The two alleged Maoistcouriers arrested in Gadchiroli are both activists who have taken up various social causes in Uttarakhand.Prashant Rahi, 54, is an engineer-turned-journalist who hails from Maharashtra and whose daughter Shikha is a filmmaker, an assistant director for Taare Zameen Par. He was arrested in 2007, too, for alleged Maoist links and got bail thee years later. He participated in labour and other movements in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s before settling in what is now Uttarakhand, where he worked as a journalist. He was working on providing legal aid to suspected Maoists — “political prisoners” — when he was arrested, allegedly while organising a Maoist training camp.
Hem Mishra, 30, cut his teeth as a student-activist in Almora before moving four years ago to JNU to study Chinese. The causes he took up included water, forest and land, and a shift of the capital from Dehradun to Gairsain. Every year, he would join a programme to pay tribute to those killed in the Rampur Tiraha firing incident in 1994 during the statehood agitation, say people who know him.
Mishra was arrested in August while allegedly couriering material on behalf on Maoists. The arrest of Rahi came days later, in September.
“As part of the Progressive Students’ Front, Hem used to participate in street plays and recite poems written by Girish Tiwari Girda,” says Shamsher Singh Bishta, himself an activist in Almora. “He participated in a padyatra in support of the demand for shifting the capital.”
Retired teacher Keshavdutta Mishra describes Hem, the youngest of his three sons, as “an intelligent boy who loves to participate in cultural activities”. Hem graduated from the SSJ campus of Kumaon University. “Four years ago, he was selected for MSc in mathematics and also for Chinese in JNU,” his father says. “He chose the JNU course… Yes, he is very social and a lover of music. But he has never carried home any literature that would suggest he is involved in Maoist activities.”
He says it is normal practice in Gadchiroli to describe any person after his arrest as a Naxal.
Rahi, 54, or Prashant Sangalikar — police also call him Navin and Mahesh — hails from Nashik. He won a B Tech from Banaras Hindu University in 1982, followed by an M Tech, and worked in a power company in UP’s Sonbhadra district, a left-wing extremism-affected area.
Intelligence sources in Uttarakhand cite a long history with movements — a labour movement in Maharashtra in the 1990s, work with youth organisation Purvanchal Nauzwan Sabha in UP, and a movement for rehabilitation of people affected by the Tehri dam project in what is now Uttarakhand. He had arrived in this region in 1993 and worked till 2000 as a journalist with a local newspaper. What raised suspicion that he was a Maoist sympathiser were his efforts to provide legal help to people arrested for spreading the Maoist ideology.
“Police got information in 2004 about the presence of Maoists in the forest areas near Saufutia. They found evidence suggesting training camps,” an intelligence officer said. This led to a watch on suspected sympathisers and Rahi was arrested from Nanakmata in December 2007. He was charged under the IPC sections for waging or abetting war against the state, sedition and other offences, and under UAPA for being a member of a terrorist organisation or gang.
Police claimed to have recovered copies of a magazine, Aamukh, with articles relating to the CPI (Maoist)’s expansion to Uttarakhand and suggesting it had set up a zonal committee.
His daughter Shikha, then 24, had fought a long legal battle for his release. In 2011, after his release on bail, she had told The Indian Express that the police had accused her father of having conducted training camps in villages.