| A TV grab showing the two abducted men in a forest hideout of the Maoists. (PTI file picture)
April 4: “Thank god. I am so relieved.”
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s words summed up the feeling in Orissa’s power circles after the two officials taken hostage in last month’s Maoist raid on R. Udaygiri town returned this afternoon.
After their release, officer-in-charge of R. Udaygiri police station Ranjan Mallik (27) and superintendent of the local sub-jail Rabi Narayan Sethi (56) said their captors ' Maoist guerrillas who had raided the small town in Gajapati district early on March 24 ' treated them well and took care of their needs.
The rebels, members of the Vamsadhara dalam (group) and led by Sabyasachi Panda, told the two officials that their release was guided by humanitarian reasons.
The two officials were taken out of their forest hideout around midday. From there, two rebels accompanied them to Adaba in Gajapati, around 30 km from R. Udaygiri police station, before handing them over to a media team at an undisclosed location around 3.30 pm.
Journalists of two television channels, who were reportedly informed of the release in advance, had been waiting to receive the duo.
The two were then taken to nearby Mohana where they arrived at 4.30 pm and spent some time in the local police station. Mallik and Sethi refreshed themselves and started for R. Udaygiri in a police jeep after an hour-and-a-half.
“I can’t exactly say why they released me, but I’m very happy. We were treated well. The Naxalites shared their warm clothes and food with us,” recalled Sethi. “They never threatened me.”
Mallik echoed the jail superintendent. “All I can say now is that I’m very happy to be free. I want to be with my family,” he said.
In Bhubaneswar and R. Udaygiri, the families of the two officials reacted joyously, as did police. “We are delighted that Rabi (Mallik’s pet name) has been released. The rebels are not terrorists as they are perceived to be,” said Debakilata Mallik, the police officer’s mother.
Home secretary Santosh Kumar confirmed that the state had not agreed to the Maoists’ demands to secure the duo’s release. The demands include withdrawal of central forces and an end to industrial displacement.
In an interview to television channels a few days ago, Panda had said that the state administration was taking its time to respond to their demands as the two abducted men were not senior officials or ministers.
Sources in the police said the Maoists released the two officials because of their low rank and the hindrance being caused by them to their movement.
R. Udaygiri police said Sethi and Mallik did not know where they had been held as they were blindfolded.