Immediate and independent probe of the alleged encounter killing of 15 ‘Naxals’ in Sukma
The morning of August 6th 2018, preliminary news reports indicated that 15 ‘Naxals’ had been gunned down by the Chhattisgarh police in Sukma district. This encounter, the reports claimed, also included injuries to two others, a man and a woman, who were then arrested. This encounter happened near Nalkatong village in the Mika Tong forests near Gollapalli and Konta Block of South Sukma. It was conducted by two teams of District Reserve Guard (DRG), Special Task Force (STF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the elite Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) at roughly 6:30 am and it continued for roughly an hour. As per the SP of Sukma, this combined force numbering 200 personnel encircled and cordoned off a Maoist camp which appeared to have 20-25 militia members. The militia members, it is claimed, belonged to the tri-junction of Gollapalli, Konta and Bhejji areas. Bastar range Inspector General of Police Vivekananda Sinha has claimed that the exchange of fire lasted two hours and the Maoists had initiated the firing forcing the security forces to retaliate. According to Chhattisgarh’s Special Director General of Police (Anti-Naxal operations) DM Awasthi, the recovery of a large cache of arms, explosives and bodies of 15 Naxals along with the arrest of two is evidence of the success of the “biggest anti-Naxal operation in the history of Chhattisgarh”. Meanwhile, the police claim that they faced no setbacks in this operation and all their personnel returned safely to the base camp in Konta.
A day after all these claims, in Kistaram hundreds of women protested against this police action by calling it a ‘fake encounter’. The women protesting police action claim that all those killed were villagers working in their fields and none of them are Naxals. Following a visit to the site by Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, it was revealed that the police force, in order to show their efficiency in combating Naxals in the area, shot and killed villagers. The villagers, harassed by intrusive search and combing operations in the area, were encircled and killed in indiscriminate firing. It seems some of the people killed are villagers from Gompad, the very village where two years ago a woman was raped and killed by the police and then declared a ‘Naxal’. The claim that any of them were Naxals was strongly opposed by the people resulting in questions about police action in the area. None of the villagers were armed. AAP leader and member of WSS, Soni Sori has asked, “If they were really Maoists, how come none of them had a single automatic weapon in a group of 15? The 15 dead included two brother and seven teenagers.” Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Ramdev Baghel, representatives of Aam Aadmi Party in the area, have raised serious doubts about the veracity of police claims by speaking with the villagers and have demanded an independent probe. Most crucially, the villagers have claimed that out of the 15 killed, six were minors aged between 14 and 17 years. All those killed were working in their fields when they were killed. The police encircled them in their fields and shot indiscriminately.
As per reports from the ground, villagers from four villages belonging to Mehta Panchayat – Nalkatong, Gompad, Kindrampada and Velpocha – including children between the ages of 14-17 from Nalkatong village were killed by the combined police team. Two people arrested include Madkam Budri, a woman from Nalkatong village who was shot in the leg and Vanjam Hunga from Velpocha village; both are now declared ‘Naxals’. The police are claiming both of them were apprehended during the operation. But the villagers claim that besides these two villagers, three more young adivasis are in police custody. Meanwhile, the villagers are being repeatedly beaten up, including pregnant women, in an effort to keep them quiet. The people from all these villages are clearly stating that there were no Naxals present among them and have invited independent probes to see for itself. It is crucial to note that Gompad is the very same village where two years ago Madkam Hidme, a young adivasi woman, was raped and killed after being declared a Naxal by the police. At that time too the villagers had come together and condemned the police action.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, has called it a “big, successful and clean operation”. Just days before this operation, the chief minister had claimed that “either they should surrender and join the mainstream, or our forces are ready and Naxals will no longer be spared”. Minister for Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, has also congratulated the police forces for this operation. The police claim that further search and combing operations are underway. On the one hand, DM Awasthi has claimed that the two teams were sent to the area following intelligence reports and, on the other, the SP of Sukma Abhishek Meena has claimed that “it was sheer chance that our forces spotted a Maoist camp along their route of operation and targeted the cadres. In the gun-battle, our men killed 15 Maoists on the spot”. Even as more questions are being raised regarding the incident on August 6th, the CRPF is planning to set up 17 more police camps in Sukma, Bijapur and Balrampur with two companies of CRPF in each wherein each company will roughly have 110 personnel.
In light of the contradictions in the police narrative and, more importantly, the claims made by the people of Nalkatong and the adjoining villages, it is clear that an immediate and independent probe is needed to ascertain the events in the night and morning of 5th and 6th August 2018. The history of sexual violence and police excess in the area raises apprehensions of an orchestrated operation meant to project ‘success’ for the Chhattisgarh police and boost the morale of the forces in the area. The impact of such operations on the people of Chhattisgarh, especially the adivasis of Bastar region, needs to seen in light of increasing repression on people, the easy and convenient branding of adivasis as ‘Naxals’ and the policy of killing villagers during the monsoons in the days leading up to the Independence Day creating an environment of police terror in the region. WSS condemns the beating up of the villagers including pregnant women by the Chhattisgarh police and paramilitary, all efforts made to silence the people of Sukma, and demand an immediate end to such practices including setting up of camps, intrusive combing operations, harassment of villagers, and threats to the lives of people daring to protest police excess. WSS is alarmed by reports of seven minors being killed in this operation and demands that the police and CRPF immediately cease actions wherein people are shot in cold blood in the name of combating Naxalism. Civil Liberties Committee (CLC) has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court with a prayer to file 302 IPC against paramilitary forces who have killed villagers, asked for the constitution of a judicial enquiry, a review of the post-mortem, called for a stay of auxiliary promotions to the paramilitary personnel, and appealed for the establishment of a criminal investigation by the CBI or set up SIT to investigate the killings. WSS stands in solidarity and supports this petition by CLC. Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) calls on all democratic forces to take note of the appeal made by the villagers of the Mehta Panchayat in Sukma and probe the incident immediately and judiciously.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Conveners: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini; Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org