VELLORE: The family members of 29 woodcutters from Jawadhu hills in Tiruvannamalai district, who were arrested by the Andhra Pradesh Police for allegedly trying to cut red sanders in Seshachalam forests on August 4, claimed that they were innocent and were framed by the Andhra Pradesh Police.
While some had gone to Tirupati to offer worship to Lord Venkateswara, a few others from Keel Shenbagathoppu had gone to Chennai for laying floor tiles. But all of them were taken into custody on August 4.
R Sivakumar, a 21-year-old tribal, one among the 31 men arrested in Andhra Pradesh, was about to join in Voorhees College for the BA English Literature course in another few days, said G Sumathi, aunty of Sivakumar from Puthupattu village.
Sivakumar discontinued his studies after SSLC as he could not walk properly. He had also undergone treatment in Chengam hospital for haemoglobin deficiency. But after a gap of two years, he completed his Plus Two course last year from the Forest Higher Secondary School. Later he applied for UG course. “He left home for Tirupati on August 4 to offer worship, before joining the college,” claimed B Annamalai, brother of Sivakumar.
Of the 29 families from Jawadhu hills, six families were residing in Puthupattu and Jamunamarathur tribal villages. About one lakh tribals live in 273 villages in 11 panchayats in the hills.
S Saritha, wife of R Soundar one of the missing woodcutters, said 95 per cent of the men from the hills dreaded the thought of going to Andhra Pradesh after the encounter last year. “My husband had been working as daily wage worker. Last week, he went to offer worship in the temple. We are afraid he may face third degree torture in police custody,” she said
When told that woodcutters were arrested with axes, Soundar’s mother Rathi said Andhra Pradesh Police had wrongly framed her son. “He won’t go for such a job,” she added.
Residents said a group of workers from Keel Shenbagathoppu have gone to Chennai for laying floor tiles on August 4. It is believed that they too were arrested.
T Venkatesan, State President of Thamizhaga Adivasi Amaippugalin Kootamaippu, said many tribals who were sent on jobs to Kerala, Chennai and other places were often asked to work for two to four months more than what was first offered. “If they refuse to work for some more months, they don’t get their full salary. But then, many tribals leave and try to make money by cutting down trees,” he said. “While the salary in other cities remain `450 a day, for agriculture works and household jobs we hardly get `120 to `150 a day. This forces many to work in faraway places,” he added. Also, no concrete steps to provide alternative jobs have been taken, he said.