Raipur: Branded Maoist sympathisers by police, the future stretches dark for Lingaram Kodopi and Soni Sori who have been in Chhattisgarh's jails for nearly 11 months with little hope of getting bail. And for crimes they are hardly aware of.
Kodopi, 25, and his 35-year-old aunt, who has been brutally tortured, are actually prisoners of conscience, say rights activists and lawyers.
Once the poster boy of tribals in Bastar, Kodopi, who was training to be a multimedia journalist who could help empower his community with information and awareness, is lodged in the Jagdalpur Central Jail while Sodi is nursing wounds in the Raipur Central Jail after undergoing treatment for a month at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi in June.
The two tribals have been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 besides various sections of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly aiding Maoist guerrillas.
But activists say the duo have been jailed for questioning human rights violations by police and security forces in the state.
"Lingaram and his aunt have bleak chances of coming out on bail in the near future since the two acts they have been booked under provide unbridled power to the state to linger a trial," said Ramesh Varlyani, an advocate here.
"Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi should behave. You don't organise; you don't agitate; you don't protest against human rights violations; you don't protest against the state; and you certainly don't protest against industrial houses that are in Bastar to usher in the industrial revolution," Himanshu Kumar, member of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said.
But police allege the duo helped the rebels.
Kodopi, a Muria adivasi (tribal) from a village in Dantewada district, was arrested Sep 10 last year with B.K. Lala, a contractor, from a village market. Police said Kodopi was there to receive Rs.15 lakh from Lala, which he intended to deliver to two guerrillas -- Raghu and Vinod, members of the Darbha Divisional Committee of the CPI-Maoist.
The amount, police said, was protection money extorted from the Essar mining company.
Sori, a school teacher, was arrested in New Delhi on Oct 4 on charges of helping the extortion business of the guerrillas in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, a Maoist stronghold. She was trying to get anticipatory bail when arrested.
This was followed by the arrest of Essar's general manager D.V.C.S. Verma for allegedly paying money to the guerrillas to allow the company to reopen its iron ore slurry pipeline from Kirandul in Chhattisgarh to Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The guerrillas had blown up the pipeline at several places.
All the four arrested people were booked under the same acts. Lala and Verma later managed to secure bail while Kodopi and Sodi are still behind bars.
There has been no word from Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar on the progress made by the Special Investigation Team probing the alleged deal.
Police officials in Dantewada, however, say Kodopi is a Maoist who once volunteered as a special police officer (SPO) to fight the guerrillas and then masterminded an attack on a Congress leader.
Officials say he is the successor of slain Maoist leader Azad and civil society activists got him admitted to a journalism course in Noida, adjacent to the national capital, to groom him as their link to the rebels.
"Kodopi first came on the police radar in 2009. He was questioned over his Maoist links. He later voluntarily became a SPO. He was on the payroll," said Himanshu Shekhar, superintendent of police, Bastar.
Rajinder Kumar Sial, a former Chhattisgarh PUCL president, said: "Lingaram is a victim of state repression, pressured to become an SPO and locked up when he refused."
The tale of Kodopi's misfortune is long. In October 2009, he resisted an attempt by the police to forcibly recruit him as an SPO. He was detained for 40 days in a police station and released only after a habeas corpus petition was filed by his brother in the high court.
In April 2010, at a public hearing in Delhi, he detailed alleged violations committed by the security forces against tribals in Chhattisgarh, following which the police said he was the prime suspect in a Maoist attack at a Congress leader's residence.
In the continuing tragedy of Chhattisgarh, one of the worst hit by Maoist insurgency, the aunt and nephew are just amongst the many dramatis personae.