The main issue that might come up during the impending discussion between the Odisha government and Maoist-chosen mediators following the abduction of two Italian nationals on Saturday will be the release of “innocent” people in jail.
Many social activists agree with the Maoists that a large chunk of poor tribals in jail have been arrested on false cases.
When Maoists abducted the then Malkangiri collector, R Vineel Krishna, on February 16, 2011, the main demand of the Maoists was the release of 627 “innocent” prisoners, mostly tribals. The state reached an agreement with three mediators engaged in facilitating Krishna's release on looking into the issue with “compassion”.
Talking to HT, Odisha home secretary UN Behera said: “After Krishna's release from captivity, we reviewed all cases against the tribals which also included those relating to excise and forest violations. In about 150 cases, we have started the process of releasing them.”
However, Jan Adhikar Manch convener Dandapani Mohanty, one of the three mediators, said the state government did nothing on that front.
“At least 430 people are still languishing in various jails. Except a very few hardcore Maoists, the rest of them are poor and innocent tribals and democratic rights activists such as Gananath Patra,” Mohanty said.
Patra, a CPI (ML) leader and advisor to the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, has been in jail for the past two years.
Mohanty said after the Krishna episode, the state government's intervention helped in the release of just five people — Ganti Prasad, Gokul, Roja Mandangi, Padma (top Maoist leader Ramkrishna's wife) and Iswari. On the other hand, a total of 200 people were acquitted by various courts due to lack of evidence and the state government had no role in the matter.
Social activist Rabi Das concurred with Mohanty that the state had done little of what had been agreed upon with the mediators for Krishna's release. “This time the state should send a clear message that it is sincere about tribals and honour demands relating to tribal rights such as land.”