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June encounter in Dantewada

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Deccan Herald reported a story on Chhattisgarh from New Delhi:

Security forces entered the Maoist den in the “liberated zone” of Chhattisgarh, and engaged the ultras at two different places in dense jungles of unapproachable Dantewada.

Working on a tip off that Maoists have got together [sic] at their training camp in Silger village near Basaguda, three separate joint teams were formed to launch a counter offensive on Thursday. One team left Basaguda in Bijapur district, the other moved from Chintalnar and the third from Jagarguda area to corner them from three different directions.

But, barely the first team had moved [sic] three kilometers from Basaguda, the commandos were intercepted [sic] by armed Maoists leading to a fierce encounter in the pitch dark night. Six Cobra commandos and three Maoists were injured in the gun fight and they were airlifted by a helicopter to Raipur for medical help. However, during the early morning combing operation, the forces came across 16 bodies which they claim is that of suspected Naxalites.

A journalist on the spot gives a contradictory report in IE:

On Saturday, over 40 hours after the “biggest encounter” involving security forces and Maoists in Chhattisgarh, bodies of 19 alleged “hardcore Maoists and Jan Militia members” lay outside their huts in the three villages of Sarkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta in Bijapur.

Villagers alleged no government official had spoken to them or visited their homes, and no autopsies had been carried out on the bodies.

Several bodies appeared to have been brutalised. This correspondent saw deep, hacking cuts, apparently made by axes, on some chests and foreheads. A senior CRPF officer rejected the possibility that the wounds might have been inflicted by security forces. “Our forces have never done such things and will never do this,” the officer said.

Bijapur superintendent of police Prashant Agarwal said, “Proper post mortem was conducted in Basaguda thana. A team of doctors visited the thana and a report will be prepared.”

Policemen at the thana — where the bodies were kept for about 12 hours before being handed to the families — were unable to say when the post mortem happened. No stitches or other tell-tale marks of an autopsy were visible on the bodies that this correspondent saw in the villages.

A reporter for the Hindu essentially corroborates the story:

A day after the Chhattisgarh police claimed to have killed 20 Maoists in an encounter in Bijapur, villagers have offered a sharply divergent description of the incident, claiming that the security forces fired at a peaceful gathering of villagers, killing 20 of them, including five children aged 12-15, and sexually assaulted at least four teenaged girls during the encounter.

“There were no Maoists present at the village that night,” said Madkam Ganpat of Rajpetta. “We had gathered to discuss the upcoming seed festival, which is held every year before sowing begins.” He said the meeting continued for several hours, when the participants were suddenly surrounded by a large contingent of the security forces.

“The forces immediately opened fire, all of us tried to run away but many were shot in the legs, back and chest,” he said. Kaka Saraswati was among those killed in the ensuing confusion. “She was only 12 years old,” said her mother Kaka Sinakka.

Several of the bodies seen by this correspondent had bullet wounds in the torso and the neck. Sabka Mitu, 17, was killed when his throat was slit by a sharp object. Several bodies also had lacerations from what could have been a knife or an axe.

Mr. Ganpat’s account was corroborated by a number of villagers who insisted that no Maoists were present at the meeting, but none could explain how six policemen were injured. “The forces had encircled us,” said Mr. Ganpat. “Maybe, they accidently shot each other.”

The firing lasted several minutes, the villagers said, after which the forces radioed for a tractor that took away a number of bodies. “The force then camped in the village and dragged me into the fields,” Devi (name changed), a 14-year-old girl, said in an interview. “They threw me on the ground, beat me, kicked me, tore my clothes and kept threatening to rape me.” She said three other girls were similarly molested.

“The force remained on the fields till the next morning,” said Irpa Raju. “My son Ramesh stepped out of the house to go to the toilet when he was shot by a policeman. Ramesh ran to the house, shouting ‘Ayo, Ayo [Mother, Mother,]’ but the force followed him and killed him in our house, in front of my eyes.” Raju also accused the policemen of breaking open the family treasure chest and stealing Rs.5,000.

