DHARMAPURI: The mystery behind the disappearance of persons belonging to Malayali tribal community in Chittari hills here is getting murkier with a woman petitioning the Chief Minister’s Special Cell saying that her husband has been missing for the last three years.
Many community members, hired by local agents to cut wood from Andhra Pradesh, are suspected to have died in the forests there. Seven out of the 20 alleged woodcutters killed in the Seshachalam encounter in April belonged to Chittari hills.
Apprehensions over more such deaths surfaced after Kamala (45), a resident of Vallimadurai in Keeraipatti panchayat in the foothills of Chittari hills, claimed that her husband C Annamalai has been missing since January 2013.
“Raji, a local resident, took my husband to Andhra Pradesh in January 2013. More than 200 villagers had gone with him. All of them returned, but my husband did not come back,” Kamala said.
“When we approached Raji, he said Annamalai will return soon. As that did not happen, I again approached him along with my villagers. This time, he offered us `1 lakh,” she added.
“I was clueless about the purpose of my husband’s visit to Andhra Pradesh then. Later, I came to know that he went to cut forest wood,” Kamala said.
Local villagers said over 10 villagers have been missing from the area in the last three years.
Kamala has already approached all the police stations in Andhra Pradesh, but could not trace her husband. She feared that Annamalai could have been murdered either by the sandalwood mafia or the police.
Following her petition to the CM cell, local police conducted a inquiry.
“Local police blame me only. They ask why I allowed my husband to go to Andhra Pradesh. Police spoke in favour of Raji and put pressure on me to withdraw the petition,” Kamala claimed.
Attempts to meet Raji, who acts as a local agent arranging manpower to wood smugglers, went in vain as he was out of station.
Like Annamalai, Venkatraman of Thoolthukki in Chittari Panchayat has been missing since December 2012.
Venkatraman’s wife Azhagi, who first mistook this reporter for a wood smuggler’s agent and refused to speak, later said, “Moorthy, a local agent for sandalwood smugglers, hired my husband for cutting trees in Andhra forests. Along with 50 villagers, my husband took the offer. But he did not come back.”
“When contacted, Moorthy said my husband died there. I don’t know whether he is telling the truth or not,” said Azhagi, who is finding it hard to look after her three children. Venkatraman’s relative and BJP Scheduled Tribe Wing’s state general secretary R Jayaram said they had made many efforts to trace him, but in vain.