The Human Rights Forum (HRF) and the Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sanghatan (GASS) demand that Greyhounds police personnel responsible for the killing of 27 Maoists and at least four civilians on the early morning of October 24, 2016 in the forest abutting Ramaguda village of Andrapalli panchayat in the “cut-off” area of Malkangiri district in Odisha be booked under relevant penal sections of the law including 302 IPC (murder) and the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) and prosecuted. The criminal investigation in the case must be handed over to either the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or a Court monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT).This SIT must consist of officers with impeccable credentials and untainted by earlier “encounter” killings.
A four-member HRF and GASS team on November 4 visited the place of firing by Greyhounds personnel. We spoke with adivasis in the area including residents of Gusumapadar and Ramaguda, a small village which is located quite close to the place of killings. Contrary to the assertion by senior police officials in both Andhra Pradesh and Orissa that the deaths were due to cross-fire, we believe they were the result of unilateral one-sided firing by the Greyhounds. That the Maoists opened fire first and the Greyhounds were forced to retaliate resulting in the deaths is pure fiction. It is our firm belief that the Maoists were taken totally by surprise and the fatalities, 31 in all at present count, were the result of a murderous attack by the Greyhounds.
The Maoists had set up camp a day before in a fairly dense forest area at the southern tip of the Jantri reserve forest. At about half a km from Ramaguda, the camp was located next to a stream and the hillock raises to the east and north. To the west is open ground and next to it are the placid waters of the Balimela reservoir. At the break of dawn on October 24, the Greyhounds, who were positioned at a height to the east and north in a semi-circle, opened fire killing 24 at the camp site itself. The others camp inmates ran in the opposite direction crossing the stream and going towards Ramaguda and beyond where the thick growth stretches into the Kondakamberu reserve forest.
What is pertinent is that the Greyhounds who were well-armed could have arrested the Maoists but they did no such thing. They not only outnumbered the latter, but were clearly in an advantageous position on higher ground. What is more, they had the element of surprise. But as has been their practice all these many decades, the Greyhounds began firing with the express intention to liquidate those present in the camp.
The day after, the police announced that four more Maoists were killed in yet another encounter in the area. We believe this to be untrue. What likely happened is that they found the bodies of four persons who were injured in the firing of the previous day. The police once again proclaimed that two more Maoists had died in another encounter on October 27. This is yet another falsehood. Local residents told us that after the Greyhounds left the area on October 9, the Maoists came a few days later and discovered yet another body near a rivulet. This was of a young man, a civilian who was resident of Bachilipadar, also in Andrapalli panchayat. Word was sent to his village and after his parents arrived, Ramaguda villagers helped them cremate the body near the reservoir. The toll at the moment is a total of 31 persons killed.
Senior police officials pointed out to the death of a Greyhounds commando and a bullet injury to the leg of another to buttress their claim that the Maoists had opened fire first and the police fired in self-defence. However, the Andhra Pradesh DGP has stated that the death of the commando was because he had drowned in a deep pond. It is also possible that the injury to the other commando could have been caused by a bullet fired by one of his colleagues.
In the matter of alleged encounters, the police, particularly the Greyhounds, have nothing to commend themselves. This is a commando force that was raised with the sole intention of shooting down Maoists as if they are wild game. Time and again they have attacked gatherings and killed people, including many civilians. We recall the recent killing of two adivasi farmers — Ganga Madkami (40) and Ganga Podiami (33) – by the Greyhounds on the afternoon of February 21, 2016 in the Puttakota forest area of Koyyuru mandal in Visakhapatnam district of AP. On that occasion the police peddled the fiction that the two, who hailed from Balakati and Tumsapalli villages of Korukonda block of Malkangiri district, as being members of the Galikonda area committee of the Maoists! One can go on citing many such examples.
