Six cases of encounters in Gadchiroli district have been reported in the press this year. A total of 26 persons have lost their lives in these encounters. People from the villages where the encounters took place have questioned the veracity of the police claims.
The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO), an all‐India body of civil liberties and democratic rights organisations in different states, alongwith the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers conducted a fact‐finding to ascertain the truth. A 23‐member team of seven organizations from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra and Delhi toured Gadchiroli district from 23 to 26 August 2013. The team visited the villages where five encounters took place: Sindesur in Dhanora Tehsil, Bhagwanpur in Kurkheda tehsil, Mendhri in Etapalli tehsil and, Govindgaon and Bhatpar in Aheri tehsil. The team met the residents of these five villages, people’s representatives, media persons, representatives of political parties and police officials.
Following are the immediate findings of the team:
- In all the five incidents, police was the first to open fire. In the two incidents at Bhagwanpur, and Govindgaon there was not even any retaliatory fire from those who were killed.
- In all the five incidents, the police did not make any attempt to apprehend the persons. No announcement was made by the police to the alleged Maoists to drop their weapons and/or to surrender even though in the incidents at Bhagwanpur, Mendhri, Govindgaon and Bhatpar, the persons later killed had been wholly surrounded by the police force.
- In the incidents, at Mendhri and Bhagwanpur, the killings were in cold blood. In Mendhri village, the six women Maoists had laid down their weapons and raised their arms to surrender before being shot. In Bhagwanpur the person killed was in the custody of the police at the time of the killing.
- In the case of Bhagwanpur, Mendhri and Bhatpar, village residents were badly beaten up by the police. At Bhagwanpur, 10 persons were beaten through most of the night on the road. At Mendhri, one person was even shot at by the police when he tried to escape the beating and ill‐treatment. At Bhatpar, three people were detained and beaten at the police station of two days.
- In all cases of encounter killings, it is a mandatory requirement that the crime be investigated by a police officer independent of the police station and the police force directly involved in the killing. To the best of our knowledge, this has not been followed.
- The Superintendent of Police stated to us that a check on to ensure proper registration and investigation is provided for through an internal enquiry conducted by a Dy.S.P. level officer into each case of encounter killing. However, he confirmed that the reports of such enquiries into the incidents noted here are still awaited. Being internal enquiries, these provide neither transparency nor impartiality.
- Magisterial enquiry into the encounters has been ordered into the incident at Mendhri. We did not find evidence of an attempt by a magistrate to record the statement of village residents. In any case, enquiries by executive magistrates do not provide the impartiality necessary in such enquiries.
- At least two of the killings at Sindesur constitute what may be called “collateral damage”. The attitude of the police and the administration in this regard has at best been callous. The two young boys, both residents from the village, were killed in crossfire. No compensation has been received by the families and no state functionary has shared in their grief. In stark contrast, the government has promptly displayed large hoardings across the district claiming the doling out of Rs. 10 lakh to each family as proof of its “humanitarian concern”.
- In Bhatpal village, one of the women killed was a resident of the village. Despite the parents pleading and the entire village gathering at the police station, the police refused to hand over the dead body for the last rites. This is condemnable. In other cases too, dead bodies remain unidentified for long, photographs are not published and parents are thereby denied the possibility of intervening in the post mortem process and in conducting the last rites.
In the light of the above, the CDRO is of the opinion that the loss of life in the five encounters could have been easily prevented. Adhering to the established procedure incorporated in the Cr.P.C. that governs the actions of police and security forces would have been sufficient for the purpose. The opening of fire in the circumstances apparent from the village accounts constitutes neither “self defence” nor use of necessary force to apprehend accused”. In fact each of the above incidents is an abysmal failure in apprehending the accused and constitutes excessive and unauthorized use of force.
The successive recurrence of the same pattern suggests that there is a policy at work: of not taking prisoners and killing those suspected of being Maoists. The same is reflected in at least one banner displayed by the administration at many places. Surrounded by the pictures of women Maoists shot at Mendhri, it says: samannya jantewar annyay karal, tar polisanchya bandukinech maral (If you commit injustice against common people, then you will only be killed by the gun of police).
A glimpse of the dangers of such a policy can be noticed in the trigger‐happy attitude it promotes, as displayed in the Bhagwanpur incident. Far from taking remedial measures, the SP Gadchiroli reiterated the police version, no matter how unbelievable, that a common village resident, not related to Maoists, fired at the police when asked to stop! Pursuing such a policy spells dangerous portents for the future.
In four of the cases, the police version is at serious variance with our findings and the accounts of the village residents. It is shocking that the police reporting to the press and the FIR that forms the basis for investigation are based solely on the account provided by the police party that conducted the killings. This is contrary to all notions of civilized jurisprudence. The killer, the informant, the investigation and the judge need to be independent of each other. And this needs to be ensured in law and its practice.
In the light of the above, we demand:
- That the practice of shooting to kill, of not taking prisoners and of causing maximum damage must be given up.
