"I was picked up from my house and taken away by the police. I told them it's not me, it's the other Bhima who has the same name and father's name, but lives in a different part of the village. They didn't listen. I spent around nine months in jail even though I had done nothing wrong."Bhima Podiyam
The special Naxal court of additional sessions judge Kamlesh Kumar Jurri passed the order in March 2022 for the release of 42-year-old Bhima Podiyam, who was in judicial custody since 5 July 2021.
Bhima Podiyam lives with his wife and two children in Juhupara of Minpa village under Chintagufa police station limits in Sukma. He says his wife suffers various ailments – and he is the one who takes care of most of the things in his house. A farmer, he collects minor forest produce to make ends meet.
Podiyam said he was picked up from his house, and was thrashed at the time of police questioning.
"I tried to convince them of my version of the story but they didn't listen. Tried my best but nobody listened. They showed me a gun and kept asking me if it belonged to me. I told them I don't even know how to shoot, it's not mine but they kept beating me, didn't listen to a word."Bhima Podiyam
In Jail Unnecessarily: Court Order
The court judgment said that the Chintagufa police served permanent arrest warrant against Bhima Podiyam, son of Deva, resident of Juhupara of the Minpa village while the arrest warrant was issued against the original accused Bhima Podiyam, son of Deva, resident of Padipara of the Minpa village.
The court order also said that the original accused was arrested on 28 January 2016 by the same Chintagufa police.
"Bhima Podiyam, son of Deva resident, Juhupara, Minpa has been unnecessarily detained in judicial custody," the order read.
"In this regard, a memorandum should be issued to the Superintendent of Police Sukma to take disciplinary action in respect of the negligence done against the guilty employees and to submit the information of the action taken to this court," the court further ordered.
How Did the Wrong Bhima Podiyam Land in Jail?
A man named Bhima Podiyam was one of the six persons accused in the case number 135/2016 under the Chintagufa police station limits in Sukma district.
The six persons – Kunjam Deva, Kawasi Hidma, Kartam Dula, Podiyam Kosa, Podiyam Joga, Podiyam Bhima, and Kawasi Hidma – were accused of firing with the intention of killing security personnel on 28 October 2014 at village Ramaram in Sukma district.
Two years later, on 28 January 2016, Chintagufa Police arrested all the accused and presented them before the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sukma. The court released them on bail on 29 January 2016.
"After the original accused got bail, they went back to their villages and didn't appear in the court for further proceedings. In lieu of their absence, a permanent warrant was issued, based on which the other Bhima Podiyam, who had the same first name and father's name as that of the original accused, was arrested by the police and put in jail in July last year," said Bichem Pondi, advocate of Bhima Podiyam.
"When the original Bhima Podiyam surrendered, the court saw that great injustice has been done and hence ordered for immediate release of the innocent Bheema."Bichem Pondi
Advocate Bichem Pondi further said that Adivasis due to the lack of education are unable to fight against the police excesses.
"In Bastar, the Adivasis are not aware of the law due to lack of education, which hinders their ability to fight for individual liberty. The police didn't carry out their job properly and because of the negligence of the investigating officer, Bhima Podiyam despite being innocent, suffered in jail for almost a year," the lawyer added.
Sunil Sharma, Superintendent of Police, Sukma, said that an inquiry has been ordered into the matter.
"We have zero tolerance for any mishaps in police department and we have ordered a departmental enquiry into the matter and strict action will follow if any wrongdoing comes to light."Sunil Sharma, SP Sukma.
Bela Bhatia, Bastar-based lawyer and Adivasi rights activist, says that this is not a standalone case but one which came to limelight out of thousands of instances of police's blatant disregard for human rights in the tribal areas.
"This case brings out vividly the painful reality of the large majority of thousands of undertrials in Bastar jails whose pleas of innocence go unheard at the time of their detention and arrest. Once they get framed falsely, they are condemned to life in prison for a few years until the (real) trial of the (fake or near-fake) case is over. This case has exposed the pervading hypocrisy and lies. The question is – what now? Will action be taken against the responsible policemen or will we be fed with more obfuscation?"Bela Bhatiya
(With inputs from Saleem Sheik.)