Gross Human Rights Violations In Tribal Areas of South Orissa

A fact-finding committee of five members of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) of Andhra Pradesh, and social activist Deba Ranjan and senior journalist Sudhakar Patnaik (Koraput) of Orissa toured Malkangiri, Koraput and Gajapati districts from 11 to 13 May, 2009 to look into reports of frequent human rights violations in the area in the context of the Government of Orissa’s operations against unrest and violence in the tribal areas of these districts.

The CRPF and the SOG of the State Police have been deployed extensively in these districts and the Greyhounds of the Andhra Pradesh police have also been making incursions into the area, which has a border with A.P. The Maoists too have been indulging in regular violence, against the police/paramilitary forces as well as civilians. However, the activity of the Maoists is not the only context of unrest in the area. The violence between Adivasis and non-Adivasis in Narayanapatna block of Koraput district has caused serious concern. Though it has nothing to do with the Maoists, there is massive deployment of the CRPF in the Narayanapatna block causing apprehension of a repetition of the kind of harassment one hears of where the CRPF has been deployed in areas of Maoist activity.

The team looked into three instances of extra-judicial killing by the police/paramilitary forces, in all of which ordinary tribal villagers were killed, two cases of abduction and subsequent disappearance, in which again the victims are ordinary villagers, and the abductors are the police, three killings by the Maoists and the unrest in Narayanapatna block. We will deal below with the incidents and our observations one by one. But at the very outset we must refer to the fear that stalks the area. At two rather remote villages which we visited, Rathaguda in Chitrakonda tahsil of Malkangiri district and Kutunigonda of Mohana block, Gajapati district, the Adivasi residents said that with the CRPF and other police forces raiding the villages frequently, guns in hand, and issuing menacing warnings not to associate with the Maoists, they were afraid to go out even for their daily needs. The news of encounters in which ordinary villagers like them have been killed multiplies the fear.

Kotipalli: This is a Kondh (listed as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group-PVTG) hamlet right on the border with Andhra Pradesh in Pamparametta panchayat, Kudumulugumma block in Chitrakonda tahsil of Malkangiri district. On 20/1/2009, Greyhounds police of Andhra Pradesh raided the hamlet at about 9 am and picked up Pangi Sadayi (a 20-year old woman who was three-months pregnant), Golluri Sombu (45) and Golluri Budra (40), all three of them Adivasi cultivators and residents of the village. They were taken out of the village, tied to trees and beaten within sight of the villagers. Sadayi lost consciousness. Then the police carried her and made the two men follow them with the hands tied behind the back, to a place farther away from the village and after further beating, they were shot dead, at about 11 am. In the meanwhile, armed policemen stood guard around the village, to ensure that the residents would not move out to protest.

Having caught and killed the three unarmed villagers inside Orissa, the Greyhounds of A.P police took away the dead bodies across the border and claimed that three Maoists had died in an ‘encounter’ in the forests of Pedabayalu in Visakhapatnam district of A.P. This falsehood was necessitated by the fact that the Greyhounds are part of the Andhra Pradesh police and they cannot go raiding or combing the forests of Orissa at their will and pleasure. But as we find that the Greyhounds are doing so regularly, it is necessary to place on record our demand that both the State Governments have the responsibility to ensure that this is put an end to. This is not just a technical matter of territorial jurisdiction. Police action, by its very nature, is liable to trample upon life and liberty and hence only authorised action should be permitted, and only within permissible limits. The Courts have emphasised this repeatedly and the administration should learn to obey this command of the law.

Further, the killing committed by the Greyhounds in Kotipalli is triple murder and the perpetrators should be charged with the offence and prosecuted. The A.P police must reveal to the Orissa police the identity of the Greyhounds personnel who raided Kotipalli on 20/1/2009 and the latter should register the offence and prosecute them.

