Report Of The Killing of Adivasi Civilians by CRPF at Edesmeta in Bijapur District


May 28, 2013

Human Rights Forum

Following media reports that eight adivasis and a CRPF constable had died in an alleged encounter on the night of May 17, 2013 at Edesmeta village in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh, a team of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) from Andhra Pradesh visited the area on May 25, 26 to elicit facts. The team spoke with residents of Edesmeta as well as police officers at Gangulur. There are 67 households in Edesmeta located in six paras (hamlets). The village is in Burgil panchayat of Bijapur block and falls in the jurisdiction of Gangalur police station.

The following is a brief report of the fact-finding team. A more detailed report will be put out in due course:

It is the HRFs view that contrary to the police version of an encounter with Maoists, there was no exchange of fire at Edesmeta on the night of May 17. Eight adivasis, including four minors, all of them male, and the CRPF constable died as a result of indiscriminate and unilateral firing by the CRPF. None of the deceased eight adivasis are Maoists as the police initially claimed. The eight did not die because the Maoists used them as human shields as an improvised police version put out a day later stated. They were killed in gunfire unleashed by a specialized anti-naxalite unit of the CRPF. There was no provocation whatsoever for the firing. Four more adivasis including a minor were injured. This callous brutality is chillingly similar to the slaughter of 17 adivasi civilians (including six minors) at Sarkeguda, also in Bijapur district, on the night of June 28, 2012.

This one-sided firing by the CRPF took place upon a gathering of adivasis of Edesmeta who were performing the beej pondum, the seed festival normally held this time of the year before the rains arrive and sowing begins. About a 100 adivasis had gathered around a small structure containing their dieties known locally as ‘gaama’. The beej pondum on May 17 (Friday) was the last of the four-day long festivities that were held during the evening-night. The adivasis had congregated at the place which is an open field and about a 10 minute walk from the village. The area is ringed on all sides by fairly thick forest. That the adivasis were unarmed civilians would have been clear to the naked eye from a distance since they had going a large fire.

A huge contingent of security forces from Gangulur consisting principally of CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, a specialised anti-naxalite guerilla unit of the CRPF) commandos numbering well about 150 personnel surrounded the area from three sides. The CRPF men caught hold of three young men Punem Sukku, Karam Budra and Karam Lakhma who were going towards a chelimi (a water hole) to drink water and also fetch some for the others gathered at the pondum. The CRPF men roughed them up. The terrified three, however, managed to wriggle out and ran into the forest in the direction away from the gathering. The villagers noticed the presence of the CRPF men when the three young men started running. They stopped dancing and almost immediately the CRPF started firing at the gathering. It was about 10 pm.

The initial burst of firing was from the north and it hit Karem Somlu(35), Punem Somu (30) and the beej pondum pujari Karem Pandu (37). They died on the spot. As soon as they heard the shots and saw these men falling, the adivasis began to scream and run with most of them heading south towards the village. The firing continued, this time from the west killing the four minor boys Karam Guddu (10) Karam Masa (16), Karam Badru (8) and Punem Lakku (15). It is entirely credible that the CoBRA constable Dev Prakash was hit by the gunfire unleashed by his colleagues from the west. His body lay next to that of Karam Masa’s. Villagers of Edesmeta the HRF team spoke with stated emphatically that there were absolutely no Maoists in the area and the CoBRA constable was hit in the same burst that felled Masa.

In fact, a few adivasis who managed to survive this massacre and were hiding in the bushes or behind some boulders said they overheard some of the CRPF men shout “stop firing, one of our men has been hit”. After the firing stopped, the CRPF lit up the area with flare guns. They also slapped and beat up a few adivasis. They left about an hour later carrying with them the bodies of Karam Masa and the constable Dev Prakash. They also took away three survivors Karam Aiytu, Karam Manga and Karam Lachhu. All three were beaten enroute Gangalur and at the police station also.