While the villagers’ accounts seem internally consistent, this correspondent spotted at least seven uniformed Maoists on patrol at Rajapetta on Saturday morning, suggesting that the Maoists do frequent the village. Villagers, seeking anonymity, said the Maoists were occasionally called for village meetings to discuss routine matters such as festivals, sowing, ploughing and harvest.

The villagers seem to be caught between two opposing armed forces. If the reports are correct, then the police force, which is supposed to be defending the Indian constitution seem to be in violation of it as much as the opposition.

4 July, 2012

The union minister for tribal affairs questions the version of the events reported by the Chhattisgarh state government and the union home ministry, according to this report by the Hindu:

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo has challenged Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s version of the killing of 20 Adivasis in an anti-Maoist operation by security forces in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district last week. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Deo said, “I have been getting feedback not just from the Congress State unit but also from voluntary organisations that of the 20 persons gunned down, half were teenagers and a child who sustained injuries was just four years old.”

“If those killed were ‘extremists’,” Mr. Deo asked, “then why were most of them unarmed? No arms were recovered from them.” The first principle of counter-insurgency was that “you don’t shoot unarmed people.” The explanation being put forward that it was dark did not wash as night vision devices were available now, he said. “You cannot fire at random in the dark; it’s inexcusable.”

To the Chhattisgarh government’s plea that half a dozen men of the Central Reserve Police Force had been injured as well and that some of the slain civilians had been used as “human shields” by the Maoists, Mr. Deo’s response was sharp: “The State government has not provided protection to the tribals against the extremists. If the tribals are being forced to assemble at some place, must they pay with their lives?”

Mr. Deo’s comments come in the wake of Mr. Chidambaram backing the Chhattisgarh government’s version and its characterisation of all those killed as Maoists, even as the Congress has ordered a party-level enquiry into the tragic events in Bijapur. Questioned why the Union Home Ministry had backed the State government’s line, Mr. Deo said, “It’s possible the Ministry hasn’t received the proper feedback.”

5 July, 2012

After the union minister for tribal affairs called the operation a cover up for murders, the home minister has had to backpedal, reportsDNA:

Under fire from tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo who has called the CRPF offensive in Chhattisgarh as “completely unacceptable” and the civil society, union home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday tried to steer the CRPF clear of the controversy while conveying deep regrets for the loss of innocent lives.

“If any innocent person has been killed, I am deeply sorry… if any girl, or boy or man or woman not involved with the Maoists at all has been killed, I can only be deeply sorry… I share Deo’s sense of sadness and anguish at the loss of lives,” Chidambaram said during the cabinet briefing on Wednesday.

Another reason for the Centre’s worry is that a fact-finding team comprising of activists Swami Agnivesh, BD Sharma and Himanshu Kumar is expected to visit the place of the incident — Sarkaiguda village, approximately 3 kms from Basaguda —on July 6. Moreover, the state unit of the Congress has claimed that seven innocent minors were killed in the CRPF attack.

14 July, 2012

Tehelka reports, in one part of a long investigative story:

BUT THE big question remains: if it was just a peaceful village gathering, how did six CRPF personnel sustain bullet wounds? When TEHELKA visited the injured jawans at the Narayana Hrudayalaya MMI Hospital in Raipur, we found that out of the six injured, only two had grievous injuries. Two others were hit in the leg by splinters, while the rest had hurt their ankles in the ensuing commotion. Ashok Zargar, chief of medical services at the hospital, says four jawans had bullet injuries and one of the bullets was removed in Bijapur itself.

“When we reached Sarkeguda, all I remember is someone shouting “police” and then there was heavy firing. I was hit in the abdomen and collapsed,” says Wahidullah, one of the grievously injured jawans.

Gyanendra Prakash Singh, 40, who was hit in the thigh, explains, “The doctor has pulled out a bullet that was from a bharmar rifle. It is used only by Naxals.” When TEHELKA suggested that perhaps he could have been a victim of cross-firing, he says, “CRPF jawans use guns such as the AK series, Insas, MP5 and X95. If our bullets hit anyone, it will rip the victim’s innards and exit from the back. The weapons owned by the Naxals are not that powerful.”

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

July 1, 2012 at 4:36 am

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