The third witness in the Seshachalam forest firing case in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, in which 20 men were killed last week, was unable to come to Delhi. The protection granted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Monday, however, extends to him and his family as well.
Twenty-one-year-old Illangovan, who hails from the Malakanavayoor village, however, gave a statement, that is yet to be submitted to the commission. The statement was recorded by People’s Watch, a Tamil Nadu-based human rights organisation that brought the other two witnesses in the case to Delhi on Sunday.
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A daily wage labourer, Illangovan said in his statement that on April 6, he was on his way out of his village in search of a masonry job along with Paneerselvam, also a resident of his village. At about 8 pm, when they stopped at Nagari Puthu for food, they saw two policemen in uniform carrying rifles.
“Paneerselvam sensed something was wrong and so both men got into an auto. Within a few seconds the auto was surrounded by eight policemen in mufti who were all carrying guns and interrogated us about where we were from,” the statement mentions. Illangovan then said that the policemen pulled both of them out of the auto and made them wait while they spoke on the phone.
They were then thrown into a large open lorry — Eicher brand — carrying nearly 30 odd people.
Inside the van, Illangovan’s statement read, there were nearly ten men carrying rifles and they seemed to be policemen. He could not see the faces of the other men as it was dark.
Illangovan stated, “The lorry, after traveling some distance, stopped at the Rangers Office in Kezthirupathy.
On stopping, the police personnel began taking photographs of the men in the lorry, some of the policemen were getting in and off the vehicle at the Rangers office.” He further said that while policemen walked in and out of the vehicle, he escaped into a dark forest nearby and ran as far away from the lorry as he could. Petrified and weak, at about 4 am, Illangovan made his way to the main road. At around 8 am he found two bikers and asked them for a ride.
“Illangovan somehow managed to make his way back to his village and shared the ordeal he had been through with his parents. The same night his friend Paneerselvam’s body also reached the village,” said the excerpts of the statement released by People’s Watch, that currently has the protective custody of the three witnesses in the case.
“We have found three witnesses and we have been able to convince them to come forward and speak but we are sure there are many more. Also, we believe that there is an informer (within the labourers) who told the policemen about their whereabouts,” said Henri Tiphagne, executive director of People’s Watch.
Tiphagne said that Illangovan could not come to Delhi as he had no identity proof required for air travel. However, he said team members from People’s Watch had been in touch with him and the NHRC has deputed an official to record his statement in his village.