A 19-year-old arrested by the security forces after Wednesday's gunbattle with Maoist guerrillas in West Midnapore's Ranjha forest is "mentally challenged" and suffers from severe epilepsy, his parents and villagers claim. But the police disagree.
Rameshwar Murmu, a resident of this remote village, about 30 km from the district headquarters Midnapore, is also dumb, his father says.
"On every full moon and new moon day, my son has epileptic seizures. Then it becomes very difficult to tackle him," a downcast Bankim Murmu told IANS at the village under Salboni block.
Rameshwar had contracted high fever when he was eight. After that he lost his faculty of speech and became an epilepsy patient, Bankim said.
Police, after arresting the youth, had admitted he did not speak a word during the interrogation.
The joint forces personnel claimed that Rameshwar was a Maoist who was injured in the fierce gunbattle, which had left eight rebels dead.
The teenager was shown as "unnamed" and produced in the Midnapore district court on Thursday. He was remanded in 14 days' judicial custody after being charged under various sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
According to the youth's mother Madina, when the joint forces were entering their village, all the residents fled to the forest to escape arrest. "I also ran with my husband. But as Rameshwar is mentally challenged, he ran in the direction of the joint forces and was arrested as they took him to be a fleeing Maoist."
It was only when Bankim and Madina returned to the village did they realise that their son has been taken into custody by the forces.
"My son is not a Maoist. He is a mentally challenged boy. He can't even talk properly," said Bankim, tears welling up in his eyes.
Rameshwar, a Class 4 drop out, lives with his elder brother and parents.
The fever he contracted when a child had left his face along with his hands and legs swollen, they said.
Till 2005, he was under the treatment of 'ojhas' or traditional healers in the village.
"Later, we took him to a doctor N Adhikari, who examined him and conducted a series of tests. Finally, he asked us to conduct an EEG (Electro-encephalograph) test which was done at a private laboratory in Midnapore," Bankim said, showing an IANS reporter the medical reports and prescriptions of his son.
The test results, prepared by Swapan Sinha, clearly stated there was an abnormal EEG finding suggestive of "postictal state" (an altered state of consciousness that a person enters after experiencing a seizure).
An aged villager, Sudha Baske, corroborated the Murmu couple's version. "Rameshwar is ill. When he has his seizures, we also have to attend to him. It then becomes difficult even for two persons to control him," she said.
However, state police chief Bhupinder Singh refused to buy the claims of Rameshwar's parents. "If he was not a Maoist, then what was he doing there? He also has a grazing bullet injury. And the Maoists have themselves admitted that their PLGA (Peoples' Liberation Guerilla Army - the Maoists' armed wing) members were at the spot," he said.
But Bankim's only aim now is to get back his son. But the agricultural labourer has no idea how to go about it. "We don't know what to do to save our son. We don't know who we need to talk and who we need to meet to save him."