Two top leaders of Patthalgadi movement in Jharkhand involved in the June 19 gangrape of five women in Khunti were arrested on Sunday, police said. The police said John Jonas Tidu and Balram Samad have admitted that members of Maoist splinter group, People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), were involved in executing the crime.
Five women were abducted and gangraped when they went to stage a play against human trafficking in Kochang village of Khunti. Earlier, police had said Patthalgadi supporters told them that they suspected that the women were spreading messages against the movement and they were raped to be taught a lesson.
Police said the duo have told them that they spread misleading messages as part of Patthalgadi movement after being inspired by one “Satpati Cult” of Gujarat. They did not share details about the cult. Police also said they told them that Patthalgadi leader Krishna Hansda, arrested last year, influenced them.
Police got information that Tidu and Samad planned to leave for Maharashtra on a train from Chakradharpur Sunday, police said. While Tidu was arrested from Hata Chowk in Potka, Samad was arrested at a village in Khunti.
At a press meet, IG Naveen Kumar Singh said, “The two accused were named in the incident pertaining to the kidnapping of four armed guards from the house of Khunti BJP MP Kariya Munda on June 26. During their initial interrogation, they have also confessed to having been involved in the Khunti gangrape case.”
Singh said the accused were given to understand that salaries of President and Prime Minister went from an account being operated by Satpati cult. “They were told that the ‘bank’ founded by them could be sustained by the bank run by the cult,” he said.
Tidu has 12 cases against him, including those of sedition and rioting. Samad has against him eight cases under similar charges.
To a query, Singh said the accused have made certain claims regarding involvement of a Catholic priest, who was arrested on charges of not informing police in time and not trying to protect the gangrape victims. “We are not in a position to reveal the contents as the claims are yet to be verified,” he said.
Of the six accused in the gangrape case, four have been arrested.
Singh said police and district administration were telling villagers to return to the mainstream and that there would be no action against them. “We are targeting only the top leaders. We understand that these people have been misled and are treating them as victims, not as accused,” he said.
Meanwhile, residents of Chatramu village in Khunti have removed the Patthalgadi installed in their village, making it the first village to do so.
Khunti Deputy Commissioner Suraj Kumar said, “We are working on development programmes. Based on recommendations from gram sabhas, we have short-listed 200 projects and work will begin in a fortnight. We are explaining people the true picture and they have agreed to discuss these issues in gram sabha, following which they would take a decision regarding Patthalgadi.”
A traditional practice among tribals in which they put up stone slabs with names of their ancestors, Patthalgadi had taken the form of a protest. Stone slabs installed outside villages announced that the writ of the government did not run there and the “gram sabha was all-powerful”.