After so much uproar about the Gallantry Award to Ankit Garg accused of torturing and tormenting Soni Sori, the officials clarify that award was pronounced much before Soni Sori Case and it is for an encounter in Mahasamund in 2010.
Now what happened on 9th October 2010, here are excerpts from an All India fact finding team into the incident and report
Report of the Incident of 9-10-2010 in Village Ledgidipa, district Mahasamund
Background: The Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh in the eastern part of the state borders Orissa. It is primarily an agricultural region with little or no reported Naxal activity until very recent times.
On 9th October, 2010, Saturday, various evening newspapers carried reports of a fierce encounter that happened on the same day, between the Naxals and the state police force at Padakipali, near the Orissa border, in which it was claimed that 8 Naxals were killed and 2 police injured. Later, it was admitted that 2 of the persons killed were actually villagers of Ledgidipa, who were said to have been caught in the crossfire. Inspector General of Police RK Vij told PTI that the two villagers were used as a shield by the Maoists in the gunfight chhattisgarh- 6-naxals-killed-in-encounter-58547. Reports also carried news of a large quantity of arms and ammunitions having been recovered after the encounter, including a ?huge cache of explosives? (six-maoists-killed-in- chhattisgarh-encounter_100443592.html). The entire episode was hailed as a great achievement by Director General of Police (DGP), Vishwa Ranjan.chhattisgarh_police_kill_eight_maoits_in_enc ounter_N98249.html
Purpose of the Investigation: All wars, internal or external, are fought for control of territory, resources and power. And yet, all wars must necessarily be constrained to consciously control the so called ?collateral‘ damages – civilians whose rights to life and livelihood, their private and shared resources, is severely endangered in all cases of armed conflict in areas of human habitation.
The incident of Naxal encounter in Mahasamund district had occurred in a region with no prior history of significant Maoist activity, or associated presence of State security forces on a large scale, although one media report carried news of a ?high level meeting? on the 7th of October in view of Maoists making inroads into Mahasamund district. (maoist-threat-chhattisgarh-reviews-security-news- national-kkhaOMjfadg.html)
Two villagers had died in this encounter. Confusing and contradictory reports were presented in the media on the circumstances surrounding these deaths – from the initial allegations of the villagers being Naxals, to their being unfortunate victims caught in crossfire, to their being used as human shields by the alleged Maoists. By and large, most of the media reported the official version of what occurred during the encounter. However, around 12th October, different reports began to appear in which the responsibility of civilian death began to be laid on the security personnel as having entered a village home and shot at unarmed villagers, killing them. (2010101261430500.htm)
The State responded to these deaths with unusual promptness. A high level cabinet meeting appears to have been called immediately, followed by an announcement of compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the families of the victims within two days of the incident, besides assuring a ?Baal police‘ position for the son of one of victims. State Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar and Agriculture and Labour Minister Chandra Shekhar Sahu rushed to the area, to pay a condolence visit to the aggrieved family members. The State also announced a magisterial enquiry into the entire episode.
We decided to carry out an independent investigation of the incident by visiting the village Ledgidipa, where the villagers had died in the encounter of 9th October 2010, and also village Reekhadadar – the site where the alleged Maoists had first made their appearance, and meeting with the villagers there. We also intended to meet police officials at Sankra, and the SP, DSP, Collector and ADM at Mahasamund as part of our investigation into the status of their enquiry and the compensation to the families.
Investigation on 10th and 11th November 2010:
Our fact finding team of six persons set off from Raipur on the morning of 10th November. The head quarters of Block Pithoura is at a distance of about 70 kilometres from Raipur, and the villages were on a road branching off from the hamlet of Sankra under whose police station these villages fall. Our route took us through a sparse jungle of Tendu, Mahua, Teak, Sal and Semul trees after the village Bade Loram. By about 2:45pm, the skies became overcast and our vehicle got stuck in a mud ditch on the forest road. Two of our team members decided to go in search for help while the rest of us continued our effort to free the vehicle. It was already raining in a steady drizzle. About this time we saw a villager approach us and he also began helping us with the vehicle. When we shared with him the purpose of our visit, he said that he was from a nearby village (Chote Loram) and that he had witnessed the entire encounter between the police and the „atankwadis?. The following was his narrative:
He was wandering around midday, looking for his lost bullock, when he heard rounds of firing (as many as 1000 to 2000) and 10-12 Naxals running ahead. Behind them was a large battalion in formation, shoulder to shoulder who were doing most of the firing. The Naxals themselves might have shot once or twice. He said he was afraid, and remained crouched and hidden in grasses during the entire operation. He further added that this was the first time he had ever seen Naxals, and to his knowledge they had never been seen before in the region.
