February 23, 2015 1:35:59 am
Fifteen days after the Supreme Court ordered his release, reprimanding the Orissa government for his arrest, 34-year-old Sangram Mohanty lives in fear.
He seldom ventures out of his house in Berhampur’s Shanti Nagar locality, he says, and mostly to meet his lawyers. “I’m afraid police will slap more cases against me.”
On February 6, the Supreme Court ordered Sangram’s release after 26 months in captivity. The son of Maoist ideologue Dandapani Mohanty, he was named in 19 cases of Maoist violence, including burning of mobile towers and earth excavators, planting of landmines targeting security forces, and even attempted rape. He was charged with sedition, waging war against the state, rioting, being a member of an unlawful association, and under the Arms Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Slamming the state government in its order, the Supreme Court said Sangram’s arrest “was overreach by the police in view of an earlier order granting bail”. It also directed that case records be submitted before it within four weeks.
Picked up two months after his son, Dandapani continues to be behind bars. Incidentally, he has often acted as interlocutors with Maoists for the government, including playing a key role in the release of former Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna in 2011 and two Italian hostages in 2012.
The morning of his arrest, on December 5, 2012, Sangram had been looking forward to going to Cuttack to collect his lawyers’ licence from the Bar Council of India office. Twenty plainclothed but armed policemen had picked him up from a busy street and shoved him into a waiting vehicle. Four hours later, parading him before the media in Mohana in Gajapati district 60 km away, police had dubbed Sangram a “logistics manager” for the Maoists.
“I was asked to sign several papers at gunpoint. I was sitting there when I saw on TV the news of my arrest and the seizure of two US-made automatic pistols, Maoist literature, ammunition, food materials, cellphone sets and around Rs 16,500 cash from me,” says Sangram.
Over the following months, one case after another was slapped against him. He started a hunger strike and broke his fast only on the persuasion of Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the aide-turned-bete noire of CM Naveen Patnaik. Sangram’s supporters believe he was arrested because of his decision to join Mohapatra’s party. He was picked up within five days of it.
Geetanjali Mohanty ran pillar to post to secure the release of son Sangram and Dandapani. “Each day seemed like years,” she says.
On January 27 this year, Sangram finally walked out of Berhampur jail after being granted bail by the Supreme Court in eight cases. However, the moment he stepped out, the Orissa Police rearrested him in two “pending” cases of 2011. His lawyer Dipak Patnaik says police will end up with egg on their faces as they had booked him under various sections of the UAPA without getting these vetted by a central committee as required.
Claiming that in most cases, Sangram’s name appears as an afterthought, Patnaik says, “The cops knew they couldn’t hold Sangram beyond the period of the chargesheet and so they staggered the cases to keep him in jail. They were so desperate they named him in five cases on February 6, 2013. They picked old cases of Maoist violence in 2010 and 2011, got some villagers as witnesses and slapped fresh cases against him.”
The Orissa Police, however, insist Sangram has close links with jailed top Maoist Sabyasachi Panda. Puri SP Ashis Singh, who oversaw Sangram’s arrest says he was “very surprised” the 34-year-old had been given bail. “While he was in Paralakhemundi jail in Gajapati, police had seized CDs containing Maoist ideas and other such literature from his cell,” says Singh.
A family friend of the Mohanty’s, Choudhury Rajani Patro, says Sangram paid the price for being Dandapani’s son, harbouring political ambitions and joining the Odisha Jana Morcha of Pyari Mohapatra. “Had he not protested against the oppression unleashed by the current BJD MLA from Sorada in Ganjam district, the cops may have spared him,” adds Patro, who too was detained after Sangram’s arrest.
Sangram compares the Orissa Police’s actions to “tactics of the British government”. “But neither my father nor I am going to be cowed down for fighting for people’s causes,” he says.
He would make one change though. Frustrated after his re-arrest last month, Sangram had snapped the paita (sacred thread) he wore around his body. He plans to put that back on. “My grandmother would be mighty upset if I don’t,” he says.
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