Kutunigonda: This is a Savara (Saora) hamlet in Panigonda panchayat, Mohana tahsil, Gajapati district. On 22/11/2008, Junes Badaraita (28) and Kornel Badaraita, farmers of that hamlet, had gone into the neighbouring forest looking for some cattle which had not returned after grazing in the evening. It was 9 pm by the time they returned to the hamlet, torch in hand. About 30 CRPF personnel were outside the hamlet, guns in hand. The inspector in charge (IIC) of Adava police station, Naba Kishore Kiro, was also with them. The two tribal men did not see them in the dark. The CRPF men fired at them straight away as they emerged on to the road from the forest together with the cattle. Junes fell down dead with bullet wounds in the head and Kornel, who was hit thrice, fell on him. Four cattle also died of police bullets. The IIC then called out the ward member of the hamlet, Joseph Raita, and asked him to see if he could identify the slain ‘Maoists’. Raita looked at them and protested at the killing of innocent tribal villagers in the name of Maoists. The police then hastily left the village and went away without even shifting the injured Kornel to hospital. The villagers took him to hospital with great difficulty and he fortunately survived. But Junes had died on the spot.

This is a case of blatant murder committed by the CRPF in the name of an encounter with the Maoists. Since there is no question of the unarmed Junes and Kornel causing any threat to the lives of the police, there is no question of any firing in self-defence. Perhaps in recognition of this, the administration has paid ex gratia of Rs 50,000/- to the family of Junes Badaraita and Rs 20,000/- for the dead cattle. But they have paid nothing to the severely injured Kornel Raita who had to pay for his treatment. Moreover, Rs 50,000/- is too meager a sum for taking the life of a family’s breadwinner.

It is also necessary that the killers are prosecuted for murder. The officers of the CRPF should inform the civil police the names of the personnel involved in the firing and a case of murder should be booked against them and investigated.

Talameting: This is a tribal hamlet of Laxmipur block, Koraput district, close to the Damanjodi mines of NALCO. It is known that on the intervening night of 12/13 April this year the Maoists attacked the mines and took away a lot of explosives, rifles, etc. Ten CISF personnel and 4 Maoists died in the attack. On the morning of 13 April, the SOG of the State police started combing operations along what they understood to be the escape route taken by the Maoists. The first village along the route happened to be Talameting. The villagers who saw the policemen coming got scared and ran away. The policemen opened fire at the houses. Katru Huika (about 28 yrs old, a Kondh tribal) and Kandru Midiaka who were entering the village from the neighbouring village of Hatlameting were late in seeing the forces. By the time they saw and ran, the bullets hit Katru Huika and he died on the spot. Kandru Midiaka who was behind him fell on him. The SOG also looted the houses of Sannu Himrika, Bahani Sirka and Basanna Sirka and took away Rs 15,000, Rs 13,000 and Rs 1100 respectively plus goats and 15 fowl.

This is another case of wanton killing of an unarmed tribal, but perhaps to create a justification for it, the police have arrested four other tribals from the village, namely Jagan Sirka, Lato Midiaka, Aland Sirka and Chitra Sirka and after detaining them illegally for 14 days sent them to jail on the serious charge of aiding and abetting the attack of the Maoists.  However that may be, the killing of Katru Huika is cold blooded murder in the name of anti-Maoist operations and the SOG personnel must be prosecuted and punished for it.

Tentuliguda & MV 123: These two hamlets are in Chimitipalli panchayat, Korukonda block, Chitrakonda tehsil, Malkangiri district. Akul Sarkar of MV 123 was taken away on 27/8/2008 from the haat at Tentuliguda by three plainclothesmen who came on two bikes, and has not been seen till now. Indra Madi of Tentuliguda is sarpanch of Chimitipalli. He is an Adivasi. He along with other persons of the village started efforts to locate Akul Sarkar by petitioning the District Collector and other officials. On 16/9/2008, Indra Madi and some others were at the Korukonda block office where they noticed a number of police personnel moving around the area. That afternoon, Indra Madi dropped Rina Sodi, the sarpanch of Tumsabadi, at his village on his bike and was returning to his village when six plainclothes personnel who came on three bikes stopped him and took him away. This was at 5-00 pm. He too has not been seen since.