At 3:45pm our two team members arrived with a tractor, and we were able to proceed. We realized then that we had been at only a very short, in fact walking distance (half a km), from Ledgidipa – our destination for the day.
We easily located the home of Gautam Patel, one of the victims of the ?encounter‘. Since the news of our visit spread quickly in the village, the family members were waiting for us outside. Even as we entered the home, we were shown bullet marks near and on the front door of the house. We gathered in a main room facing the rear aangan (enclosed courtyard) with the members of the family that included Himadri (Gautam‘s widow), her father and son, Gautam‘s two brothers (one older and the other being the youngest) as well as the wives of all the brothers. Of these family members, Gautam‘s widow, the youngest brother and his wife, and a nephew had been witness to the killings. This was the location where the so-called ?encounter‘ between security personnel and the villagers had occurred. (Please refer to Appendix I and II which are the Schematic Maps of the encounter site and the kitchen of the Patel family)
The incident as narrated by the family of Gautam Patel:
It was around noon, ten to twelve members from the household, including the eldest brother, his son, younger brother, and Dau Konda – a deaf and mute helper of Gautam Patel, were working in the coriander fields behind their homes along with some hired help, when they started hearing rounds of firing. First they thought that these were fire crackers celebrating the birth of a son nearby.
However, when the firing intensified and moved closer, and they realized that they were hearing gunshots. In fear they started running towards their homes in the village – about 200 m away. A nephew who was bringing family members a meal in the fields dropped the meal and ran towards the houses. Dau Konda ran behind the others, gesturing to the security personnel behind him that he could not speak…and continued to run towards his employer?s home. Meanwhile, all the villagers including the members of this family rushed into their houses and latched their doors from inside.
Dau tried to enter the eldest brother?s house from the front, he found it locked and ran to the back entering from the rear aangan. There, he leapt across the wooden fences that separate the houses of the other brothers from that of his employer, Gautam Patel?s house.
Gautam was eating his lunch in the aangan, being served by his wife Himadri. They saw Dau run inside the kitchen in a state of fear, and a huge commotion and sounds of firing from outside. Gautam reacted in fear by following Dau into the dark kitchen and hiding underneath the kitchen shelf.
Meanwhile 50-60 police had entered the home following Dau. They accosted Uttam, the youngest brother, and asked him where they were hiding the Naxalites. Uttam pleaded with them that there were no Naxals inside the house; only Gautam, his brother, and their servant Dau, who was also deaf and mute and other family members. The son of the eldest brother also had a gun held to his head and was asked similar questions. Despite Himadri?s
pleading and crying that there were no Naxals in their home, only her husband and Dau, four of the security personnel forcibly entered the kitchen and started shooting in the dark, killing both Gautam and Dau. The firing hurt one of their own personnel, wounding him in the arm.
Only when they dragged the bodies of Gautam and Dau outside, did they realize that they had shot innocent villagers. In remorse, one of them shouted out “Oh Durga maiyya, I have killed an innocent man!” touching his gun several times to his forehead. The distraught family wailed and wept that there was no point in repenting, had they not seen that the victims were unarmed, in ordinary clothes of villagers?? They should have heeded the pleading of the wife, brother, sister-in-law, nephew and verified before blindly shooting. The distraught younger brother told us
“We expect the State to protect us. But if the State itself is engaged in killings of the innocent, then who can be expected to protect us?” (Please refer to Appendix III which is a photograph of the Patel kitchen.)
Following this encounter, 200-300 security personnel surrounded the house. The security force had even entered the eldest brother?s home, and fired several rounds there. The family had heard one of the force members consult with his superiors over the wireless whether they should throw a hand grenade inside, but it appears that they were asked to exercise restraint since there could be civilians inside.
Later, the security personnel dragged in the bodies of 5 Naxals killed at another site, and loaded these on a village tractor along with corpses of Gautam and Dau. They told the other members of the security force and the gathered villagers that Gautam and Dau had been killed by Naxals, but the family loudly refuted this, pointing to the particular force members who had entered the kitchen and killed Gautam and Dau. The bodies were then transported to the Sankra police station.
The family members followed the tractor to Sankra and tried in vain to file an FIR but were refused; their letter of complaint was accepted on the next day. Gautam?s body was returned a day after the post mortem. A nephew, Punnochand, contacted the press two days later when the police refused to hear the family?s version of the story. The story was carried by various TV channels and even the national media.
Two members of the security force had been injured in this entire episode. One of them was injured on his arm inside the kitchen of Gautam Patel in the firing by their own guns. Another, who might have been injured elsewhere in encounter with Naxals, had a bullet wound in his thigh. A pair of bloodstained army ?fatigues? was found by villagers outside the family home. We were shown this garment.
