BHUBANESWAR: It was no less than a rebirth for Manoranjan Dey, the assistant driver of the boat which was attacked by the Maoists at Balimela in Malkangiri district on Sunday. After the boat capsized, Dey was caught by the rebels and grilled for hours before he was set free in the night with a warning not to help the police in future.
"We were three staff in the boat that belongs to the Balimela hydro project. On Saturday evening, we were asked to be ready to leave for some place the next day. We did not know the destination," Dey said. "Around 4 am on Sunday, two cops from Chitrakonda police station came and five of us left for Janbai, about 20 km in the waterway, to bring Greyhounds' personnel. We came to know that they had gone to Papermetla pocket in the cut-off area of Orissa, which is surrounded by the Balimela reservoir, three days ago on an anti-Maoist operation," he said.
The visibly-shocked boatman said, "We reached Janbai around 7 am. The Greyhounds' personnel boarded the boat. We were 65 people on board then and left Janbai around 8.30 am. The boat had hardly covered about 5-7 km when the Maoists started firing at the boat. It was between 9.30 am and 10 am when the attack started. While the boat was crossing a narrow waterway in between two hills near Alampeka, one bullet hit it. The securitymen sensed trouble, but before they could act the rebels from the hills rained bullets on the boat."
"Though few policemen retaliated it bore little fruit. The Maoists then hurled grenades on the boat. A part of the vessel was damaged. The boat started sinking. We were helpless and all of us started jumping into the water to save our lives. I also jumped out of the boat. While I was swimming towards the bank, the Maoists started firing at me. Fortunately and by God’s grace, the bullets didn't hit me. I shouted that I was a civilian. My screaming worked. The rebels stopped firing at me, but they asked me to swim towards them," he said.
Continuing with his harrowing experience, Dey said, "When I reached the bank I was gasping for breath. I was afraid that I may have escaped death in water but would be killed by the extremists. They were six in number, including two women. All were heavily armed. They tore my inner garment and tied my hands with it. They also covered my eyes with a cloth and took me into the deep forests of Gunupur hill, which is surrounded by water on all sides. They grilled me for a few hours and rebuked me for ferrying policemen. They then asked me if I was hungry. When I said 'yes', they gave me some food. I gulped it. After sometime, they told me they would release me on condition that I should never help policemen in future. I nodded my head."