Following an outcry against the alleged killing of five tribals/Maoists in an ‘encounter’, near Bhaliaguda village of Gajapati district of Odisha, a six-member team of individuals representing CDRO and Women against Sexual Violence and State Violence (WSS) visited Odisha from 8 December to 9 December 2012. Our purpose was to understand what had actually unfolded and who the people died were.
Our investigation revealed that all the five men killed were not armed militia of any left-wing extremist party. Those killed were, in fact, daily wage earners and church functionaries, some of whom were actively engaged in mainstream political and social activities.
The facts of the case, as found by the fact-finding team are that six persons had gone for a meeting with members of the Odisha Maowadi Party, the break-away group of the CPI (Maoist) in Odisha on the evening of 13 November 2012. They were led by unknown people to the meeting point in Gajapati district. The six persons were leading fully documented lives in their villages in Kandamahal district. The fact-finding found that they went for the meeting in three pairs as they were known to each other in twos and were last seen with the other. This motley group of villagers was called for the meeting for reasons specific to each pair. It appears that their decision to stay the night with the party came around at night and two of the men had informed home that they would come back in the morning. On the morning of 14 November, the forces surrounded the hill where the Maoists were camping. The six, not being part of the Odisha Maowadi Party, started coming towards the police, down the hill, with their hands up, while the party cadre retreated into the forest from the top of the hill. However, the police and Special Operations Group forces started firing at the six coming down, apparently in the enthusiasm that they had successfully reached the hide-out of Sabyasachi Panda, the prominent leader of the Odisha Maowadi Party.
Five of the six, Aibo Padra (Village Bujuli, G.P. Godarpur, P.S. Brahamanigam, Block Daringbadi), Sanatan Mallick (Village Gaheju, G.P. Hatimunda, P.S. Brahamanigam, Block Daringbadi), Ghasiram Baghsingh (Village Mardipankha, G.P. Saramulli, P.S. Brahamanigam, Block Daringbadi), Samasan Majhi (Village Bhingurigoda, G.P. Saramulli, P.S. Brahamanigam, Block Daringbadi), Laxmikanta Nayak (Village Lujerimunda, G.P. Badarsahi, P.S. Tikabali, Block Tikabali) were killed. One person, Junesh Digal of the same village as Laxmikanta Nayak managed to hide behind a stone and didn’t die. After the firing subsided, he was found and shown as a Maoist, while the five others killed were shown as Maoists killed in the encounter.
All six men involved in this incident work and live in their respective areas openly; none of them had remained absent from their villages or away from their families for any significant period of time. On the other hand, one of them (Ghasiram Baghsingh) had, at one time, been beaten by members of the CPI (Maoist).
All six men were social and political activists in their own way, questioning corruption practices in their graam panchayat area, standing in the panchayat elections, conducting pastoral activities in the area, supporting a struggle for seeking justice for illegal detention by the forces, building peace in the 2008 riot-affected areas. It seems that this proactive and leadership qualities of theirs were what brought them to the attention of the Maoists.
Family members of those killed are distraught with losing their beloved and the primary bread earners of their families.
- Samasan Majhi’s wife is now left with two teenaged sons, one of whom is mentally challenged.
- Ghasiram Bagsingh supported a family of 11 members, including five unmarried sisters, who now face an uncertain future. His mother and wife don’t know how they should plan their life ahead.
- Aiba Padra had dreams for his son and was staying in Brahmanigam so that he could study at a better school there.
- Sanatan Mallick’s wife is an ASHA worker, which means she has no regular income, and she fears for the future of her three and one-year-old daughters.
- Laxmi Kanta Nayak, the oldest person killed, had returned to his village in Kandhamal only recently, two years after his house had been damaged and looted during the riots of 2007. Nayak was a stone mason, painter and odd-jobs man. Following his death, his wife has been forced to go the Bhubaneshwar, where in her middle age she faces the prospect of working as a maid servant.
The Police Version
The police version is that indiscriminate firing was started by the other side and that they had to fire only to protect their lives, and even then they opened only ‘controlled and restricted firing’. Contrary to this, the fact-finding team believes that there was no provocation from the side of the Maoists. This is also attested by the statement made by Sabyasachi Panda, who has questioned the police’s version of events saying that he and his armed party did not fire at the incoming security forces because of the presence of six civilians in between.
