Karela Fry

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Is the police within the law?

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Chhattisgarh village torched in police rampage

A woman sits outside her house amidst her ruined possessions. Photo: Aman Sethi

The Hindu reported a week-long police campaign in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh which begins:

“On March 11, about 200 Koyas and 150 CoBRA left Chintalnar about 4 a.m. to destroy the arms factory,” said a police source.

“The force arrived at 8 in the morning and surrounded the village,” said Nupo Mutta, a former sarpanch of Morpalli. “They fired a few shots in the air and we ran into the forests.”

Madavi Sulla, 30, did not act fast enough. “My husband was sitting in a tree picking tamarind,” said his wife Madavi Hunge. “The force saw him and opened fire. I pleaded with them to stop, but they tore my clothes and threatened me.” Hunge escaped. The police moved further into the village, leaving Sulla’s corpse hanging in the tree.

“I was picking ‘tendu patta’ on the fields when the force came and said I was spying for the Maoists,” said Aimla Gangi, 45. “They threw me to the ground, pulled off my clothes and molested me in front of my two daughters. They also stole Rs.10,000 from a bag I kept tied around my waist.”

Villagers say the force left by noon, having torched 37 houses. They also picked up Madavi Ganga, 45, his son Bima and his daughter Hurre, 20. “They took us to the Chintalnar police station and put me in a separate cell and stripped me,” said Hurre.

Hurre said she was kept all night in the station and sexually assaulted. Ganga and Bima said the police repeatedly asked them whether Maoists visited their village and beat them through the night. The Madavi family was released when the women of Morpalli demanded their release at the Chintalnar station.

In a follow-up the Hindu reported:

The Dantewada Collector R. Prasanna has announced a probe into allegations that the district police and central paramilitary forces burnt homes, molested three women and killed at least three men in a five military operation in March.

On Wednesday, The Hindu and Rajasthan Patrika carried news reports in which eyewitnesses accused Chhattisgarh’s Koya commandos (an armed tribal police corps) and the Central Reserve Police Force of burning over 300 homes and granaries, sexually assaulting women and executing three men in the tribal villages of Timapuram, Morpalli and Tarmetla between March 11 and March 16.

The panel shall consist of two government officials, a lecturer from a government college and two independent members.

“We have set up a five member panel comprising Mr. Suresh Mahapatra, editor of local newspaper, Bastar Impact, Ms. Ratnabala Mohanty, a lecturer at Dantewada Post Graduate College, and the Head of a local NGO Pragati Prayas, Mr. Narendra along with the Tehsildar and Sub Divisional Magistrate of Knota block to inquire into the incident,” said Mr. Prasanna over the telephone.

April 5, 2011

Much happened while I took a small break from blogging. Mediapersons and independent observers, such as Swami Agnivesh, who tried to cover the incident were blocked and assaulted. Here is a report from HT:

On Wednesday, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear how Chattisgarh has shut down the Salwa Judum, the state-sponsored vigilante group and the state government have, for about two weeks now, closed all access to three remote villages where about 300 homes were burnt and an unknown number of women raped and men killed during a security operation.

Though the Chief Minister claimed otherwise, police and semi-official vigilante groups are stopping reporters and anyone outside the government from visiting the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morupalli in the tribal district of Dantewada in south Bastar, more than 550 km south of state capital Raipur.

Late on Monday, Chattisgarh’s BJP government reluctantly allowed National Advisory Council member and Supreme Court commissioner Harsh Mander to fly in by helicopter but only to Tadmetla, the sole village that has received food, relief supplies and compensation in an attack blamed on so-called Koya commandos, special police recruited from local tribals, and elements of the Salwa Judum (“peace march” in the tribal Gondi language).

Evidence of blurred lines and disagreement within the government on how to tackle the insurgency emerged a week ago when an official relief column sent to the villages by Dantewada Collector R. Prasanna — later transferred — was stopped by a mob led by Kartam Surya. A Koya commando and a rape-accused, Surya, despite being declared “absconding” by the Dantwada Sessions Court in 2008, openly retains his job, like Kiche Nanda, an SPO similarily declared an “absconder”.

Villagers in Timmapuram have now identified both Surya and Nanda as being among those who took refuge there during the Maoist firefight and later burnt and allegedly killed one villager, according to report by 13 members of a civil society “fact-finding” team, the only non-officials to have visited the villages.

April 6, 2011

The Hindu reported on the first day’s proceedings in this matter in the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday disapproved the idea of arming local people to counter Maoists and sought an explanation from the Chhattisgarh government for creating an anti-Naxal armed group of special police officers — Koya Commandos.

“What is this Koya Commandos? How are they appointed and how are they given training etc.? It is very dangerous… giving them arms to fight,” a bench comprising justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar said.

The bench directed the State government to file an affidavit on the raising of Koya Commandos and also state under what rule they were being supplied arms and ammunition.

It posted the matter for further hearing on April 15.

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