as told over the Phone to Kavita Srivastava
As many of you are aware Himanshu and Kopa of VCA managed to escape Lingagiri in the early hours today through the forest area of that region and got into Bhadrachallam AP more than a hundred kilometres away. The distance between Bhadrachallam and Dantewada is a good two hundred and fifty kilometres.
The moment he got into range he called up his family, his colleagues and friends and supporters and said that he had escaped to Bhadrachallam and would be soon getting back to Dantewada. This is great news and we are glad that Himanshu and Kopa managed to escape the wrath of the local police and Salwa Judum although there are many concerns that still remain. He has addressed the press in Bhadrachallam with Bal Gopalji of HRF who reached late afternoon.
Himanashu gave me a long dictation over the phone of what happened and wanted people to know about what happened in the last four days. I think there are some facts that we need to act upon urgently.
The body of Punam Honga not found says Bijapur SP, Sh. AnkitGarg
The Hindu report of the 5th July which I had circulated had said that Punam Honga had been killed by the Maoists and that his body had been found by the police. Both Himanshu and I talked to Bijapur SP Ankit Garg, who clearly said that they had not found the body of Punam Honga. Thus the PTI news report from Raipur which the Hindu published is false. He said that they are still in the process of investigation. When I checked with DG P Vishwaranjan in the morning about the Hindu report he said that it was correct and the body of Punam Honga had been found. It is a bit of a surprise that the DGP was going by the news reports rather than the police’s own information system.
We are glad that this report is false because then it gives us hope that he is safe and we hope that his abductors will listen to all our appeals and release him soon.
Himanshu’s story of the last four days as dictated over the phone is as follow.
Kopa a target of Salwa Judum and Police
Himanshu told that on the 2nd of July, 2009 when Kopa was returning from Basaguda camp Nagesh Jhari (Panchayat Secretary of Mallepalli) asked him for a lift. Kopa gave Nagesh a lift and moved in the direction of Avapalli, the village of Nagesh. Between Basaguda and Avapalli they were stopped by Maoists and before he knew they had taken Nagesh away. He tried his best to catch up with abductors and chased them but they fled quickly into the forest. There was quite a crowd on the road it was then he realised that Punam Honga (Former Sarpanch of Hirapur) who was travelling in a mini truck had also been abducted five minutes ago. Kopa kept roaming the area trying to look for them. He then went to Awapalli the village of Nagesh Jhari to enquire with the family whether they had got some news of his whereabouts. By then the family had lodged an FIR implicating Kopa too in the abduction.
All night the family members and members of the Salwa Judum troubled them. Nagesh also belonged to Salwa Judum and one his sons is an SPO.
Realising the Kopa was in serious trouble Himanshu came the next morning on the 3rd to Awapalli. Kopa was still being harassed by the family members and members of the Salwa Judum. They all alleged that he had a role in the abduction of Nagesh. Kopa and Himanshu soon left the place to go towards Basaguda and Lingagiri. Before they reached Basaguda camp the police stopped them at Basaguda police station and told Kopa to go back to Awapalli police station. They kept saying that why did Kopa not lodge an FIR after the abduction. The police also told them that the Salwa Judum were after them in both places and would kill Kopa. To which Himanshu told the police to save them if that was the case.
The police was adamant to take Kopa so Himanshu decided to go with him. They made Kopa sit in the jeep and they were accompanied by the same police man who was involved in an earlier rape and murder incident. They were taken to the spot of abduction which was between Basaguda and Awapalli and then they took his statement at the police station.
They also learnt unofficially that there was a serious threat on the life of Kopa. The police and Salwa Judum were very angry with him and wanted him out of the way because he had played an active role in bringing to light the Matwada massacare of 18th March, 2008 where more than 3 tribals were killed by the police and the fourth one was left in an unconscious state. It was Kopa who worked on that and the matter was taken up by VCA in the Chhattisgarh High Court. Kopa was also one of the key person’s who worked on the Singaram fake encounters of January, 2009. He was also the key person who was encouraging villagers to resettle back into the villages. Kopa had earlier written to senior police officials in the State that there was a threat to his life by the local police and Salwa Judum.
From there the two went to Lingagiri village late on the night of the 3rd trying to make their own enquries about the two who had been abducted. On the 4th too they combed the forest area. On the 5th they realised that the Salwa Judum would now get violent as they had been unable to get leads to the two abducted people. They learnt about this from several village women who returned empty handed from the ration shop in the Basaguda Camp. This is the only ration shop for more than fifteen villages. The women told them that they were dragged into the Basaguda police station by the Salwa Judum members and they were beaten up by them. The sales man was threatened by the police that he must not supply rations to them. The police also put a double lock on the shop and they were told that “go starve! you will not get one grain of rice till you do not tell us about the whereabouts of Nagesh Jhari anf Punam Honga”. The police also enquired about Himanshu and Kopa so the women said that they are in Lingagiri village. The members of the Salwa Judum told them that now they would come and burn their villages unless they handed over the two who were abducted.
When the women returned they were in a state of shock as many were from the resettled villages and could not take another displacement. That is when Himanshu sent the sms “Trapped in Lingiri village. Kopa and me will be either jailed or or killed by Salwa judum if both those abducetd are not released. Rehabiliated villagers too in panic. Whole rehabilitation process in Danger, May revert. Himanshu”.
Himanshu and Kopa took the decision to somehow get out of the forest area behind the village. Especially through routes where there were no police stations. In the early hours today, the 6th of June, 2009 they left the village on motor bike and drove non stop and reached AP. On reaching Bhadrachallam they contacted family, colleagues and friends.
With pressure put by all of us on the Chhattisgarh Police, directly and through the Governor, the Bijapur police reached at 12 noon. On learning in the village that Himanshu had left in the morning they came back. The SP Bijapur called Himanshu around 2.30 pm and took his statement.
According to Himanshu
- it is extremely urgent to get the ration shop reopened as people are totally dependent on that shop for food. He said that the villages that would be going hungry with the closure of the shop were Basaguda, Lingagiri, Pesapara, Korsaguda, Pakela, Dharmapuri, Kumarpara, Mallepali, Sarkeguda and a few others. He was keen that the pressure now be put on the police and Salwa Judum from keeping the ration shops from being closed.
- Ensuring the safety of Kopa should be a demand that we must make with the police and the Government who were keen to implicate him in the abduction case. Kopa had not run away from the scene of abduction and had coperated with the family and the police to tell as much as he knew. Why was he being held responsible for the abduction that the Maoists did, he asked?.
- The resettlement and rehabilitation process must continue uninterrupted.
- Finally, from the Maoists demanding the safety and release of Nagesh Jhari and Punam Honga at the earliest.