Vittal Malekudiya, a 23-year old tribal youth was branded as a Naxal and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Following his arrest, he spent three months in jail. He waged nine years of legal battle against the state to be finally exonerated of all charges by a court. Now he says, he will continue to fight for getting infrastructure to his hamlet located in the dense forests Kuduremukh National Park of Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district.
“I was arrested for boycotting elections, demanding basic amenities to my Kathluru village in Belthangadi nine years ago. I demanded power, road, a compound wall for an anganwadi (government preschool), supply of ration twice a month. Even today, not a single problem has been addressed by the government. Hence, my fight continues,” Vittal told IANS.
When asked whether the jail term and prolonged legal battle have not affected protectiveness, Vittal explained that, it is his constitutional right to get his basic amenities.
“Not a single house has been connected with electricity, all houses get light from solar powered bulbs during nights. The road can only be used in summers. It can’t be used during rainy season,” he said.
One good thing has happened. The incidents of police high-handedness have stopped completely.
“The police force have stopped bothering,” he says.
“My struggle started with voicing out high-handedness of police. The hamlet is located 12 km away from a motorable road. Six km you have to walk and 3 km of dense forest has to be covered. People lured us with Rs 10 lakhs to move out of forest. The police threatened us. We did not budge,” Vittal said.
He explained that, after media highlighted the plight of Malekudia tribe, the police became hostile.
“Police took me along with my father on March 3, 2012 for questioning and arrested me. I was studying in Mangaluru University. Various organisations supported and I obtained bail after three spending three months in prison,” he said.
“I got permission from the court to write ,y second semester exams while in prison. I wrote exams with handcuffs on one hand. But, the university did not give results. I got results only after attending classes,” he stated.
Dinesh Hegde Ulepadi, the senior advocate who fought the case for Vittal without taking a penny, stated that the victory of the youth is the victory of entire Malekudiya tribe which is fighting for right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“I am partly satisfied with the judgement, partly not. I am not because it is not honorable acquittal, its just an acquittal. “The youth’s reputation is ruptured and his honour should be conferred back. We will take it to the High Court. The area is seen as Naxal prone area even though no Naxal activity is there. So, it is required,” he stated.
“Police have booked Vittal and his father under UAPA, sedition acts. There was by-election and there was a media trail. Vittal did not have a clear idea of a lawyer, court. After being convinced of his innocence I took up the case. The police have seized freedom fighter Bhagath Singh’s book from Vittal’s house. The IPS officer agreed in the court that, reading Bhagat Singh’s book is not a crime,” he explained.
This is good opportunity for the government to rectify its mistakes. “If I wasn’t able to get him acquitted, it would have been affected the whole tribe as he is the only educated youth in the whole community,” he said.
Vittal said that his people should be treated as citizens; the system must stop turning blind ears to our basic demands and ensure that police are people friendly. Most importantly, they should not file cases for demanding fundamental necessities.
Vittal Malong with his father Lingayya Malekudiya were acquitted on October 21 by Third Additional District and Sessions Judge, Dakshina Kannada B.B. Jakati.
Vittal presently works for reputed Kannada daily “Prajavani”.