Karam Soma (35) managed to survive as he ran quickly and hid behind a boulder pretending he was dead. Karam Joga, who was hit by a bullet fell close by. Joga pleaded for water a few times and then passed away. After the firing stopped, the CRPF men found Soma and beat him up before leaving.

Those killed in this senseless carnage are:

Karam Pandu (35), the village pujari.
Karam Somlu (35) husband of Somli.
Punem Somu (30), husband of Boodhi.
Karam Joga (36), husband of Somli.
Karam Guddu (10) son of Karam Pandu (killed in firing).
Karam Masa (16), son of Karam Lachu and Somli.
Punem Lakku (15), son of Punem Lakku (late) and Borru.
Karam Badru (8), son of Karam Joga (killed in firing) and Somli.

Injured: Karam Somlu (40), Punem Somlu (20), Karam Somlu (25) and Karam Chotu (10). All four spent well over as day in pain before being given treatment. They are now recovering at the Maharani Government Hospital in Jagdalpur.

As soon as news of the firing and death of their relatives reached the village, the women rushed to the spot. In fact, an old woman Karam Lakki reached the place even before the CRPF men had left. On seeing the bodies of the adivasis, she screamed at the CRPF. She was slapped a couple of times by them before they hurriedly left. After the other women arrived, they carried the seven dead bodies and the four injured back to the village.

Women relatives of Karam Masa and those of the three men picked up by the CRPF after the firing went to the Gangalur police station the next morning (May 18). They pleaded with the CRPF to let their men go. Masa’s body was handed over to his mother after a post-mortem and the three were let off towards the evening.

The same day meanwhile, another large contingent of security forces came to the village from towards Cherpal. On seeing them, most of the adivasi men fled into the forest fearing they would be subjected to violence. Weeping women shouted at the CRPF men saying “you have butchered our men and children”. The CRPF men, who were on their best placatory behavior, told the women that it was not them but another party from the Gangalur and Bijapur side that had taken part in the firing the night before. It took a long time for them to convince the women to allow them shift the dead bodies for post-mortem. Many women from the village followed the CRPF men as the bodies were carried to Gangulur that evening.

A post-mortem was conducted by a panel of doctors at the Community Health Center, Gangulur the next morning (May 19) after which the bodies were handed over to their relatives. Angry villagers, most of them women, then placed the bodies between the Gangulur police station and the CRPF camp located opposite it and abused the local police as well as the CRPF and threw stones at the police station. That adivasi women pelted stones on a police station in an area where even the presence of the police is highly intimidating to the average citizen speaks volumes. The police merely watched on. Would they have been silent if their conscience was clear and there really was an exchange of fire? The women later took the bodies back to Edesmeta and cremated them the same evening.

According to the villagers, on Monday (May 20), another huge contingent of the police went to the village. A few of the officers addressed the adivasis where the firing took place and apologised for what had happened on the night of May 17. In turn, the villagers told the police that they wanted those who were responsible for the killings punished. When we asked the Gangulur inspector PK Sahu about this he denied that the police had even gone to Edesmeta on Monday.

Police Version:

In the face of this terrible brutality, the security establishment continues to maintain the fiction that the Maoists had fired upon the CRPF men and the latter had to therefore, retaliate. In this version, the fact of the dead adivasis being unarmed civilians is conceded, but the averment is that they were felled by Maoist bullets or they were a tragic outcome of crossfire in which they were used by the retreating Maoists as “human shields”.

The police assert that a special CoBRA unit from Gangalur enroute Pidiya to launch an offensive against the Maoists came under hostile fire near Edesmeta village following which they retaliated in self-defence. While one of their men was killed in the fierce encounter, they managed to kill an extremist and apprehend three suspects. It was only the next morning that they discovered some bodies which could be those of civilians and had evacuated them for post-mortem. Even senior officials in the security establishment touted this falsehood initially. When media reports emerged that a number of civilians including minor boys were killed, the version quickly changed to ‘Maoists used adivasi villagers as human shields to make good their escape.’ Senior officials in Raipur maintained that the CoBRA was a specially trained elite force and that the CRPF had put in place additional precautionary measures after the Sarkeguda incident last year. In effect, what is being conveyed is that the CRPF men exercise maximum restraint and only engage in exchange of fire. Civilian fatalities resulted because of Maoists firing recklessly while retreating!