Grief was palpable in the house of the deceased Gautam Patel. We saw the kitchen walls riddled with bullet holes. Seven cartridges were recovered from
the kitchen. We retraced the route from their home to the coriander fields where the shooting was first heard. We saw the fields in disarray. We were told that all their labour had left in fear since the shooting incident, and there was no one to work in their fields. We also visited the eldest brother‘s home and found several bullet marks on the walls of his home too, when the security force had chased Dau from the back entrance. It is pertinent that none of the family members had actually seen any Naxals alive.
No government officials had visited the family as part of the magisterial enquiry. Even the condolences made by the ministers were during a ?Jan Samasya Nivaran Shivir? (Grievance Redressal Camp) at village Padakipali, to which the family members were called. The DSP, Tehsildar and TI (Town Inspector or Station House Officer) visited the family to discuss the issue of compensation. On later visits, the police came in civilian clothes.
Of the 5 lakhs promised to the victims‘ family, they had been paid Rs. 5000 for transporting the dead, Rs. 21,000 for the last rites of the deceased, and Rs. 5000 for a bill that the family owed to the local provision store.
Dau Konda‘s father, who lives across the border in Orissa has been paid only a sum of Rs. 5000; the family couldn‘t tell us if the father had been given any more sums of money, since he had left by the time they got their additional compensation.
The family has no idea how the rest of the compensation that has been announced will reach them, nor do they know what procedure they have to follow with regard to the Government job promised to Tej Kumar, the son of the deceased Gautam Patel. Regarding their request for the post- mortem report, they have been informed that until a ?chalan‘ (charge sheet) was filed, this could not be released to them. Interestingly however, when the team members demanded a copy of the post mortem report from the TI Sankra, he told them that he could not supply a copy of the post mortem report since Himadri Patel has given them an application not to supply the copy of the report to anyone but herself!
We went to meet Dayanidhi Patel – Panch of the village. The Sarpanch belongs to another village, and has not visited since the incident. The Panch stated that he was at home when the firing started around noon, and had hid inside. At around 1pm, he went to check on the dead Naxals and said he saw 200-300 „faujis? (security personnel), but saw no other Naxals. He also confirmed that so far the Collector, SP, Kotwal and Sarpanch have not visited the village. The Tehsildaar has visited to get some papers related to compensation filled.
Visits to Reekhadadar, Sankra, Mahasamund
According to media reports and our background queries, Maoists had entered the region from the Orissa side, and had even put up a cultural program at Reekhadadar. There is an established camp of the CRPF at Padakipali and it appears that soon after the Maoists left Reekhadadar they were encountered by the STF from Padakipali. The report of this incident had been carried immediately by the Dainik Bhaskar with a detailed account of the episode including a photograph of alleged Maoist shaking hands with young children. The media also reported an interview given by a member of the Maoist group just prior to the encounter.
We set off for Reekhadadar on the morning of 11th November. Reekhadadar is a visibly Odiya village in terms of clothing of the villagers and the language spoken. Initially we found no villagers ready to talk to us about the day of the episode or the incidents directly preceding it. They had heard about the ?encounter‘ only on late afternoon of 9th October. But with a little more probing, this is what the villagers reluctantly shared.
Early that morning 60-70 „atankwadis? in uniform, carrying rifles and bags had entered the village. This was the first time that anyone from the village had seen Naxals/Maoists in the area. They were coming from Dharampura and four members of the group spoke Odiya. They first met some village children near the water pump, a little on the outskirts of the village, and asked them to fetch them some food to eat. When villagers provided „murra? (puffed rice) they offered to pay for it, but the villagers refused. The villagers shared that no one felt any sense of fear or discomfort at the presence of this group in their village. They were well-behaved, chatted and shook hands with children of the village. The group camped outside the village near the fields and in visible distance of the forest.
We were taken to the area where the group had camped, by the husband of a lady Panch of the village. Once outside the village, we were joined by more villagers who were now increasingly forthcoming. They said that the visitors had introduced themselves as ?Mav-vadis‘ (Maoists). Everyone in the group were dressed in dark uniforms and armed with rifles, except one who was in ordinary dress. They asked the villagers to join them for a cultural program. The program started between 9-10am. About 10-20 people performed and the entire basti of almost 150 people attended this program of singing and speeches by the group. They condemned various acts of Raman Singh‘s government, including the burning of eight villages. They were aware of the CM‘s proposed visit to Pithoura on 16th Oct and also were aware that the security forces were waiting for them about 2 km away. Villagers said that the Maoists had already crossed path with security forces at Jagdishpur, but at that time the number of commandos was small – only about 25 and so they did not attack the Maoists. The program of singing and speeches appears to have lasted for about half an hour.
