On May 5, Bijapur-based journalist Ganesh Mishra received a call and heard a frightened voice. The caller identified herself as Sunita Kattam, wife of policeman Santosh Kattam and mother of three daughters.
Sunita told Mishra that Santosh went to see a fair at a village and did not return. She said she suspected that her husband had been abducted and sought Mishra’s help.
On Monday, Mishra and two other journalists emerged from a forest with Sunita, one of her daughters and her husband Santosh, unharmed.
Santosh is a constable with Chhattisgarh Police and posted at Bhopalapatnam in Bijapur district, about 50 km from district headquarters. He was on leave and visiting his wife and daughters in Bijapur town when the lockdown was implemented and he could not return to Bhopalapatnam. On May 4, he went to the ration shop on his scooter.
“Sunita told me that for some reason after that, he went to Gorna village where a mela had been organised,” Mishra said.
In Bijapur, Gorna and the adjoining Mankeli villages are well- known. Despite successive governments claiming successes in the fight against Maoists, Gorna and Mankeli are considered villages with strong rebel influence, despite being less than 10 km away from district headquarters.
Mishra said, “Maoist sangam sadasyas must have identified Santosh as an outsider. In his pocket, he had his identity card. And in a bag was his uniform. They took him away.”
Two days after Sunita’s call, Mishra and some other journalists set out for the forests. “On May 9, I met Maoist cadre in the jungles and they said they had abducted Santosh and were questioning him. I told them he has small children and there is nobody else to provide for them. We then returned to Bijapur,” Mishra said.
On May 10, Mishra received a call from an unknown number. A male voice said a Jan Adalat was to meet in the jungles of Pidia and Mishra was asked to bring Santosh’s family members. On May 11, Mishra, journalists Chetan Kapewar and P Ranjan Das, set off. With them were Sunita and her daughter Bhavna. The journey took seven-and-a-half hours,
At the designated spot, they found villagers assembled on the Maoists’ call. “The policeman was brought to the centre and asked about his work. He spoke about himself and his family and asked for forgiveness. The villagers concluded that he was not involved in operations and let him go,” Mishra said.
But the release was conditional. Santosh and his wife Sunita promised that he would quit his police job and return to their native village Jagargunda in Sukma.
Mishra said days like these reaffirm his faith in his profession. “There is fear. We have families too. Journalism in Bastar is like dancing on the tip of a double-edged sword. When we write something the police say, Maoists say you are a police man. When we write something Maoists say, police say you are a Maoist sympathiser… We have received threats. sometimes from Maoists, sometimes from police… But when someone gets justice from our news or acts like these, some of that pain is lessened,” Mishra said.
Chhattisgarh DGP D M Awasthi told The Indian Express, “We were aware of the case and all efforts were being made to bring the jawan back. The media has always cooperated with us and did so in this case too.”
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