Lalgarh: Relief for women buys freedom for OC – Bailed out
Posted by Admin on October 23, 2009
Tale of co-operation, watched by captors Forest freedom from Kishanji
Kishanji takes off the PoW label stuck on the police officer. (Amit Datta and Samir Mondal)
Oct. 22: His Maoist abductors lined up behind him, faces covered and guns slung on their backs, Atindranath Dutta spoke about his “co-operative” captors after CPI (Maoist) leader Kishanji released him before cameras in a West Midnapore forest.
“I feel relieved. I want to tell my family that there is nothing to worry about,” said the Sankrail officer-in-charge after over 50 hours in Maoist captivity. Standing before journalists at Bhulagera in Lalgarh, about 30km from Jhargram, the officer recounted the kidnap, stay and release, often referring to the Maoists as onara — a term of respect generally used while speaking about elders.
Before the interview started, Kishanji took off a red cloth that was hung from the officer’s neck with a paper stuck on it, saying: “Juddha bandir mukti sammelan (a meeting to release a prisoner of war).”
Recounting Tuesday’s kidnap, Atindranath said: “I was not at the police station during the incident (when bike-borne Maoists attacked the police station) but I heard gunshots. I was returning to the police station after lunch at my quarters when a woman pointed a 9mm pistol at me. Before I could react, others blindfolded me and put me on a motorcycle and drove me to their den.”
He said: “Initially, they were aggressive but when I reached their den blindfolded, they became co-operative. No one tortured me. No one told me why I was kidnapped but I heard from those who captured me that they have demanded release of some women.”
Asked about his stay, he said: “I ate whatever they ate. They gave me rice, dal, vegetables and puffed rice.”
Did he know where he had been kept?
“I was with them but I am not sure where I was. In captivity I was taken to several locations,” Atindranath said.
After over 50 hours with the Maoists, had his attitude towards them changed?
The officer again said the Maoists had been “co-operative”, then added, “but I cannot predict how much aggressive they will become later”.
“I want to say that the government should think about development in tribal areas. I will tell the government to sit for talks with the Maoists.”
Asked about his area of operation — Sankrail — the officer said the Maoists were not so active in the area but at the same time “security was inadequate”.
Would he continue as a police officer?
The officer said he would take a call after talking to his family.
When his slain colleagues, sub-inspectors Dibakar Bhattacharya and Swapan Roy, were mentioned, Atindranath said he was sad that they had been killed. “I feel deeply sad for the death of my two colleagues. I worked with them for so long. They were very co-operative,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, speaking to his wife Indrani through STAR Ananda, Atindranath said he was safe and in good health. “I will return tonight. But I will have to go to Jhargram police station first to report there.”
Indrani then gave the cellphone to their two-year-old daughter Oindrakshi but the line got disconnected.
After the line was reconnected, Atindranath told his family: “I know you are anxious about me. I will return soon.”
Late at night, he set off from Jhargram for Calcutta.
TT OUR BUREAU
Flanked by gun-wielding and masked Maoists, officer-in-charge Atindranath Dutta (in spectacles) minutes before his release on Thursday evening in the Bhulagera forests of Lalgarh. A Maoist poster hung from his neck says ‘P.O.W. juddha bandir mukti sammelan (a meeting to release the prisoner of war)’. Picture by Samir Mondal
Oct. 22: The Maoists released Sankrail officer-in-charge Atindranath Dutta around 8 tonight at Bhulagera forest village in Lalgarh after striking a deal with the state government that allows 14 jailed tribal women to walk free.
After 54 hours in captivity, Dutta was led to a gathering of journalists and lawyers at Bhulagera primary school, a white paper inscribed with the words PoW (prisoner of war) pasted on a piece of red cloth hung from his neck.
“I wasn’t worried about myself; I was concerned about my parents, daughter and wife,” Dutta told the media, whom the Maoists had called for the hand-over after the government promised the rebels safe passage under the deal.
Maoist leader Kishanji, his face covered like all the guerrillas’, ceremonially removed the red cloth from Dutta’s neck. “You are being released…. It is up to you whether you will continue to remain with the police, but don’t commit atrocities on poor people,” he said.
The OC left with the journalists, walking 2km to the metalled road where the media’s cars were waiting. He was handed over to police at Jhargram town, 25km from Bhulagera, and will reach Calcutta tomorrow.
Dutta’s wife Indrani said in Calcutta: “I can’t describe how relieved I am. But I shall feel sure of his release only when I see him with my own eyes, I guess.”
Kishanji said the release had been delayed because early this morning, the joint forces encircled part of the Punnapani forest near Dharampur adjoining Lalgarh and appeared to be shooting at what they thought might be rebel hideouts.
“I wanted to release OC babu earlier, but with the police beginning their operations, the process has been delayed,” Kishanji had said in the morning. “Unless the forces stop their operations and remain confined to their camps for the next 24 hours, we will not take responsibility for OC babu’s life.”
The firing stopped soon, but government sources suggested Kishanji had no intention of releasing Dutta so early and had all along planned to do so after sunset to avoid being attacked after the release.
“The Maoists had made it clear they would release Dutta only after the judge granted the Adivasi women bail, which he did in the afternoon,” the officer said.
In keeping with the deal, the government did not oppose the bail petition of the women who had been arrested on September 22 for allegedly attacking the police. They will be freed tomorrow after formalities are complete.
The deal was struck after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said yesterday afternoon that a “negotiation and settlement’’ was needed with the “kidnappers’’. The government decided to contact the Maoists through “unofficial channels”. A source said: “If any harm came to the officer, the state’s image would have taken a beating.”
A senior inspector-general got in touch with an aide of Kishanji with help from an officer of West Midnapore police around 8pm. The rebels had initially asked for the release of Lalgarh leader Chhatradhar Mahato, withdrawal of the joint forces from Lalgarh and bail for the women.
But the government rejected the first two demands and the Maoists quickly climbed down under pressure.
“The women were not hardened terrorists, just supporters of Mahato’s (People’s) Committee,” an officer said. “Although their release is a huge victory for the Maoists — as they will be seen to be with the tribals, fighting for their cause — the government’s message that for every policeman killed, 25 Maoists would be killed had also sunk in.”
It was to keep up this pressure that the morning offensive at Punnapani was launched. “The idea was to zero in on their base… to send the message that if they didn’t release the OC even after the (women got bail), the forces would attack their hideout and kill or arrest several of them,’’ a source said.
Dutta said he was told past midnight “that I might be released today”. The OC, who was in the same off-white T-shirt and trousers that he wore when he was taken hostage on Tuesday afternoon, said he had been shifted frequently. “The Maoists were initially aggressive but later they co-operated with me.”
Refusing to elaborate on the deal, chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said: “We tried all possible ways to get him (Dutta) released and eventually that fetched results.’’
Director-general of police Bhupinder Singh said: “I am not concerned about the means or whether our government reacted at gunpoint. I only know the results.”
He, however, indicated this was not the end of the anti-Maoist offensive: “We are certainly not into Gandhian philosophy.”
The DGP also said that bail for the tribal women did not mean action against them would cease for ever.
“Bail doesn’t prove their innocence. We will frame chargesheets and submit them in court. Then it is for the court to decide whether the accused will be punished,” he added.