The family of a suspected Maoist, allegedly killed during a gunfight with security forces in May, has moved the Chhattisgarh High Court with the claim that he was 15 years old when the incident took place, reported The Indian Express on Friday.

The family demanded an investigation into the May 21 killing of Rishu Istam near Pidiyakot village in Narayanpur district even as the Dantewada Police alleged that he and Ram Singh Alami, also killed during the gunfight, were senior Maoists with several cases registered against them.

Istam’s brother Gopi refuted the police’s claims and said that the suspected Maoist’s Aadhaar card proved he was only 15 years old. “He [Istam] rarely went out, and was busy with farming work and household chores all day,” said his mother Palo. Gopi said they feared retaliation after approaching the High Court.

Pidiyakot village head Umaram Kawasi also dismissed the police’s claims that 32-year-old Alami, also known as Maata, was a Janmilitia member. “He was arrested long back, during the Salwa Judum movement, as a Naxal,” Kawasi told the newspaper, adding that he was released after two years due to lack of evidence. He further said the police did not make any enquiries about the two before the “encounter”.

The village chief said Istam and Alami were returning after collecting rice provided under the Public Distribution System when they were apprehended by security forces. Manki Berta, a local who claimed to be an eyewitness, said the personnel’s faces were covered and that they were carrying plastic gunny bags with guns.

Berta added that Alami and Istam were led into the forest after their faces were covered. Alami’s wife, Jilo Alami, claimed that she had followed them along with two others and soon heard gunshots that lasted for minutes.

However, the police have completely denied these claims. Dantewada Superintendent of Police Abhishek Pallav claimed they had recovered weapons along with 5 kg of improvised explosive devices from Alami and Istam. He also expressed doubt over the silence of the villagers for two months since the deaths and attributed their allegations to pressure from Maoists.

“The family members and local representatives accepted at the time that both were Naxals,” Pallav said. “Their issue was that we could have arrested and not killed them. But our men came under fire, and in retaliation, both men were killed.” The police officer also dismissed claims of Istam being a minor and called it a Maoist strategy to make Aadhar cards with fake birth dates to “get away by claiming to be minors”.

Pallav said they had acted after getting inputs about Maoist movement in the area, adding that they had evidence that Alami and Istam were cadres. “There are several cases against them, their names are in statements of surrendered cadres,” he said. A bone ossification test places Istam’s age around 18 years and he is likely to have been older, the police official said.

Bastar Inspector General P Sundarraj described the allegations as Maoist propaganda to bring disrepute to the security forces. He reiterated that the police have records to show that the two men were part of Maoist “dalams” for six to seven years.