These assertions fly in the face of facts. The plain truth is that the CRPF personnel opened fire without any provocation upon a gathering of unarmed adivasis celebrating a traditional festival. Edesmeta residents stated repeatedly that the CRPF men could easily ascertain that there were no Maoists in the area and that it was an unarmed gathering of villagers but they fired nevertheless. Several villagers who are still in grief and anger told the HRF team: “They want to finish us off”.

Attacked By Salwa Judum:

Edesmeta village has been subjected to violence during the early months of the Salwa Judum campaign. In the winter of 2005, Salwa Judum vigilantes and the police raided and set the entire village on fire. Three adivasis Karam Budru, Karam Latchu and Karam Lakku were caught by the Salwa Judum on that day. They beat up and inflicted knife and axe injuries on all three. Budru and Latchu died but Lakku managed to survive. This is reflective of the brazen manner in which a combination of the Salwa Judum and State instrumentalities committed illegalities during that period. On that occasion, the adivasis got wind of the impending raid and fled deeper into the forest to save themselves. They managed to survive for about two years after which they returned to the village and rebuilt their homes and lives. All of them are subsistence farmers who also go to the border mandals of Khammam district in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to work as farm labour during the mirchi plucking season for about 2 to 3 months every year.

The State government has awarded a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to each family of the deceased adivasis of Edesmeta. The villagers of Edesmeta are in open contempt of this largesse. They told the HRF team: “We do not want this blood money. We want those responsible for killing our people punished”. A judicial enquiry has also been ordered by the State government to be headed by VK Agarwal who is also probing the Sarkeguda massacre of last June.

Conclusion:

Time and again we have pointed out that the government’s policy of treating the Maoist movement as an outbreak of mere criminality and seeking to “wipe it out” by deploying more and more special forces is deeply offensive of the Constitutional scheme and democratic sensibilities. As has been elucidated in the report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission in 2007, a detailed and democratic response to the sources of discontent that is at the root of Naxalism is the way forward instead of a ‘law and order’ quick fix. This would per se include viewing and treating the Maoist movement as a political phenomenon and devising political means to address it. It is not our contention that the police apparatus must be a mute spectator to violence committed by the Maoists. They must meet that violence but in a manner that is respectful of the law and the rights of the people. They cannot overstep the boundaries of the law much less indulge in ‘administrative liquidation.’ Otherwise, immense injury would be done to the ‘children of our republic’ as the Supreme Court so poignantly put it.

A judicial enquiry is no substitute for a criminal prosecution. The law of the land and the Constitution will not have it any other way. We demand that:

1. CRPF personnel who participated in the unilateral and unprovoked firing upon unarmed adivasi civilians at Edesmeta village on the night of May 17, 2013 must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder and other relevant provisions of the penal code as well as provisions of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and prosecuted.

2. The investigation into these cases must be handed over to the CBI.

3. The Central and State governments must stop the ongoing policy of trying to suppress the Maoists by increased deployment of Special Forces. It must address that movement politically.

4. Governments must respect the Fifth Schedule mandate in letter and spirit and the adivasis’ right to land, forest and other natural resources in their region. Protective legislation meant for the adivasis must be implemented in letter and spirit.

Members of the fact-finding team:

VS Krishna (HRF State general secretary)

G Mohan (HRF State secretary)

SK Khadar Babu (HRF Khammam district president)

K Sudha (HRF Visakhapatnam district committee member)

Bela Bhatia (Researcher, Bombay)

Basaguda encounter : Killing of innocent adivasis in Chhattisgarh state #mustwatch


English: Adivasi woman and child, Chhattisgarh...

