Hundreds of residents including family members of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) commando Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, who is in Maoists’ captivity in Chhattisgarh, blocked a road in Jammu demanding his release. 35-year old Manhas, who hails from Jammu, was among the security personnel that were ambushed by the Maoists during a combing operation on Saturday, leaving 22 personnel dead and 31 others injured.

“It’s been four days since my husband was abducted by the Maoists, but the government was doing nothing to ensure his release from captivity,” said Meenu, wife of Manhas, a member of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, popularly known as the CoBRA force of the CRPF, specialising in counter-insurgency operations.

A press note issued on Tuesday by the Maoists’ Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee confirmed one jawan was in their custody and said he will be handed over to an interlocutor, whose appointment they sought immediately. Members of Manhas’ CoBRA unit, District Reserve Guard (DRG), and the Special Task Force (STF) lost their lives in the five-hour-long clash with Maoists at the Sukma-Bijapur border, with reports suggesting that around 20 insurgents were also killed. The Maoists, however, claimed that only four of their cadres were killed.

“I don’t want anything. I just want my son back. Where is the government? Does the life of a Jawan has no value for this government?”, asked Manhas’ mother, who was among the protestors seeking his release.

His father in law said, “For this day did we vote for this government? None has come to our rescue. He is our son in law and we want him back. How insensitive can the government be? It’s been four days since he was abducted by the Naxals on Saturday, but no one in the administration has bothered to reach out to us with an assurance”.

Manhas joined the CRPF in March 2011 and got married in 2014. He has a five-year-old daughter and is the sole bread earner for his family. He was transferred to Chhattisgarh three months back from Assam. Manhas’ family first learnt about his abduction from a Chhattisgarh journalist, who called them to say that the Maoists told him that they had captured Manhas. The ultras, led by one of their top commanders, Mandvi Hidma, are said to have lured the security forces into a U shaped trap in the jungles near the Sukma-Bijapur border. The insurgents decamped with weapons, bullet-proof jackets, and even the shoes of dead soldiers after the ambush. Initial reports had then confirmed that one jawan was reported missing.

Another relative said Manhas should be freed on priority as was done with the case of IAF wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was released five days following his capture in Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down after successfully intercepting a posse of Pakistani fighters over the Line of Control in the Rajouri-Mendhar sector on 27 February 2019, the day after the Balakot strike. Before the IAF pilot ejected from his ageing MiG-21 hit in the aerial dogfight over the skies of Jammu, he shot down a fourth-generation F-16 fighter. He was captured by villagers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where he landed and handed over to the Pakistan military. India had warned Pakistan of severe consequences if the fighter pilot was not released unharmed and immediately. Abhinandan was returned on March 1 via the heavily-guarded Wagah-Attari border post.

“His mother sent him to serve the nation. We are poor people, we don’t have to do anything with politics but if the government could bring back wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan, then why have they been dragging their feet in getting our boy released from the captivity of Maoists,” he asked.

The protestors in Jammu held tricolours and staged a sit-in at the main town chowk while shouting slogans against the BJP-led Central government and also against Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha.

No one from the administration was present there to meet the protesters till the filing of this report.

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