Innocent student arrested in Naxal-linked case freed after 14 days
Prakash Pusu Vidpi was arrested on Feb 21, in an allegedly Naxal-linked arson case.
After spending 14 long nights in police custody despite being innocent, college student Prakash Pusu Vidpi was finally released from the Central Jail in Chandrapur on the evening of March 7. He was arrested on February 21, in connection with an allegedly Naxal-linked arson incident in a nearby village. While the said incident had taken place on January 21, at the time, Prakash was in Nagepalli, where he attends college, answering his examination.
Prakash was arrested along with seven others from his village in the wee hours on February 21 from his residence without any explanation. “I kept asking them why they were arresting me, what my offence was. But they did not say anything. It was when I was produced before the Aheri Magistrate Court later that day when I was told why I was arrested,” Prakash told Indie Journal.
The arrests led to protests by the adivasi villagers in Prakash’s village which brought the attention of district authorities to the case. The police said that the arrest was made based on the statement by an informer, they had assured the villagers that he will be released soon since he was found not guilty. Bhamragad tehsildar also intervened. However, despite this, due to the weekend and court holidays, the proceedings could only be held on Wednesday, March 2.
Moreover, while Prakash already had to spend so many days in jail despite being deemed innocent, even after he was issued a bail order, he had to spend one more night in jail due to a clerical error in the order.
“Finally, Prakash was issued bail on March 6. However, the bail order made a mistake in mentioning the name of the police station. The offence was registered at the Bhamragad police station. But in the bail order, the name was mentioned as Lahiri police station. Lahiri is a sub-police station under Bhamragad. The jail authorities refused to release Prakash until the record was corrected," Adv. Lalsu Soma Nogoti, activist and Gadchiroli Zilla Parishad member, who has been following the case since day 1, said.
Protests in Dhodraj after the arrest of Prakash and others.
Recounting the events since day 1 of his arrest, Prakash said, “I was picked up from my house early in the morning by the police, without telling me why. All they said was that I had been called to the station. Once we reached there, they took away my phone, barring me from contacting anyone. They did not want to listen to anything that I said. We were directly taken to Gadchiroli.”
From day 1, Prakash said that he maintained that he was innocent, that he had all the evidence to prove it. “I got to know about the incident for which I was arrested when I was taken to the court in Aheri. The arson took place on January 21. I was at my college in Nagepalli at the time. My examination began on January 19 to 27. I had the exam timetable to show the police and court. I had an exam on January 21 as well. Despite this, I was remanded to custody,” he said.
Eventually, after protests and intervention from district authorities, the police started the process to release Prakash under section 169 of Criminal Procedure. Section 169 ensures the release of the accused when evidence is deficient. “However, we had charged him under UAPA. So the judge said that the proposal could not be processed at the Magistrates Court and it had to be forwarded to the Sessions Court,” Dhodraj police outpost PSI Rajesh Ghadge had told Indie Journal the last time.
Arrests of adivasis in Gadchiroli’s remote villages and hamlets, in connection with Naxal-related cases, is more common than you think, Nogoti says, who hails from the area and works closely with the locals. An increasing number of police stations in the region and increasing suspicious arrests, he says, have created fear among the villagers.
“The 14 days in jail were distressing. I was not subjected to any physical abuse. But I was so stressed that I could not even eat,” Prakash said.
Released now, Prakash returned to his home in his village. But he plans to go back to his college in a couple of days, as soon as possible. He will figure out the further legal course of action in this regard after speaking with his lawyer.