Delhi University professor
claims that Naxal Podiyam Panda has been coerced to confess about his role in the Sukma and Tadmetla killings. She spoke to
on police’s claim that Panda has confessed that he was the ‘only link’ for meetings between senior Maoists and her, and rights activist Bela Bhatia in Bastar. Excerpts from an interview:
Why do you think Panda has said what he has said about you to police?
He has not surrendered, but was picked up by police on May 3, 2017. His whereabouts were not shared and even his wife was not allowed to meet him. His was a coerced confession in police custody and the statements he has been forced to make are false. We have evidence that he was tortured. For 10 days nobody was allowed to meet him.
Then, after the habeas corpus case, they summoned Komal, his younger brother, to police station and beat him up as well. Komal was witness to the fact that Panda was forced to speak to his wife in police presence and (police) threatened her that she must withdraw the case. Police used Komal’s phone for that. The family had no independent contact with Panda outside police presence — they could see, however, that he had been badly tortured. He was unable to walk.
Have you met Panda? When, where and how?
Yes, I have met him and in fact written about him in my book, The Burning Forest. I have also mentioned him in my articles. I have known him for 15 years at least. It is completely false that I had met any Maoist with him.
Why do you think Panda is not a Maoist?
Because I know him and he is not a Maoist. He is a local leader. In fact, last year, the Maoists made his wife and brother attend a jan adalat and punished them for carrying out NREGA etc. He helped to get Alex Paul Menon released and in 2005 saved the lives of 7 CRPF jawans.
What do you intend to do next?
The HC has recognised that Panda is in illegal detention and any confession given in police custody is inadmissible in court. This is a false and fabricated story where police is trying to defame us.
There is an allegation that human right activists often don’t condemn killing of security forces. Why does this perception exist?
Because the media is biased and they don’t report it when we condemn. All the human rights activists working on Chhattisgarh instantly condemned the killing of the 25 jawans.
Do you see the Maoist crisis resolving, given the substantial reduction in Maoist controlled areas and wider spread of roads, schools and hospitals?
If you look at this area from where Panda belongs to, during the (Salwa)Judum, he worked to keep the Maoists and police out. You don’t arrest a local leader like Panda if you want to get roads and schools built. We can’t bring about normalcy sitting in Delhi, without the help of local leaders. Ultimately, there has to be peace talks where local leaders are involved.