At present, there is a pall of fear that is starkingly evident in the area with residents very afraid to speak out. What is very worrying is that the whereabouts of 14 adivasis from villages located across three panchayats –Andrapalli, Panasaput and Jodamba — are not known. According to information we could gather, 9 of them are from the village of Dhakerpadar, two from Bachilipadar and two more from Khajuriguda. Their relatives fear they are either in police custody or are lying dead somewhere in the forest after having been hit in the October 24 raid. What is noteworthy is all of them are civilians and not armed Maoist cadre. Many of them may have been in the camp because the Maoists were involved in recruiting people as militia members from several villages. In fact, two Maoists had come to Ramaguda on the night of October 23 asking that four youth come to the camp the next day for a meeting.
We urge Central and State governments to desist from viewing the Maoist movement as a mere outbreak of criminality but as a political movement and to deal with it politically. It must be acknowledged that this movement, though it does employ violence to further its goals, is one that has deep roots in material deprivation, social oppression and lack of freedom. The police do have the role to meet this violence by the Maoists but only in a manner that abides by the law and is respectful of the rights of people. It cannot resort to staged encounter killings and torture, among other illegalities.
Government must stop its ongoing policy to try to decimate the Maoists militarily. Serious efforts must be made by both the Government and the Maoists to initiate steps that would lead up to an unconditional dialogue.
VS Krishna S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF general secretary, AP&TS) (HRF president, AP&TS)
Press Release 19-10-2016
The Human Rights Forum (HRF) strongly condemns the manner in which an environmental public hearing is being sought to be held tomorrow (i.e 20-10-2016) for the proposed ACC Ltd’s limestone mining, cement plant and captive power plant at Gollapalli village in Mylavaram mandal of Kadapa district. The Andhra Pradesh government has virtually unleashed a police raj in the area and is trying to bulldoze the public hearing by whatever means.
HRF’s State executive committee member and Kadapa district convener K Jayasree has been held under house arrest with constables deployed at her residence in Proddatur. While junior level police officers are saying they had “instructions from above” to do this, senior officials are feigning ignorance. Meanwhile, hundreds of police personnel have descended upon Gollapalli and villages like Vaddirala, Bestavermula and G Uppalapadu. Evidently, the government’s intention is to prevent both HRF functionaries as well as local people from participating in the public hearing slated for Thursday. This is shameful and highly objectionable. The police are busy creating an atmosphere of fear among people who have misgivings about the desirability of the project. It may be recalled that local people have been vehemently opposing the proposed project and had even disallowed the public hearing from being held on an earlier occasion on September 9. This was because statutory norms were not followed and the local people had no proper access to information concerning the proposed project like the environmental impact assessment report.
Right now, the whole area in and around Gollapalli is teeming with police. A public hearing is part of an environmental process where people are given a chance to render suggestions, proffer opinion and raise objections about the concerned project. It must be held in a free, fair and transparent manner and not by intimidating people. This defeats the very purpose of public consultation and reduces the hearing to a meaningless exercise and a mere formality. Clearly, the public hearing process has been vitiated in this case and cannot be construed as a genuine public consultation as is mandated by law.
To now try to bulldoze a public hearing in this manner by using the police is highly objectionable. We demand that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) intervene and stop this farce.
VS Krishna S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF general secretary, TS&AP) (HRF president, TS&AP)
The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that those police personnel who participated in the alleged encounter killing of Mohd. Nayeemuddin near Shadnagar in Mahbubnagar district on August 8, 2016 be booked under relevant provisions of the IPC including murder. The investigation into the case must be conducted by an agency as independent as possible of the Telangana and AP police. The version of the police that Nayeemuddin died in an exchange of fire with the police and that the police only retaliated and fired in self-defence leading to his death, cannot be the last word in the matter. While we hold absolutely no brief for Mohd. Nayeemuddin, we wish to make the point that whether his death is the result of a genuine exchange of fire or an extra-judicial killing by the police has to be determined in a court of law. The court is the proper authority to decide upon the veracity or otherwise of the police version. It will not do for the police to simply put out an ‘encounter’ story and wash their hands of the matter.
