As 21-year-old Asha goes about squeezing green wedges of lime into a jar of water to make juice, she looks like any other homemaker going about her daily chores.
What does not show is the worry that plagues about her husband Rohidas Shimpi (27) who has been in police custody since the February 2009 Markegaon ambush by Naxals in which 15 policemen were killed.
The attack was similar to the one, which occurred last week near Tavitola in Dhanora barely 30 kms from Shimpi’s village. This time 16 police personnel, including five policewomen, were killed by Naxals.
Shimpi’s family claims he is innocent. “He wasn’t even in the village when the attack took place,” said Asha trying to control her jumpy seven-month old baby girl playing on a cot in the courtyard of their brick house in Markegaon, at least 60kms from Gadchiroli. “He had gone to a nearby village to administer polio drops. He was a social worker.”
Shimpi’s case is representative of the constant tussle between the police and locals with the latter accusing the former of picking up and harassing innocent villagers on the grounds that they support the Naxals.
“This has created anger and mistrust among villagers towards the police,” said a villager from Yerkad village.He requested anonymity fearing he would be targeted.
“When such attacks happen, the police pick up innocent villagers and slap cases against them. The villagers get so fed up that they feel it is better to support the Naxals.”
A total of 37 people are in custody in relation to the Markegaon case. Of these, 18 belong to Markegaon.
“The accused have been charged under section 302 (murder) of the IPC in addition to other charges,” said advocate Ravindra Donarkar who is appearing for Shimpi. “But these charges are false. These people were not present during the firing.”
The police, however, rubbish allegations that people like Shimpi were being victimized. “It is childish (to ask whether there is evidence against Shimpi),” said Pankaj Gupta, Additional Director General, Anti-Naxal Operations.
Shimpi’s family does not know the status of his case. Each trip to their lawyer’s office in Gadchiroli costs the poor at least Rs 110. “My son is going mad in jail,” said Anandabai, Shimpi’s mother. Shimpi’s bail hearing is expected to come up in the first week of June.