English: Adivasi woman and child, Chhattisgarh, India. Français : Femme et enfant adivasis, Chhattisgarh, Inde. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An all-India fact-finding team of rights activists belonging to the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) visited the area in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh where 17 adivasis died as a result of firing by CRPF forces on the night of June 28, 2012. The team visited the villages of Sarkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta on July 6 and 7 and elicited information about the events.
About 60 adivasis of these three villages assembled from around 8 pm on June 28 in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kottaguda. Such meetings where decisions have to be taken collectively are usually held during the night since adivasis are busy with work most of the day.
While the meeting was going on, a large contingent of CRPF personnel and CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, a specialised anti-naxalite guerilla unit of the CRPF) commandos numbering well over a hundred, cordoned off the area. According to the villagers, at about 10 pm there was gunfire without any warning.
It was clear to the fact-finding team that a peaceful gathering of adivasis, none of whom carried any firearms, was surrounded by the CRPF and without any warning fired upon indiscriminately. As a result of this firing, 17 adivasis died.
It was plain slaughter that night near Sarkeguda.

At the end of the day we left the villages and the villagers with the killer forces around them. Not only in Basaguda, many and many villages of central India are now surrounded with these killer forces, paramilitary force, with clear assignment of committing murder.

This attitude of Indian state needs to be condemned from every quarters.

NEW DELHI- Protest against the massacre of adivasis in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh


 

PROTEST AGAINST THE MASSACRE OF 20 ADIVASI VILLAGERS IN BIJAPUR, CHHATTISGARH

 

 

DHARNA AT PARLIAMENT STREET

11 AM to 5 PM, 31 JULY 2012 (Tuesday), New Delhi

  

Almost a month has passed since the heinous massacre of 20 tribal villagers – including six minors – by the Indian state’s armed forces on the night of 28 June 2012 in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. None of the perpetrators who carried out this planned massacre has so far been indicted of murder, let alone being brought to justice. The culprits continue to enjoy the protection of the state while the affected people of the three villages who are fighting for justice are intimidated, persecuted and put behind the bars. The attempt of the Indian state thereby has been to hide the truth of Bijapur massacre, to pass it off as just another incident of “collateral damage” in its operations against adivasis, and to stifle the voices of those villagers who are affected by the massacre. In such a situation, it becomes the responsibility of the progressive, democratic and revolutionary forces of the country to raise our voice collectively against the genocidal Indian state’s war, to demand punishment of the perpetrators responsible for the massacre, to unite with the fighting masses of Sirkegudem, Kottagudem and Rajupenta villages, and thereby prevent the ruling-class conspiracy to erase the Bijapur massacre from public memory and to push it into oblivion.

The facts of Bijapur massacre are by now well known. Villagers from Sirkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajupenta villages belonging to Dorla Koya tribe who are mostly small peasants, gathered in a meeting on the evening of 28 June in Kottagudem village to plan for the upcoming sowing season. There were around 60 villagers present in the meeting, including children. As the meeting was underway, around 10pm a large contingent of CRPF’s COBRA battalion arrived from Basaguda police station one kilometre away, which is also the base of the CRPF battalion. These heavily armed forces surrounded the people in the meeting and fired at them indiscriminately and without warning from three directions, killing 15 of them on the spot. Many of the villagers who did not die of bullet injuries were brutalised and hacked to death by the CRPF mercenaries with crude weapons collected from the village. To cover up this heinous crime of genocidal proportions, the CRPF killer gangs loaded the dead bodies on a tractor, sent them to the Basaguda police station, and removed the blood-stained earth so that no tell-tale evidence of the massacre remains to speak of the truth. The CRPF forces remained in the village for the night and in the morning they shot dead another village youth in cold blood when he came out of his house. These fascist forces sexually assaulted at least three women and threatened them with rape, broke open the houses of the villagers and looted the money they found therein, destroyed grains, and created a reign of terror. On 29 June a villager died of his grievous injuries in the hospital, thus taking the toll of the massacre to 17. In another incident of cold-blooded murder perpetrated by the Indian state’s armed forces in the same region, two villagers were killed near Jagargunda village of the neighbouring Sukma district on the same night of the Bijapur massacre. The familiar cock-and-bull story of an ‘encounter’ between the Maoists and the armed forces were parroted, claiming that the latter fired in ‘self-defense’ killing the two.