The police are trying to give the impression that the Maoists may have kidnapped them and are putting up posters in the area showing their photographs, seeking information about their whereabouts. We do not find this convincing. We hold no brief for the Maoists but when they kidnap or kill someone, they usually declare the fact and offer some justification, whether right or wrong. There is therefore every reason to suspect that the abductors of Akul Sarkar and Indra Madi are the police, and the two are missing from the custody of the police. The State Human Rights Commission has been petitioned in the matter, but given the limited infrastructure of the Commission, we are of the opinion that the CBI must be directed to investigate the disappearance of the two men.

In this context we heard a very serious allegation which we must put on record. Many people of this area told us that the CRPF camp at MV 44 on the way from Malkangiri to Kalimela is used as a detention center where people are kept for long periods and interrogated. The fortified nature of the camp effectively prevents the outside world from knowing any thing of the fate of the detenu. If this is true, it is a very serious matter. Such torture chambers have been known in Jammu and Kashmir and are entirely outside the pale of law. The CBI must probe this allegation too.  

Narayanpatna: The conflict between Adivasis and non-Adivasis in the villages of Narayanpatna block has understandably caused anxiety because it has led to a large number of Dalit families being driven out of the village of Padapadar. We met the displaced Dalits at Narayanapatna, the Tahsildhar of Narayanapatna and the Joint Commissioner (Settlements) who has been assigned the task of hearing the grievances of the Adivasis of Baliaput, and Nasika Linga, the secretary of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS).

The grievances of the Adivasis are two-fold. One is the sale of liquor in which the Dalits also have a role which is a lucrative trade for the non-tribals but a source of economic and social devastation for the tribal people. The second is land alienation. The Adivasis believe that both at the time of settlement operations which concluded in this area in 1961, and thereafter, a considerable extent of their ancestral land has been taken over by the non-tribals, both by illegal and seemingly legal means. It is the allegation of the non-tribals that the Adivasis have forcibly occupied land in their possession for the last three years. This year the Dalits of Padapadar have been forcibly driven away. We noticed too the destruction of the Dalit houses in that village.

The administration appears to have realised that there is a serious socio-economic problem here. Even though the CRPF has been deployed in the tahsil headquarters, no arrests have been made but instead the Joint Commissioner (Settlements) has been instructed to receive complaints of irregularities in the 1961 settlement and conduct a hearing on the same. While this approach is sensible, it does not go far enough. Insofar as the liquor trade is concerned, the Narayanapatna tahsil falls in the Scheduled area and the Constitutional provisions in PESA apply. PESA has endowed the gram sabha with the power to control the sale of liquor. If this is fully operationalised and the gram sabha is allowed to exercise its power, which includes the power to ban the liquor trade, that will go a long way in resolving the first issue.

Insofar as the land issue is concerned, the steps announced till now are in the right direction but not sufficient. It is not enough to go into the correctness of the 1961 settlement. It is necessary to go into the subsequent alienation of land also, including that which has taken place under court orders. And the enquiry cannot be confined to specific complaints of individual Adivasis. They may not have the necessary information with them to make out a legally sustainable complaint. It is necessary to survey the title and possession of the entire land in the area and identify possible alienation of tribal land. A procedure adopted by the Govt. of Andhra Pradesh when a similar uprising took place in the district of West Godavari in the 1990s may be a suitable model to follow. The tahsildar would sit in each village, and read out the land record, survey no. by survey no., in the presence of both the Adivasis and the non-Adivasis to enable such identification following which legal proceedings would be taken up for restoration of wrongfully alienated land. We hope that the Govt. of Orissa will undertake such an exercise forthwith. It will be recalled that such an effort was made in the year 2000 in villages of Kotgarh block of Kandhamal district.

