As ATS hunts for two men suspected to have Maoist links, their families maintain the duo were led astray by the group, Kabir Kala Manch, which sympathises with Naxalites
It was nearly four years ago, that Prashant Jalandhar Kamble (30) and Santosh Vasant Shelar (28) left their homes in Pune, saying they would return soon. Since then, however, the duo has been missing, and their families have not heard from them.
Prashant Kamble’s mother, Laxmibai says he had been listening to songs by Kabir Kala Manch right before he disappeared.
On Monday, the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) confirmed that they were looking for the duo, and had charged them for Maoist activities, after an eyewitness claimed he had seen them with alleged Maoist operative, Arun Bhelke. mid-day visited the accused duo’s families, and spoke to them about their experiences since the pair went missing in 2010.
Santosh Shelar’s brother, Sandeep filed an FIR against the group, suspecting they were involved in his disappearance. Pics/Shashank Sane
Laptop and Painter
Prashant, a Tadiwala resident, used to run his own laptop repair shop after a Masters programme in Commerce at Savitribai Phule Pune University. The last time his family heard from him was on November 3, 2010, when he told his parents he was going to Mumbai for some work, and that he would return in a few days.
Santosh, on the other hand, didn’t get past high school, but always had a knack for drawing and painting, which his family encouraged him to pursue. In November 2010, Santosh too left home telling his family he would return in a couple of months.
ATS Inspector, Sunil Tambe confirmed that along with a missing complaint, a criminal case had been registered against both, Prashant (alias Laptop) and Santosh (alias Painter).
Prashant’s mother, Laxmibai Jalandhar Kamble, told mid-day,” I still remember the day my son left the house. He said he had some work and that he would come back in a few days, but he never returned. I have not seen my child for the last four years.”
While there were reports that Prashant had called his parents and told them that he had joined Naxals and was helping them with his computer skills, his mother denied it, and said they never heard from him after he left home.
She went on to allege that ATS officers had threatened and harassed them several times. “Every six months, ATS officers would come and enquire about my son. During their last visit in May, they threatened my husband and me and said they would take us into custody and beat us unless we gave details about our son,” Laxmibai added.
‘No reason to do it’
“He had opened a shop where he use to repair laptops, and his younger brother, Praveen would repair mobile phones. There was no reason for him to leave home and go out like this. I do not know why he did it,” said Laxmibai.
While Prashant’s family are finding it hard to digest that he has been accused of being a Maoist operative, his mother mentioned that before he had left, he was beginning to be influenced by the philosophies of Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural group which sympathises with the Naxal movement.
“Of late, he used to listen to Kabir Kala Manch songs, which were about how the only cure for corruption and poverty in India was to investigate all the black money from the country that had been deposited in foreign banks,” she said.
The story is similar to Santosh’s, according to his brother, Sandeep Vasant Shelar (33).
“I know my brother is innocent and he cannot get involved in any bad activity. People brainwashed my brother and forced him to leave his family. I will be glad if he returns to Pune, at least then we can meet him,” he said.
“Due to poor health, Santosh was unable to complete his education. As he had a knack for painting, we always used to encourage him. He used to participate in painting and cartoons exhibitions,” Sandeep recalled.
According to him, Santosh met a neighbour — Rupali Jadhav in 2009, and that’s when everything changed. “Rupali introduced him to members of Kabir Kala Manch. A couple of times, Sheetal Sathe, a Kabir Kala Manch member had come to our house to meet him.
But they told me they are unaware of his whereabouts,” said Sandeep, adding that he had filed an FIR against the group, suspecting that they had something to do with his disappearance.