The police version’s authenticity is also called into question by the fact that the FIR does not name even a single officer from the anti-naxal operation party as being injured. When questioned about this, Mr Vinay Bharat Manjhi, the Inspector In-Charge of Mohana Police Station, under whose jurisdiction the location of the encounter was, said two people were hurt. However, despite searching, he could not find the names of any police men who were hurt or provide any details of injuries. In fact, a fact-finding report of the Gandhian Odisha Savodaya Samaj specifically mentions that villagers from Baliguda village, close to the encounter site, did not notice any member of the police force injured. Instead, they had been forced to carry the corpses to the nearest road head.
Trigger-happy security personnel, contrary to all human rights regulations which stipulate that even combatants are to be shot only on their legs, seem to have showered the six unarmed men with bullets. Even though no post mortem report has been shared with any family, a constitutional requirement, all families reported that the bodies carried several bullet injuries, with all people having bullet injuries on their heads, necks and torsos. Bagsingh’s body, for instance, had a bullet hole at the back of his head, while Aiba Padra’s wife said his head had been blown out. Clearly, such injuries could not have been caused by ‘controlled and restricted firing’.
CDRO is convinced that not one of those killed was a member of any Maoist group, either the CPI (Maoist) or the Odisha Maovadi Party. The killings of these adivasis and dalits shows how, under the banner of a police operation against the Maoists, anyone is liable to be killed, not by the ‘dreaded’ Maoists, but by the state, which is supposed to guarantee their right to life.
The state is now busy hushing up these fake encounters. Four young boys actually picked up four days later from Baliaguda village, are being presented as Maoists who were part of the encounter incident. The police claims that they were picked up from the deep forests and that they said that Panda and others were injured.
In this same pursuit, Sangram Mohanty has been shown arrested while giving arms, food materials, etc. to another person, Kailash Mandal at about 4:30 p.m. on 5 December 2012, at a place near the state highway falling in the jurisdiction of the same police station, Mohana. The fact-finding team found this to be a fabricated arrest, as interviews showed that he was actually picked up from Bhrahampur the same morning at about 9 o’clock and then driven to that site. Kailash Mandal was in the illegal detention of the police since 2 December. It is only after Sangram Mohanty’s father, Dandapani Mohanty, filed an FIR in Bhrahampur about his son’s abduction at 3 o’clock, that the police showed his arrest. It is very possible that the CRPF and the SOG have picked up Dandapani Mohanty’s son because Dandapani has been the most vocal critic of these encounters.
As we have seen in Chhattisgarh and lately in Bihar and Jharkhand, it is standard procedure during counter-insurgency operations to alienate the non-state forces by terrorizing the populace into submission. Kandhamal district has lost people who were an alternative to the extreme politics being played out in these districts, and who stood for a corruption-free, secular and democratic society. How can any real development be achieved when all leadership is centralized and people have no right to explore their political options? In the process of the state’s hunt for Sabyasachi Panda, this society has lost its organic leaders now and stands to lose much more in its uncertain future.
- All five families who have lost their breadwinners be compensated by the state,
- Junesh Digal be released immediately and the third-degree torture he is being put through be immediately stopped,
- The apparent vendetta campaign being carried out by the CRPF at Mohana PS against Dandapani Mohanty be stopped immediately and Sangram Mohanty and Kailas Mandal be released,
- The anti-naxal operation party headed by Subedar Jeetendra Kumar Dehury of 3rd SS Batallion, Ganjam and Mrunal Kalo, S.I. of Police, Mohana P.S. be criminally prosecuted for murder and tried under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/STs Act for their crimes against adivasis and dalits.
Members of the fact finding team
1. Shivani (WSS)
CDRO represented by:
2. C. Chandrasekhar (APCLC)
3. N Srimanarayana (APCLC)
4. Annapurna (APCLC)
5. Anupama Ramakrishnan (PUDR, Delhi) and
6. Paramjeet Singh (PUDR, Delhi)