Two of the three men who escaped the forest encounter near Tirupati in which 20 villagers from Tamil Nadu, suspected of being red sanders smugglers, were gunned down by Andhra police last week will appear on Monday before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in New Delhi.
Sekhar, from Tiruvannamalai, and Balachandran, from Dharmapuri, caught the evening flight to Delhi from Chennai, but the third — Illango from Jawadhu hills — did not have the required ID papers to travel, said Palaniammal of People’s Watch, a Madurai-based rights organisation that has provided shelter to the witnesses.
She added that Illango claimed he was among the villagers who were pulled out of a bus near Tiruttani by Andhra police before being detained and “tortured”.
Palaniammal said Illango told her that he later escaped unnoticed from the Nagari police station, near Tirupati, as it was “poorly lit”. Seven of those who were allegedly pulled off the bus were gunned down hours later in an encounter.
A recorded statement from Illango would be submitted before NHRC on Monday, she added.
When contacted, NHRC chairperson Justice K G Balakrishnan told The Indian Express that the witnesses “could record their statements before a full commission sitting” at 10.30 am at its headquarters. The commission may then decide on the steps to be taken to “ensure justice”, he added.
“It may be judicial measures or other independent probes. We have a full-fledged team of police officers and a civil investigation team as well,” Balakrishnan said.
The Indian Express had first reported on Thursday about how Andhra police missed Sekhar as he was seated separately, next to a woman, on a bus from Tiruttani to Renigunta while the others from his village were pulled out and taken to custody, hours before the “encounter”.
According to Palaniammal, Balachandran told her that he “narrowly escaped” as he, along with another villager, failed to catch the bus to Renigunta as they had gone “to have liquor” at Tiruttani.
Palaniammal said Balachandran told her that he was among eight people from Chitteri hills who went to Jawadhu hills in Tiruvannamalai on Sunday after being offered a job by a tailoring shop owner, Palani, one among the 20 who were killed.
She added that from there, Balachandran reached Tiruttani late last Monday evening. She quoted Balachandran as saying: “Two of us went to have liquor near Tiruttani bus stand and missed the bus that started at around 6.30 pm or so. Almost an hour later, I made a call to Sivakumar, my brother-in-law in the team, to check whether we could board the next bus to Tirupati. We were heavily drunk by then, around 7.30-8 pm. Sivakumar said police in plainclothes had stopped the bus and picked them up. Later, we made another call to Palani and he told us that they were taken to Nagari police station on the Tirupati road. We returned to the Jawadhu hills.”
Balachandran could not provide any infomation on the current location of the man who accompanied him, Palaniammal said, adding that People’s Watch had ensured the safety of the three witnesses who feared a possible arrest by Andhra or Tamil Nadu police.