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The 74 who didn’t flee

Raipur, Dec. 17: When Maoists led nearly 300 inmates out of “bondage”, not all embraced freedom. Jai Prakash and 73 others decided to stay put behind the walls.

Jai Prakash, a middle-aged tribal serving time for a petty crime, has a sound reason for not breaking out: he is due to complete his term next month.

The 74 who did not flee huddled in a corner and watched as the jailbreak unfolded last evening. “Sudhir Kumar (Maoist deputy commander) asked the inmates to rush out of the jail soon after opening the main gate,” an official quoted several prisoners as saying.

Nearly 200 “other prisoners” obeyed Sudhir and joined the 100 Maoists who ran out. “Suhir used to preach Maoism. This, along with fear, probably influenced the non-Maoist inmates to follow him,” a police officer said.

But the main reason the 74 stayed back could be reluctance to put their future in jeopardy. Many are being held for petty crimes, and most are scheduled to be released in a month or two.

“Escape would have landed them in a graver crime. So, most of them decided not to follow the other inmates,” an official said. “The Maoists have a cause to pursue after the escape but not the others.”

Some like Jai Prakash tried to dissuade other inmates from escaping. “Jai Prakash tried to press the alarm button,” a jail official claimed, adding that the Maoist leader fired at the prisoner.

The bullet missed Jai Prakash but hit another inmate, Vishwajeet, one of the three injured in the incident. Officials are now worried that the Maoists would coerce the 199 others who escaped with them to join the movement. An official said such forced recruitment could be averted only if the prisoners broke ranks and fled after entering the forests.

Three inmates returned this evening, fuelling hopes of the officials that more will come back.

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