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Chhattisgarh police detained ‘encounter' petitioners

Aman Sethi

“5 Muria Adivasis of Gachanpalli were killed by Salwa Judum”


Allegations, if true, point to concerted attempt at dissimulation by security forces

Police kept villagers in illegal custody for at least two weeks before informing court


Gachanpalli (Chhattisgarh): A frayed umbrella, a half-filled bottle of cooking oil and two shopping bags stuffed with clothes constitute the unlikely tombstone that marks Kowasi Ganga's grave. “It's the sum total of his worldly possessions,” says his grandson Kowasi Muye, “It's a Muria tradition.”

Kowasi Ganga, 75, died on September 17, 2009. Stabbed multiple times, he died just outside his home.

Five Muria Adivasis of Gachanpalli village, three of them above 65 years, were killed in their homes that day. Dudhi Muye, 70, a crippled grandmother, was found dead in her doorway, her breasts hacked with a machete. Madavi Joga, 65, was found dead in her hut.

Madavi Hadma and Madkam Sulla, both about 35, were found dead in Sulla's home. Madavi Deva, 25, was visiting from his village of Singapalli when he was shot dead.

Villagers say the killings were conducted by the Salwa Judum, a paramilitary force armed by the State, backed by regular security forces. Earlier in 2008, the vigilante force attacked the village, burning 40 dwellings. But last year's assault was deadlier. “A large group of uniformed men and Salwa Judum members entered the village early on the morning of the operation,” said an eyewitness here.

“Everyone ran into the forests and when we returned we saw the bodies.”

The villagers' allegations, if true, point to a concerted attempt at dissimulation on the part of the security forces, who say all of the 30 individuals killed by them in a massive operation launched in the area — including the Gachanpalli six — were Maoists.

Disturbingly, more evidence is emerging of the police detaining the petitioners who moved the Supreme Court seeking a probe into the killing of 17 innocent people from Gachanpalli, Gompad and nearby villages during that operation.

As reported in The Hindu, 12 petitioners had gone missing only to be produced in court by the police at a later date, raising concerns about official intimidation. Petitioners from Gompad went missing on January 6 this year and were produced in court on February 15 along with Madavi Hidma from Gachanpalli.

The remaining Gachanpalli petitioners Kowasi Kosa, Madvi Sukda, Madvi Raja and Madakam Mukke were presented at the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi only on March 11. Two other petitioners from Gachanpalli are still missing.

“We sent a message to Gachanpalli just before Holi [March 2]. The villagers came soon after Holi and we presented them without any delay,” Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra told The Hindu in a telephonic interview. But Gachanpalli residents disagree.

“A police party came in the first week of February and took 11 men including Madavi Hidma [a petitioner] to the Dornapal police camp” said a villager who was part of this group, “We were interrogated for two weeks and then 10 of us were sent back.”

While Madavi Hidma was sent to the Supreme Court after two weeks of police detention, the released men were told to send the remaining petitioners back to the police. This could explain why Madavi Hidma was produced in court much before other petitioners from his village.

“My father, Kowasi Kosa, and the other petitioners went to meet the police much before Holi,” said his son Kowasi Muye, contradicting the SP's claim on this point. “It has been more than a month since we last saw him.” If true, Muye's statement implies that the Chhattisgarh police kept the villagers in illegal custody for at least two weeks before informing the Supreme Court.

Villagers allege that the police have also arrested Dudhi Bhima, grandson of Dudhi Muye — one of the six killed in September. His whereabouts are unknown.

There's fresh earth scattered around the graves at Gachanpalli.

Despite the petition urging that investigations into the killings be handed over to a Special Investigation Team, Director-General of Police Viswaranjan confirmed that local officials carried out post mortem at the site.

“On the day they arrested 11 men, the police also dug up the bodies,” said Kowasi Muye. The bodies have been returned to their graves, but the petitioners are yet to return to their village.

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