New Delhi (Press Statement/10th June): Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) demands that the recently issued guidelines by the Supreme Court on “encounter deaths” be immediately adhered to in the case of the killings of alleged Maoists at Bhalwahi village in Palamau district, Jharkhand on Monday night (8 June). As of now, in accordance with the guidelines of the Supreme Court, a First Information Report has to be filed, and those police officers involved in the ‘encounter’ will have to prove that they fired in self-defense in the course of investigation.
While most news reports uncritically reproduce the police version of the events without any independent investigation, at least one newspaper quotes local sources as disputing the police version, citing the fact that the police did not sustain any injuries, and the bullet injuries on those killed were fired from a close range. The killing of innocent villagers in the name of anti-Maoist operations would not unfortunately be unprecedented. Evidence gathered by the Commission investigating the killing of 17 villagers in Sarkeguda, Chhattisgarh, which occurred on 28 June 2012 in a joint operation by the CRPF and district police, suggests that those killed were innocent. More recently, in Ehadsameta village of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh, eight villagers who were killed by the CRPF and state Police in an ‘encounter’ turned out to be innocent villagers, as even admitted by the state.
Additionally, doctors at Daltonganj Sadar Hospital have refused to conduct post-mortem examination of the dead bodies of the villagers alleged to be Maoists, without the presence of forensic experts. In previous ‘encounters’ such as the one in Sarkeguda and Ehadsameta, the post-mortems have been conducted improperly in open spaces, in the presence of policemen. This is a clear indicator of police pressure and interference in the due process. JTSA demands that the post-mortem in the present case of Bhalwahi village be conducted as per established guidelines, and that it be video recorded.
‘Children Gunned Down’
Like the ‘encounter’ at Sarkeguda three years ago, this encounter at Bhalwahi village, too has resulted in the casualties of minors. And in a replay of the 2012 encounter, the security forces have termed these children as part of a Maoist squad. In the Sarkeguda encounter, it turned out that the children gunned down by the CRPF were attending a meeting to discuss sowing of seeds in their village. There is nothing to suggest that the four children killed on Monday night were combatants. In fact the police version of the shooting – that two jeeps being used by the Maoists were surrounded, while one jeep fled, occupants of the other alighted and opened fire on the police – strains one’s credulity. Moreover, the inability of the police to identify most of those killed; the miraculous absence of any injuries sustained by the police calls the entire encounter into doubt. In this light, a serious, fair enquiry into the killing of children becomes imperative.
International jurisprudence on children in armed conflict has been continuously evolving in order to protect children from violence. The Jharkhand DGP D.K. Pandey’s comment, in response to the killing of minors, that the “bullet does not differentiate” displays a remarkable lack of training in any humanitarian law, or indeed of the law of the land. No reason except the impending threat to life can justify the use of lethal force by the police.
As citizens, we demand that the Supreme Court guidelines in encounter killings be followed. No amount of jingoism about violence of ‘non-state actors’ can or should justify the cynical taking of lives of children by the state agencies.