The Maharashtra police recently arrested Hem Mishra, a student of Chinese at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi on charges of being a Naxalite courier along with two more people. A resident of district Almora in Uttarakhand, Mishra had gone to Gadchiroli in Maharashtra as a member of a 25-member fact finding team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CRDO). In Almora, Mishra is known as a student activist who took part in social and political movements but not as a hardliner. Gulail looks at some cases from Uttarakhand where arrests of alleged Naxal sympathisers have been made. The police have failed to prove the charges in courts in any of the cases till now.

Hanspur Khatta village, Nainital. (Photos by Garima Singh)

Journalist Hemchandra Pandey was among the first to be termed a member of the Maoists’ underground committee and the Uttarakhand district committee. He was killed in an encounter on July 12, 2010 in the Bankadi forests area in the Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh in an encounter that many have alleged was faked. Although there has been no case of violence attributed to presence of any Naxalite cadre in Uttarakhand, the state police have made several arrests from 2004 onwards and charged people for being involved with Naxals, sedition and some other serious charges. Six main cases were registered by the police in the state, out of which in four cases people were honourably let off while in one case the police could not prove the charges. Now there is only one case pending in the courts in which arguments have been going on.

 “The long time that cases take in our country is also a torture,” he says, adding, “Such arrests and courts cases are a tool of the state to suppress the democratically run protests and movements. Hem Mishra has also been an important member of such groups and that could be the reason behind his arrest.”

Prakash Ram

On August 29, 2004 the police arrested three people from Hanspur khattha, among the many one lakh small settlements in Uttarakhand known as khatthas among the total 5 arrests that they made. The arrests were made based on information provided by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Udham Singh Nagar district and the five people were shown to have been arrested from forests of Ransali region by the Nanakmatta police station. Hayat Ram, his son Prakash and one Ramesh were from Hanspur Khattha while one was a relative called Kailash. These four are landless farmers who belong to the scheduled castes while the fifth person, Kalyan Singh, was a resident of Sitarganj area of the neighbouring Udham Singh Nagar district and had been quite active in protests related to land acquisition.

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COURT PROCEEDINGS

  • The court termed the police case suspicious and raised many doubts over their claims
  • The Ransali forests, from where the first five accused had been arrested, is not approachable by road and so tractors could not have reached there but the police claimed that the accused started running towards the forests after hearing the noise of the approaching tractors
  • Police and the police witnesses had claimed that the police team had reached the Saufutiya forests from the police station in 30 minutes. But the defence questioned how the police could have covered the distance of 25-30 kilometres through jeep, then on tractors and then on foot within 30 minutes, which the court took into consideration.
  • Prosecution witness Sub-inspector MC Durgapal agreed in court that all the reading material that they seized from the accused’s house was freely available in the market.
  • On September 23, 2004 the police escorted all the accused to the places where they had allegedly hidden their weapons  but nothing was recovered.
  • The police agreed in court that when they had made the arrest of Junior and seized study material they were not even aware whether the books were banned or not.
  • The material that police claimed to have seized on September 20, 2004 had been wrapped in newspapers of November 23, 2004 – almost after two months
  • Court termed the seizing of banned material as fake based on these facts.
  • The police did not take the permission of the Central or State governments before filing the case of sedition, which is a prerequisite in such cases.

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Hayat Ram’s Wife With Granddaughter

The police claimed that during interrogations these five people had revealed that they had met a group of 17-18 people, including two girls, when they had gone into the forests for grazing their cattle. These people, the police claimed, told the five that they planned to provide the locals training in arms and then start an armed campaign against the Government to India to help the Maoists in gaining employment. This group then opened a school in the village and also established an arms training centre there. In April 2004 on the recommendation of the villagers they set up a camp in the Saufutiya area 8 kilometres from the village where they trained the villagers in arms and motivated them for an armed struggle. The police claimed that when they searched the area they found hutments and construction material like wooden logs there. On questioning some locals they found that the group had carried the arms and ammunition with them and hidden some items, which the police found later, including some anti-national literature. The police claimed that the five people who had been arrested mentioned the names of all the members of the group, against whom they registered cases under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The case against these five people was registered on August 30, 2004 at the Nanakmatta police station.

Later the police also arrested two people, Harish Ram and Santosh Ram, from the Kukna village in Nainital district in the same case. On September 20, 2004 the police also arrested Ishwar Chandra alias Junior for allegedly possessing banned Hindi literature like ‘Sahitya Bodh’, ‘Lal Pataka’ and ‘Phansi ka fanda’. On February 20, 2006 the police arrested an allegedly absconding member of the group Gopal Bhatt on tip offs received from its sources. Later they made another arrest of an alleged member, Anil Chaudakoti. During the hearings two people, Kailash Ram (22) and Kalyan Singh (70), the reasons for which are unclear.

COURT PROCEEDINGS PROVED POLICE’S ARGUMENTS BASELESS

Harish Ram

The Udham Singh Nagar district courts acquitted all the accused in the case for lack of enough evidence and made harsh comments against the police, which show that poor innocent people have been framed by the state machinery on serious charges such as sedition. The court categorically said that the circumstantial and documentary evidence do not in any way prove the police’s arguments that these people had been involved in Maoist activities and had tried to challenge the unity and integrity of the nation and the state.

The sad part of the case, however, is that before being acquitted all the accused spent 2-6 years in jail. Pan Singh Bora, who works for the Uttarakhand wing of the Committee for release of Political Prisoners, says that the police make such fake arrests to earn kudos and promotions for the officers and as a result the accused, who later get acquitted, end up spending many crucial years of their lives in jail.