            The union home minister P Chidambaram, who is the main architect and orchestrator of Operation Green Hunt, jubilantly celebrated the massacre as a successful assault against the Maoists, who were killed in a “transparent” operation. He congratulated the CRPF force carrying out this daring attack. His lapdog Vijay Kumar – the CRPF Director General – basked in the ‘glory’ of perpetrating the massacre and hailed his “brave soldiers”. Raman Singh, the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister denied that any civilian was killed in the operations, while his home minister Nankiram Kanwar said that anyone who supports the Maoists deserves to be killed like the Maoists. While such lies, slander and intimidation from the ruling-class reactionaries flew thick and fast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the main agent of US imperialism in the government – maintained a studied silence, hoping that the anger of the people will not cascade into a massive outburst of protest. However, as the villagers of Sirkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajupenta came out to the streets to protest against the massacre of their kith and kin, gave fearless testimonies even amidst grave sorrow and anger, and a few conscientious reporters and democratic citizens brought out the truth behind the Bijapur massacre, the ruling classes could no longer defend their white lie and Goebbelsian propaganda that the dead were “dreaded armed Maoists”. Their lie of a ‘fierce encounter’ too got exposed when it was confirmed by the villagers that there were no armed-carrying Maoists in the meeting nor were the CRPF fired upon, and that some of the COBRA personnel were injured by their own men.

Fearing popular reprisal after getting thoroughly exposed, Chidambaram had to swallow his own words and hypocritically declared that he was “deeply sorry” for any civilian deaths, while Vijay Kumar too resorted to duplicity once again by regretting the deaths of the villagers. Neither however gave any indication that the perpetrators of the massacre and their military and political bosses will be charged of murder and brought to justice. After the media brought to light the fact that not even the mandatory post-mortem of the dead bodies were carried out by the government, Raman Singh hastily ordered a farcical judicial enquiry, the purpose of which is to shield the culprits and not to punish them. It is clear that the ruling classes will not punish the foot-soldiers employed to protect their political power and to crush the peoples’ movement which they consider to be the biggest threat to their fascist class rule, unless forced by a strong peoples’ movement.

            Such extreme aggression and brutality undergone by the tribal people of central and eastern India from outside are not new. The people of Bastar have a proud history of fighting exploitation, repression and external aggression that goes back to centuries. From the struggles against predatory feudal states and landlord’s armies in the pre-colonial period through the great Bhumkal Rebellion of 1910 against the colonial regime and thereafter, they have stood up against all attempts in the past aimed at their subjugation and annihilation. After the transfer of power in 1947, when the police firing on landless peasants demanding their rights over land in Darjeeling district in 1967 sparked the prairie fire of Naxalbari, the tribal people of Srikakulam too became the flag-bearers of revolution, a struggle in which hundreds of tribal peasants laid down their lives fighting the repressive state. A police firing on a massive gathering of Gond adivasis at Indravelli in Adilabad district of Telangana on 20 April 1980 led to the massacre of 12 of them, but rather than curbing their fighting spirit, this incident ignited the anger of the Gonds spanning over Telangana and Bastar against the Indian feudal and comprador ruling classes in an unprecedented manner. Indeed, the Indravelli massacre – the largest massacre of tribal people in post-1947 India till the Bijapur massacre of June 2012 – was one of the factors that led the Gond adivasis of Telangana, Gadchiroli and Bastar to espouse the revolutionary movement as their own. In the recent past, the people of Bastar have faced and defeated the notorious Salwa Judum campaign even at the cost of undergoing great losses. In fact, villagers of Sirkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajupenta returned to their homes in 2009 after years of exile, as their villages were destroyed by the state-sponsored Salwa Judum goons. They were still in the process of regrouping their lives when this latest massacre by the Indian state extinguished the lives of 17 of them.