Mohd. Nayeemuddin was possibly the most notorious and vicious of the criminal counter-insurgent gangs that operated and terrorised society with total impunity since over two decades. It is an open secret that these gangs, and Nayeemuddin in particular, enjoyed State patronage. His is the most glaring case of the State managing to co-opt militants who had earlier worked in Naxalite parties and then encouraged to form paramilitary gangs. He was allowed to operate as a virtual don, settling private land and business disputes with the undisguised use of violence, making a fortune for himself and his associates with the police benignly looking on and perhaps even taking a share of the gains. These armed gangs would also regularly issue threatening and abusive statements in the Press demanding of activists of various democratic organisations that they forthwith give up their activity.
There is very little doubt that it was Nayeemuddin’s gang that killed T. Purushotham of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) on 23-11-2000 in Hyderabad, and Md. Azam Ali of the same organisation at Nalgonda on 18-2-2001. Nayeemuddin personally participated in the kidnapping of Dr G. Lakshman, then President of APCLC, on 6-11-2003 in the aftermath of the near-fatal attack on the then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu near Tirupati on 1-10-2003 by the Peoples War. Dr. Lakshman was tortured and forced to deny the kidnapping and the torture. Nayeemuddin’s outfit would also regularly issue threatening and abusive statements in the Press demanding of activists of various democratic organisations that they forthwith give up their activity.
We believe that successive governments’ had ample chance all these years to arrest this gangster but chose not to do so. This is because he was doing the State’s bidding and there was close nexus between several high ranking policemen and Nayeemuddin. We recall that complete disarming of these killer gangs was one of the demands raised during the six month period in the later half of the year 2004 when there was a cease-fire between the police and the Maoists and some attempt at a dialogue was made. However, nothing happened.
The HRF, in particular late K Balagopal, has time and again pointed out that such criminal gangs, actively abetted by the State, should have no place in a civilised society. We have consistently campaigned against the phenomenon of private gangs operating in the name of ‘Tigers’ and ‘Cobras’ and killing people with impunity in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. We have, along with other rights organisations across the country, pointed to the dangers of the State deliberately encouraging private militias and standing silently by as they committed murders and forced activists of democratic organisations by public threats to resign and become inactive.
HRF also demands that a comprehensive enquiry be held to unearth facts of the nexus between such criminal gangs and the police.
VS Krishna S Jeevan Kumar
(HRF general secretary, TS&AP) (HRF president, TS&AP)
Press Release 20-7-2016
We demand that personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) who participated in the macabre firing that resulted in the death of five civilians of Gumudumaha village in Paranpanga panchayat of Tumdibandha block in Kandhamal district of Odisha on July 8, 2016 be duly charged under relevant provisions of the IPC as well as those of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and criminally prosecuted.
A four-member team of the Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan (GASS, Odisha) and the Human Rights Forum (HRF, AP and Telangana) visited Gumudumaha village on July 17 and spoke with local residents including eyewitnesses to the killings. Over 15 residents of the village had hired an auto-rickshaw at Balliguda on the evening of July 8 to take them to their village. Most of them were returning home after having collected their MGNREGS wages at the sub-divisional headquarters (Balliguda). At about 8.20 pm the auto was close to the village but had to get over a steep incline. The passengers got down and while the women, two of them carrying infant sons, walked ahead, the men pushed the auto up the kutcha road.
Upon reaching the top, the women first began to get into the auto when SOG personnel lying in wait amidst bushes not more than 10 to 15 metres away to the left of the road opened fire with no warning whatsoever. Five people, including three women, and a two-year old boy were killed instantly while seven others were wounded, five of them seriously. The dead and wounded belong to the adivasi Kondh and the Scheduled Caste Pano communities.
Every single person that our team spoke to (those who were at the spot that night) stated emphatically that the firing only emanated from the left and that there was no firing from the other side of the road. This clearly rules out the possibility of any exchange of fire. Soon after the firing began, those who were not hit ran to the village which was not more than 200 metres. Within a few minutes they rushed back with other residents to the spot only to find the dead. They carried the injured back to their homes in the village where five of the seriously hurt spent the entire night in pain, terror and delirium.