However, we made it clear to the CMAS activists that even though their grievances are very genuine, the wholesale attack on the entire Dalit community of Padapadar rendering all of them homeless is unjustified and can lead to a dangerous communal situation. It is significant that though the grievances of the Adivasis are against all the non-tribals, and the caste Hindus are guiltier, it is only the Dalits who have been attacked, maybe because they are a relatively easy target. This is what happens when socio-economic issues are communalised.

Killings by the Maoists: The Maoists have killed seven persons in the villages of Narayanapatna tahsil bordering Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh in the last year and a half. All of them have been described as police informers. While it is true that in each of these cases, the police have registered an offence of murder and are investigating it, we also believe that the Maoists are answerable not only to the law but also to the people from whom they seek support on the ground of the ideals for which they are fighting. The reasons they give and the justifications they offer for whatever they do must be transparent and convincing. We spoke to the villagers and family members of three of the seven victims. These are: Patra Khosla of Bagam village of Khumbhari panchayat, Narayanapatna block, Bhogi Ramesh of Kattulapet in Bandhugaon block and Kameshwar @ Bijoy Digal of Sulupulamanda in Bandhugaon block.

We have noticed that in the first two cases the victim had no knowledge or intimation of any allegation against him until he was killed and the allegation was scripted on a piece of paper left by the side of the dead body. This is contrary to the proclaimed policy of the Maoists which is that the allegation must be made known, an opportunity of explaining the allegation and correcting himself must be given to the person and the punishment must be proportionate to the evil allegedly committed by him. The Maoists must be told that whatever the support they enjoy among the people they cannot expect to get away with arbitrary, one-sided and cruel actions.

Conclusion: Even though it has become customary for all governments to declare that naxalism is not a problem of law and order alone but a socio-economic issue, that declaration remains an empty phrase. All governments are treating it as exclusively a law and order problem and dumping killer police forces in the affected area, leading to unacceptable violation of the right to life and liberty of the people. The Govt. of Orissa is no exception to this.

Our first and foremost demand is that the customary declaration is made the basis of a policy of intervention which has strong social and economic components. The police forces must be used only for the limited task of prevention and investigation of crime by lawful methods and not for suppression of the social aspirations of the people involved. The other demands are:

  • A case of homicide under 302 IPC must be booked in connection with the Kotipalli, Talameting and Kutunigonda killings against the concerned police personnel. Investigation must be handed over to the CBI.
  • The disappearance of Indra Madi of Tentuliguda and Akul Sarkar of MV 123 must be probed by the CBI. The CBI must also probe the very serious allegation that the CRPF camp at MV 44 is being used as an illegal detention and torture center.
  • The issue pertaining to liquor trade raised by the Adivasis of Narayanapatna block must be resolved by convening the Gram Sabha in each village and allowing it to exercise its power to regulate the sale of liquor under PESA.
  • The land issues raised must be resolved by a process of public inspection of the land records village-wise so that disputed land transfers can be identified and probed into.
  • The Greyhounds of Andhra Pradesh should stop operating outside the State, for which it has no legal authority.
  • CRPF camps should not be set up in police stations. That defeats the normal purpose for which police stations are intended.

Members of the fact-finding committee: Dr Burra Ramulu, president HRF, Dr K Balagopal, general secretary, HRF, VS Krishna, secretary, HRF, K Sudha, HRF executive committee member, M Ramakrishna, HRF Visakhapatnam district committee member, Deba Ranjan, social activist and Sudhakar Patnaik, senior journalist.

The team is grateful to the activists of the Malkangiri Adivasi Sangh, Koraput Zilla Adivasi Manch, Vanvasi Suraksa Parishad (Gajapati district) and Vivek Sethi of Koraput for the assistance given us. 

Sudhakar Patnaik 

B Ramulu  

Deba Ranjan

K Balagopal


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