            But unlike in many of the past incidents of cold-blooded execution by the armed forces of the Indian state in central India, the affected people have now come out to tell their tale and to demand justice. The people of Sirkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajupenta – the witnesses to the heinous crime – have bravely narrated the course of events on 28 June and thereafter to the media and various fact-finding teams. They have refused to be silenced by the intimidating presence of the armed forces in large numbers in and around their villages after the incident. The villagers declined the offers of ‘relief’ and ‘compensation’ by the government, and sent back a truckload of food material brought by the district administration for their ‘relief’. They asked in defiance, “If we are Maoists, then why do you bring us this rice? Why did you do this to us?” Fifteen residents of the three villages including eleven children even embarked on a journey to Hyderabad – the capital city of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh – to tell the world about the brutality and repression that they were subjected to on the night of 28 June. However, as soon as they stepped into Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh police at the instructions of its political masters abducted all fifteen villagers along with two members of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) who went to receive them, and took them to an unknown location. It was only after a series of protests that they were produced by the AP police before a court of law. All of them have been sent to prison. All seventeen of them still continue to languish in prison for the ‘crime’ of threatening the Indian ruling classes with the truth of Bijapur massacre.

            The growing frequency of state-orchestrated massacres and the growing number of the dead in such cold-blooded murders show the upsurge of popular discontent against the status-quo as well as the expansion of the peoples’ democratic and revolutionary struggles aimed at changing this status-quo. The intensifying class struggle in the subcontinent in the context of the worldwide economic crisis makes the Indian rulers more desperate by each passing day to remove all hurdles against the ever-growing exploitation of India’s working people and the plunder of the country’s natural resources by MNCs and big Indian corporations – resources which in reality belong to the entire people of the country.  And this regime of exploitation and plunder is being hard-sold by the media-managers of the ruling classes as ‘development’. The entire Bastar region as well as other adivasi-inhabited regions of central and eastern India which are rich in mineral resources has become the most coveted prizes that have been already sold out by the government to various imperialist and domestic companies through thousands of secret MoUs. But since the people all over the subcontinent have stood up to defend their jal-jangal-zameen even at the cost of their lives, the Indian ruling classes have unleashed its fascist repression campaign all over the country in an attempt to crush and decimate all forms of peoples’ resistance. The revolutionary movement of Bastar is one of the fiercest and most militant of such struggles being waged in the subcontinent today, which has defeated each and every military campaign by the Indian state against it till now. Therefore, we now find the exasperated Indian ruling classes executing large-scale massacres of the adivasis and other sections of the oppressed masses to further its anti-people design.

Let us be in no illusion. The ruling classes of India are planning more and more mass executions like that of Bijapur at an ever growing scale in the coming days in the name of countering Maoism. Operation Green Hunt, deployment of the Indian Army in Bastar in the name of ‘training’ and of the Air Force in the name of ‘logistics’, establishment of National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) to strengthen the coercive apparatus of the state, promulgation of draconian laws like UAPA, NSA etc., are important components of this larger design. These are integral parts of the Indian state’s war on the people, which will be pushed forward with ever more vengeance and brutality in the future as is evidenced by the Bijapur massacre – the largest massacre of adivasis in ‘independent’ India. Only a united, widespread and resolute mass mobilisation in the subcontinent and outside can desist the warmongering Indian state and the blood-thirsty ruling classes from perpetrating more Bijapurs in the near future. RDF appeals to the democratic and progressive individuals and organisations to unite in protest against the Bijapur massacre by participating in the Dharna on 31 July 2012 at Parliament Street, New Delhi.

 

 

 

REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRATIC FRONT (RDF)

Issued by: Varavara Rao (President), Rajkishore (Gen. Sec.) | Contact: 09717583539 | revolutionarydemocracy@gmail.com

 

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