Those who died in this gruesome firing are two-year old Jehad Digal who was hit by a bullet that went through his stomach, three women Kimuri Mallick (35), Bimbuli Mallick (45) and Midiali Mallick (40) and Kukala Digal (42) who was the former sarpanch of Paranpanga.
Though it was a cloudy night and there was no moonlight, the two head-lights of the auto were switched on and from where the SOG personnel lay in wait, they could easily see that it was civilians who were by the auto. That the SOG still resorted to firing upon a group of unarmed villagers reflects a mind-set that can only be described as morbid.
When the villagers went to the spot the next morning, the SOG personnel disallowed them from moving the bodies. They even disallowed them from taking the injured in the village for treatment. On the other hand, no effort was made by the administration to shift those who were hurt to hospital. It was only after several adivasi and dalit organisations in Tumdibandha block raised an outcry and held protests that the injured were allowed to be taken to hospital. While two of the injured remained in the village since their wounds were very minor, the other five were carried by the villagers on foot and they reached the road point at Kurtamgarh, a good 15 km away, by the afternoon of July 9.
Four of the injured are now being treated at MKCG Hospital in Berhampur. They are Luka Digal and his wife Sunita who are parents of the two-year deceased boy Jehad, Tempu Mallick (50) and Gottisi Digal (35). Bannomali Mallick (35), who is in a serious condition, is in the SCB Medical College, Cuttack. In what can only be described as extreme luck, Kajanti Mallick (22), who was holding her 17-month son Krishna in her arms, got away with a bullet only scraping her left calf. Sahalu Mallick also escaped with a splinter on his back.
As is their habit, the police put out the customary concoction of an exchange of fire with the Maoists. The official version is that a 15-member joint drive by the police and SOG based on intelligence inputs about Maoists presence in the area was fired upon by the latter who had positioned themselves atop a hillock. The SOG, who were approaching the hillock, retaliated in self-defence. While the exchange was going on, an auto-rickshaw that was passing by got stuck in the mud forcing the passengers to alight and therefore the helpless villagers got trapped in the crossfire!
This is pure nonsense. To describe these killings, like some in the security establishment are doing, as “an engagement with the Maoists gone horribly wrong” is to miss the point. This is by no means an isolated case. During our joint fact-findings over the past few years (the list is given below) we have found that special forces, whether the CRPF, SOG or BSF have killed 17 persons, most of them adivasis and all unarmed civilians, in the South Odisha districts of Kalahandi, Rayagada, Koraput , Kandhamal and Gajapati.
Almost a year ago, on July 26, 2015, CRPF personnel shot dead Dhubeswar Nayak (50) and his wife Bubhudi Nayak (45) near their village Pangalapadar in Madaguda panchayat of Kotagarh block, also in Kandhamal district. The couple were on a hill-top about half a km from their village speaking over the mobile with their sons who were in Kerala when they were murdered by the SOG. They were atop the hill since that is the only place where mobiles phones can pick up BSNL signals and like many of Pangalapadar residents they make the climb occasionally to avail of the facility. Till date, no official has visited the village nor has any meaningful investigation taken place. On that occasion too public protests forced the government to hand over meagre compensation to the family but there has been no initiation of criminal proceedings against the killer SOG personnel. If those responsible for such deliberate and wanton killings been brought to book, would the Gumudumaha killings have happened?
We have conducted fact-findings into each one of these incidents and found them to be cases of unilateral firing by the security forces. These deaths of civilians can only be described as murders. The sad reality, however, is that in not a single one of these cases have those who perpetrated the crime been criminally prosecuted though it is a basic requirement of law. Mere quibbling over standard operating procedures will not be of much use. What is required is accountability.
