go out,” she said. “But the only travel he gets to do is with me – to go to Uttar Pradesh to see his father in jail.”
Months in jail, and dwindling hope
Forty-five days after his arrest, Siddique called his mother from Mathura jail.
“Hers was the only number he knew by heart,” Raihanath said. “When he called my mother-in-law, she was staying with a relative. They immediately put me on a conference call and I heard his voice after a long time.”
Immediately after the call, Raihanath went to the relative’s house to pick up her mother-in-law’s phone. Siddique would call every other day for exactly five minutes.