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Friday, April 16, 2021

Chhattisgarh attack: Five days later, Maoists free CRPF commando

Rakeshwar Singh Manhas had gone missing after a gun battle between the security forces and Maoists on April 3. Three days later, the Maoists had said the jawan was in their custody.

Written by Gargi Verma | Basagudi |
Updated: April 9, 2021 5:54:06 am
Rakeshwar Singh Manhas at the CRPF hospital, Basaguda.

THE MISSING CoBRA jawan, Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, who was taken captive by the Maoists on April 3 after a battle along the Bijapur-Sukma border, was released unconditionally to a group of journalists, local leaders and social activists, Thursday evening. He was taken to the CRPF Camp hospital at Basaguda for a primary medical check-up.

Manhas was part of a 450-odd team which came under attack while retreating from an anti-Naxal operation on April 3. He was declared missing by the police after a search and rescue operation the next day. As many as 22 security personnel were killed in the attack.

In quarantine now, Manhas, 38, is not allowed to speak with anyone. He, however, had spoken with the journalists who were part of the 11-member group that went inside the jungles to get him released.

According to members of the delegation, Manhas recalled suffering a shrapnel injury during the attack on April 3, and running to avoid coming in the Naxal line of fire, before fainting, possibly due to dehydration and extreme stimuli. When he opened his eyes, he was already in the Maoist camp, staring at the enemies he had come to fight. For the next five days, he would walk several kilometres and be taken from one camp to the other, till the time he was released in front of villagers and armed Naxal cadres, they said.

After his release, Bijapur Superintendent of Police Kamalochan Kashyap said, “The jawan has come back to us. We are getting his medical check up done. We are thankful to the social activists and the journalists who helped in getting him back.”

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also thanked the journalists and social activists.

In far-away Jammu, Rakeshwar Singh’s four-year-old daughter Raghvi’s only wish was to have her father back home soon. There was celebration at his residence in Jammu’s Burnai area. Family members, relatives and neighbours congratulated each other as the tense atmosphere prevailing over the last few days vanished.

His wife Meenu Manhas expressed gratitude towards the government and all those who helped secure the release of her husband.

On Tuesday, the Maoists had released a press note demanding that the government issue a list of interlocutors. While the government was still discussing, a team of seven journalists along with four social activists left Wednesday afternoon to receive the CoBRA jawan.

The 11-member group comprised four journalists from Bijapur Ganesh Mishra, Mukesh Chandrakar, Yukesh Chandrakar, Ranjan Dash and Chetan Kapewar, two from Sukma K Shankar and Ravi Runje, Padmashree and social activist Dharampal Saini, Gondwana Samaaj leader Telam Boraeya, ex-Sarpanch and tribal leader Sukhmati Apka, and social leader Guru Rudra Khare.

Ganesh Mishra, who works for a local publication Pratah India, was one of the journalists who had received calls from the Maoists about Rakeshwar Singh being held captive. “When the Maoists informed us, they said that he wouldn’t be harmed and would be released. In a press note, they asked the government to name interlocutors (for the release). Through our channels, we told them, we are not government representatives but we wanted the jawan to be released,” he said.

After speaking with the Bastar IG and Bijapur SP, the group of journalists decided that representatives of adivasi samaj and local tribes would go along with them. The 11-member team left for the final spot in the wee hours of Thursday and went more than 20 km into the jungles, to a designated place, which was a few kilometres from the spot of Saturday’s attack.

The group waited for over four hours before armed Naxals brought Rakeshwar Singh. “His hands were tied when they brought him. Many villagers had gathered at the spot…,” Mishra said.

Rakeshwar Singh, who was released thanked the village, and said he was not harmed when in captivity.

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