The government of Odisha persists with the undemocratic policy of continuing to treat the Maoist movement as an outbreak of criminality which can be sorted out with the deployment of more and more security forces armed to the teeth. This was once again echoed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during the recent Inter-State Council meet in Delhi where he described “left wing extremism is the biggest threat” and sought deployment of even more troops to meet it. While the impunity given to these special police is a matter of serious concern to society at large, to those residing in the 5th Scheduled districts of South Odisha it is a matter of life and death. Small wonder that we heard the uniform plea by local residents that they wanted an immediate withdrawal of para military forces from the region.
We have consistently made the point that the Maoist movement is a political movement that has to be met politically. Any response by the police to the violence by Maoists has to be within the ambit of the law without trampling upon people’s rights.
A day after the full horror and inhumanity of the Gumudumaha killings had sunk in, the Odisha Chief Minister made the customary noises of “deep regret and unfortunate deaths” and proceeded to announce compensation and employment of sorts to a family member of those killed. This, however, does not meet the ends of justice. For that to happen a diligent criminal investigation is a requisite. This must be done by an agency as independent as possible of the local police. We consider the SIT constituted by the State DGP to investigate the deaths as a mere eyewash. We cannot accept policemen sitting in enquiry on the homicidal deeds of their fellow policemen.
A judicial enquiry into the killings is no substitute for a proper criminal investigation by an independent authority. We recall the slaughter of 17 adivasi civilians at Sarkeguda village in Bijapur district of South Chattisgarh on June 28, 2012 by security forces. The political dispensation in power then and now in that State is the BJP. Four years down the line, the judicial probe ordered in that case is yet to be completed.
We demand that:
1. SOG personnel who participated in the killing on five civilians near Gumudumaha village on July 8 be booked under provisions of the IPC including murder as well as relevant sections of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and criminally prosecuted.
2. The investigation into this case must be handed over to the CBI.
3. Compensation amounts must be enhanced considerably than what have been being announced.
4. The same procedure is to be followed in all the other five cases cited below.
5. The government must desist from viewing the Maoist movement through a purely law and order prism. It must acknowledge that it is primarily a political movement and deal with it politically.
VS Krishna (HRF, AP-TS) Deba Ranjan (GASS, Odisha)
GASS-HRF fact-finding team members:
Deba Ranjan and Debi Prasanna (Members, Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan, GASS), VS Krishna (general secretary, Human Rights Forum, HRF) and K Sudha (HRF executive committee member).
List of killings of civilians by security forces in South Odisha:
1. July 8, 2016. Jehad Digal, Kimuri Mallick, Bimbuli Mallick, Midiali Mallick and Kukala Digal of Gumudumaha village of Paranpanga panchayat in Tumdibandha block of Kandhamal district. Shot dead by SOG.
2. February 27, 2016, Manda Kadraka of Rangamati village in Parsali panchayat, Kalyansingpur block, Rayagada district, shot dead by SOG.
3. November 16, 2015, Harishankar Nayak, Sukru Majhi and Jaya Majhi of Nisanguda area in Jugsaipatna panchayat of Kalahandi district. Shot dead by CRPF.
4. July 26, 2015, Dhubeswar Nayak and his wife Bubhudi Nayak of Pangalapadar village of Madaguda panchayat in Kotagarh block of Kandhamal district. Shot dead by SOG.
5. October 29, 2013, Gangadhar Kirsani of Litiput village in Gunnepada panchayat of Lamtaput block, Koraput district. Shot dead by BSF.
6. November 14, 2012, Aiba Padra of Bujuli village in Gadhapur panchayat, Shyamson Majhi of Bhingiriguda in Saramuli panchayat, Ghasiram Bagsingh of Mardhipanka village, Saramuli panchayat, Sanathan Mallick of Gaheju village in Hatimunda panchayat, all in Daringabadi block of Kandhamal district and Laxmi Kanta Nayak of Lujuramunda village in Bahadasahi panchayat of Tikabali block in Kandhamal district. All five were shot dead by SOG.
(This is by no means an exhaustive list. We have mentioned only those cases that we have elicited facts about.)