On Monday, a day before Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh’s Vikas Yatra (journey of development) was to roll into Bhopalpatnam in Bijapur district in the run-up to year-end Assembly elections, the police in the region claimed a big success. They said they had arrested 15 Maoists, including two women, involved in murders, a bomb blast targeting security personnel and other crimes that had taken place in the district in the past month.

However, the families of 14 of the arrested have claimed that they are not Maoists but members of a wedding party and residents of Fulod village. They said the police had detained 26 of the group on May 18 but released 12 of them on Monday.

On Tuesday, they gathered at the Bijapur tehsil office and demanded that their family members be released. They carried the Aadhaar and voter identification cards of those in custody.

Booked for murder, bomb attack

Announcing the arrests through a press release on Monday, the police said the 14 villagers from Fulod were suspected of robbing and killing the sarpanch of Darbha village on April 24 and murdering a security guard in Jangla village on April 26. The note also alleged that some of the arrested accused had set off an improvised explosive device on the Bijapur-Bhopalpatnam road on April 9 as a bus carrying security personnel passed by. Two security personnel were killed in the blast – which occurred five days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit the area.

The 14 have been booked for murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, dacoity and criminal intimidation.

The 15th accused, 31-year-old Madde Krishna, is a resident of Kandulnar village. He is accused of murdering an accountant earlier this month, and setting fire to the vehicles of a company that is building a bridge in the area. According to the police, Krishna was detained by the District Reserve Guard – a special unit made up of residents, many of them Maoists who have surrendered – during a “search and area domination” operation. He has been booked for murder, attempt to murder and using an explosive substance to damage the bridge.

All 15 arrested accused were remanded in judicial custody on Monday.

Three of the arrested men at Jangla police station.

Wedding party

But the families of the arrested have a different story to tell. They said that on May 17, a wedding group of around 100 people had left Fulod village in three vehicles. The men, women and children were accompanying 25-year-old Mantu Ram Podiami to Gadapal village 100 km away, where he was to marry 20-year-old Vinita Madvi. After the wedding and celebrations, the group left Gadapal on Thursday morning.

When the wedding party reached Bhairamgarh, the police blocked their path and asked them to get off the vehicles. They said the police detained 26 members of the group, all aged between 20 and 30 years. The others – including the bride and groom, the elderly, and women with children – were allowed to leave. They said the police told them that those who had been detained would be taken to the Bijapur police station.

After a night at the police station, the police divided the arrested villagers into two groups, said the driver of one of the vehicles. Ten people, including the two women, were sent to Kutru and three to Jangla while the rest were kept in Bijapur. Twelve of them were released on Monday.

Among those demanding that their relatives be released on Tuesday was Savita Madvi. Her husband Munna, whom she married just last year, is in custody. Aytu Podiami had also come, her six-month-old baby in her arms, in the hope that her husband Budhram would be freed.

Prashant Gadpale, in charge of the police station in Bhairamgarh, said the police had arrested the 26 after receiving information that several members of the Chaitanya Natya Mandal, a cultural group of Maoists, were returning from a meeting. He said that some of the accused were released after an initial inquiry but asked to return for further verification. Gadpale said several of the accused were sent to the Kutru and Jangla police stations since there were cases registered against them there. The police also denied that the accused had been in custody since May 18.

Aam Aadmi Party leader and activist Soni Sori, who is a leading voice against alleged fake encounters and sexual violence committed by security forces, on Monday took up the matter in the sessions court in Dantewada.

A list of the 26 people detained by the police in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district.