Following this some media people appeared on the site, at the village school nearby. Some members of the Maoist team beckoned to the media to join them in the jungle for interview. Apparently Manoj Mishra from Sankra
interviewed a Maoist member called Pradeep. After this interview someone amongst them sounded warning signals on a whistle, and the whole group dispersed and started running towards the forest. We were told that this forest belt was contiguous with that we had seen at Ledgidipa from where the security forces had emerged. Villagers of Reekhadadar got news of encounter killings of Maoists and also the two villagers around 3-4pm in the evening. They acknowledged fear of visiting Ledgidipa where the villagers had been killed.
We met the Station House Office (normally referred to as ?Town Inspector‘ or TI in Chhattisgarh) of Police Station Sankra – PL Nautiyal. He had recently been appointed to this post and was in the process of taking over charge when the incident occurred. He categorically stated that the two „gramins? (villagers) had been killed by Naxals. He said the force had killed a total of 7 Naxals including 3 girls and 4 boys. The investigation was being carried out by the DSP, DK Sharma. According to him Naxalite activities had been going on for 1-2 months (which he later changed to 5-6 months) in the region. The Chhattisgarh and Orissa police were cooperating in the matter of hunting down Naxals in the region. Also, he claimed that unlike Bastar, the police had full cooperation of the villagers, who were not sympathetic to Maoists. He informed us that the District Collector was monitoring the compensation package, that they were seeking certain documents to proceed with the magisterial enquiry and the investigation was going on. On enquiring about the status of an RTI application filed by the PUCL, Chhattisgarh, to get a copy of the FIR and the post mortem reports of the two dead villagers, he informed us that since the case was under investigation, the FIR could not be shared at the moment and this would be communicated directly to PUCL- Chhattisgarh. He added further that the family of the victims had made a written request that the police not divulge the contents of the post-mortem report to anyone except them!
Right across the police thana we saw a camp of armed forces, in the Anaj- mandi of Sankra. In conversation with the two youngsters who were guarding this open-air, middle of the town campsite, we discovered that this was the 2nd Battalion of Chhattisgarh Armed Force who had covered the STF during the Reekhadadar- Ledgidipa encounter.
We spent the next day trying to meet the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg, DSP DK Sharma and Collector (Ms) D. Alarmelmangai. However, none of them were available at Mahasamund on the day of our visit. We could only meet Shri Bipin Manjhi, Additional Collector, in charge of the magisterial enquiry, who did not share any information with us, claiming that he knew only as much as we did from media reports!
After detailed investigation including first hand eyewitness accounts the teams came to the following conclusions:
- Special Task Force (STF) carried out the primary attack on the Maoist team seen at Reekhadadar with the second battalion of Chhattisgarh Armed Forces providing cover. Around 60-70 Maoists were first seen and between 200-300 security personnel were involved in the encounter with them.
- There was no cross fire from the civilian victim‘s home or involving his house, nor were the two villagers used as human shields by the Maoists. The residents were engaged in routine household work at the time when the security force entered and killed the two villagers. The ?encounter‘ of the villagers was by the security personnel, and the eye witnesses of the bereaved family are very firm and open about this.
- The victims could not have been confused with the alleged Maoists who were in uniform and carrying guns, several of whom had already been killed by the security personnel in forest encounters. In contrast the victims were dressed in civilian clothes and were unarmed and Dau Konda was an apparently unarmed person who was being chased across fields. The security forces did not face any threat of any danger from the civilian victims at any time. The killings were carried out without any provocation on completely unarmed civilians who were cowering from fear and fleeing the forces
- The TI at Sankra told us that the police enquiry had concluded that the two villagers were killed by Naxalites. Not only does the TI‘s version contradict the family/eyewitness account of the killing of Gautam and Dau Konda, but the conclusion has been reached without any effort at any enquiry from the victims‘ families or other villagers.
- Only a small fraction of the announced government‘s compensation has reached the victims‘ families. The administration has not divulged any information – either to the family, or the village representatives, or to us — about how the remaining amounts are proposed to be disbursed.
- The attitude of the authorities towards the family of Gautam Patel after the incident is very disturbing. The family was actively discouraged from filing a complaint or registering their version of the incident at the police station. No elected representative, not even the Sarpanch, has visited the village where this ghastly incident has occurred.
- The process of magisterial enquiry into the incident, though announced promptly after the incident on 9th October was yet to commence when the team met the officers on 11th of November and both the local police and the ADM‘s office seemed to be more interested in a cover-up to evade direct responsibility of the security force in the incident.
- Villagers in both Reekhadadar and Ledgidipa now live in a state of fear and Ledgidipa is virtually ostracized since no outsider is willing to visit there. In fact the day after the team returned having met the TI Sankra, a newspaper carried a strange report of ?8 uniformed Naxalites having stayed the night at Ledgidipa!?