- That an FIR for culpable homicide be registered against the police party responsible for the encounters in all the cases. The investigation of this should be entrusted to a police officer from a different district.
- That a judicial enquiry be conducted into the incidents of Bhatpal, Mendhri and Bhagwanpur where persons have been done to death in cold blood.
- That magisterial enquiries into each incident of encounter must be conducted by a judicial magistrate and statements from the eyewitnesses be taken at their home in an atmosphere free from duress and steps be taken to prevent future police harassment to such witnesses.
- The two persons arrested at Bhagwanpur be released from custody without delay.
- That compensation be paid immediately to the families of Devrao and Budhnath of Bhagwanpur village.
Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab
Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal
Civil Liberties Committee, Andhra Pradesh
Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai
Indian Association of People’s Lawyers
Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Andhra Pradesh
People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi
Village Accounts of our Findings – Short Version
1. Govindgaon, Aheri tehsil: On 19 January, an 11‐member group of Maoists held a meeting with the villagers from 7 p.m. During the meeting, the Maoists campaigned for stopping alcohol production and consumption in the village, stopping violence against women in the family, amicably sorting out fights and tensions between village residents, and stopping dangerous practices of hunting using live electrical wires. They also exhorted people to oppose the government’s small‐savings scheme, bachat ghat. After dinner at the village, the group had barely moved out of the village settlement that they found themselves surrounded by security force personnel who opened fire on them. Six persons were killed on the spot while the rest of the Maoists managed to escape. There was no retaliatory fire from the Maoists. Two of the deceased were women. Some people from the village were brought to identify the dead.
2. Bhagwanpur, Kurkheda tehsil: Around 10 p.m. on 16 July 2013, eleven people from the village went for hunting towards the forest. Eight of them started on 3 scooters followed a little later by three more on one scooter. The latter group carried with them one bharmar (country made gun), an axe, a knife and a head mounted torch. Close to the Mahatma Phule school at Karodi village on the main road, they spotted a C60 commando team on the road and decided to move away quickly. The police team in three vehicles followed and stopped them. The three tried to explain that eight of their companions were further down the road. While being subjected to beating, Anandrao was shot at by the police. Anandrao collapsed and died on the spot with two bullet wounds just below the ribs. Witnesses claim that the policeman who shot at Anandrao was previously known to him. Police personnel waited till the eight other persons returned who were subjected to beating which continued till 4 a.m. when two vehicles arrived to take the 10 villagers and the dead body to the Armori police station. There the two persons accompanying Anandrao, Devrao Rajarao Usendi and Budhnath Pandurang Tulavi were charged under sections 307 and 353 IPC. They are both presently lodged in Chandrapur Central jail. The rest of those detained were let off.
3. Sindesur, Dhanora tehsil: On the morning of 12 April, a group of seven persons from Sindesur village were collecting mahua flowers from the forest close to their field at the base of a hill. Some time later a group of four Maoists came to them and asked the two boys each around 20 years of age to fetch water for them from the village. When these boys were returning, the police suddenly appeared and opened fire. An exchange of fire ensued in which the two boys were trapped. Both of them, Mukesh Duru Hidco and Sukhdev Varlu Gawde were killed. At the end of the firing, one member of the police force and the four Maoists were dead. Compensation was announced for the death of the two village boys but it is yet to see the light of day.
4. Mendhri, Etapalli tehsil: On the early morning of 7 July, a group of Maoists comprising six women and two men were close to a stream just outside the village settlement. While the two male members had gone to the village to purchase tea and sugar, two of the women had gone to the stream for a bath and the rest were talking and sharing tea with a young village girl. Sighting a policeman hiding close by, the girl ran towards her house and some moments later firing started. The women Maoists ran with their guns leaving their bags on the spot and an exchange of fire ensued. Running out of ammunition, the women tried to take refuge in the village but were chased by policemen into an open field. More policemen appeared from the other side and finding themselves trapped, the five women Maoists threw away their guns and raised their hands in surrender. One of them threw her gun and climbed on to a large Mahua tree in the same field. The police then approached the women, killing the surrendered from close range and women and shooting down the woman attempting to hide in the tree. Over 10 village residents were dragged to the spot and beaten when they were unable to identify the dead. One of the residents was also shot at when he tried run away from the dead bodies.
5. Bhatpar, Aheri tehsil: On the evening of 3 April, a group of four armed Maoists held a meeting with the residents of the village. Later that night they left the village and stayed by the river, half a kilometer away. Two women from the village also accompanied them. Early next morning people heard the sound of firing and one of the women ran back to the village. Dead bodies of the remaining five were brought by the police from across the river. Villagers demanded that the dead body of Sunita d/o Kumma Tado be handed over to the family. Police warned people to stay away while they caught hold of three men from the fields, beat them up and took them along to the Dhodraj police station. The next day most of the village residents went to the PS to demand return of the dead body and release of the four villagers. They returned with the four. The dead body was never handed over to the family.