The police then called him a Naxal who had once volunteered as a special police officer and then masterminded an attack on a Congress leader. Having arrested him last week, they now describe him as a middleman between the activists behind him and Naxals.
The activists then described him as a victim of police harassment, pressured to become an SPO and locked up when he refused. After his release, they turned him into a poster boy for tribals in Chhattisgarh, admitting him to a course that made him the “first tribal youth with a journalism degree”.
Lingaram was arrested on September 9 from a market in Palnar, Dantewada, allegedly while receiving money from a contractor for the Essar Group. The activists held another press conference in his defence in Delhi on Wednesday (see tile of quotes). Police say activists had admitted him to the course with the objective of grooming him as their link to Naxals. Himanshu Kumar, one of those behind the youth and himself described by the police earlier as a middleman, says Lingaram studied at the International Media Institute of India, in Noida.
It no longer exists there. “The media school shifted out four months ago,” said the owner of the building at D-59, Sector 2. “I don’t know whether they shut down or shifted base.” A number is listed on the institute’s website; a call there was picked up by a woman who said the school had shifted to Delhi but who could not confirm where. “The person who knows is not here,” she said. There was no response to later calls.
Lingaram first came on the police radar in 2009; they say they detained him for questioning over his Naxal links. “He later became an SPO voluntarily. He was on the payroll,” an officer said. Last year, Lingaram said the police had pressured him to become an SPO, that he refused, and that they kept him in jail for 40 days, releasing him after his brother Masaram moved the Bilaspur High Court. “When we produced him, he told the court that he no longer wanted to be an SPO, so we let him go,” the officer said.
“After his release we called him to Delhi and admitted him to the institute,” Himanshu said, adding Lingaram completed his course, freelanced in Delhi and was in the capital till recently.
In 2010, when suspected Naxals attacked the home of Congress leader Avdhesh Kumar Gautam, the Chhattisgarh police said Lingaram was the mastermind. They also described him as the successor to the CPI(Maoist)’s slain spokesperson Azad.
Activists then questioned how someone in Delhi could have masterminded the attack, and why the police hadn’t arrested him. An police officer now said, “We wanted to arrest him immediately, but he was in Delhi and activists had put too much pressure, so we could not act. We had warrants issued but kept those pending. Now that he was caught red-handed with money, it has been proved he is a Naxal, the activists exposed.”
Dantewada SP Ankit Garg said he is certain the man caught now is the one they wanted then. “He is the same Lingaram. We could not arrest him then as he was not in the area.”
Himanshu was in Chhattisgarh for 10 years, in Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, but is not from the state. He shifted to Delhi after his ashram was burnt down, for which he blames the police. The police say this is when the activists chose Lingaram. “Lingaram was the only educated, though just a little, youth among tribals. Himanshu’s role as a middleman between activists and Naxals had been exposed,” said a senior police officer who has served in the area.
Lingaram worked with Himanshu at the ashram. “He is a simple tribal who disliked Naxals. He even burnt a Naxal flag and was threatened by Naxals. He has proof of government involvement in burning down three villages. They feared he would share his evidence with the CBI, which is probing this, so the police arrested him,” Himanshu said. (Inputs by Dipankar Ghose in New Delhi)
Activists back to his defence
Civil rights activists held a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday to demand Lingaram Kodopi’s release. What they said:
He has been taken into custody simply for being an Adivasi boy who dared to stand up. It is telling that in an affidavit in 2009 to a people's tribunal, Lingaram said that he was afraid for his life. This is a war for the tribals in the area, a war that the state does not acknowledge. Hypocrisy of the BJP... When the cash for votes scandal happens, the BJP does not trust the police. In Chhattisgarh, they can do no wrong.
This [arrival in Delhi to study journalism] scared the Chhatisgarh Police who feared he would [disclose] the torture he faced. It is the classic case of a witch hunt by the Chhatisgarh government of a tribal youth who managed to empower himself by becoming a journalist and exposing the state atrocities against his community.
If, as the government says, Naxalism is one of the biggest threats to our democracy, this must be done [formation of a committee with eminent jurists to look into cases of arrests on flimsy grounds]. Otherwise, we are pushing people towards taking up arms, giving them no choice by torturing them in everyday life.
Maybe there should be [a mass movement similar to Anna Hazare's]. It is as serious an issue as corruption.
The police have been harassing him since he resisted being an SPO in 2009. He and his family have faced police brutality since then.