A drink saved his life!!!

Getting out for a drink saved 29-year-old Balachandran but his father fell to police’s bullets while 54-year-old Sekar is alive now as he sat stone-faced when a man dragged out his relative from a bus headed to Andhra Pradesh’s temple town of Tirupati.

Balachandran and Sekar, who could have been potential victims in the “fake” encounter in Seshachalam forests in Andhra Pradesh on April 7, recorded their bone-chilling testimonies before National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on April 13 after much prodding from their panchayat chiefs and human rights activists.

Twenty woodcutters from Tamil Nadu were killed in the encounter by Special Task Force, which alleged that they were red sanders smugglers and attacked them when intercepted.

Another survivor Ilangovan, who jumped out a tempo after being forcibly taken away by police, could not record his statement, as he did not posses any identity card to fly to Delhi.

Sekar and Balachandran were helped by Tamil Nadu-based People’s Watch and lawyer Vrinda Grover to record their statements. Though the witnesses preferred not to talk, Grover and Henry Tiphagne of People’s Watch said that the victims were initially not willing to testify but had to be convinced.

In his statement, Balachandran said he got a call from contractor’s agent Palani who promised job in Puducherry. The witness also agreed to bring eight more labourers, including his father Harikrishnan, with him. On April 6, while on travel, Balachandran and agent Palani’s friend went to a government liquor shop for a drink and missed the bus.

“The duo continued their journey and the friend contacted Palani over phone several times. Palani later told him that he was arrested. Balachandran was worried about his father and when he called his relative Sivakumar, another person picked up the phone and asked him to come to Tirupati. He was scared and returned to village and found out on TV that his father and seven others were killed,” Tiphagne quoted Balachandran as saying.

In his testimony, Sekar said he travelled outside village for the first time on April 6 after neighbour and relative Mahendran promised him a job in Chennai.

Mahendran along with Sekar, Murthy and Muniswamy boarded a bus. While it crossed Arcot, a man “with a thick moustache, medium height and closely cropped hair” boarded the bus and asked Mahendran to get down. When Mahendran asked his identity, he was dragged out.

“Sekar was sitting along with a woman and Mahendran. He was told that he will be taken to Chennai but hearing the conductor calling passengers for Tirupati, he came to know that they were going towards Andhra Pradesh. He was scared and when Mahendran was accosted, he chose to remain silent. After sometime when he looked back to check on Murthy and Muniswamy, they were not there,” Tiphagne quoted Sekar as saying.

“He got off the bus and made his way back home after changing bus and walking long distance as he had only Rs 90 with him,” he said adding Sekar could save his life as the person who dragged Mahendran might have thought that he was the husband of the woman sitting beside him.

Apr 13, 2015

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