Pro-police group congratulates Bastar police for its 'century of killings'
The barrel of the gun often outweighs the hammer of justice in the Bastar hinterland. While social activists and tribal groups have been crying foul over alleged police atrocities and extra-judicial killings in the area, there are others who are eulogising the bloodshed in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
The Action Group For National Integrity or AGNI - a group of activists believed to be a pro-police front - has congratulated the Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range) SRP Kalluri for "completing the century of Maoist killings".
The bizarre compliment has come after the recent gunning down of two teenage youths by the security personnel in the Sanguel village forest under Burgum police station area of Bastar
AGNI - seen by many as a diluted version of the dreaded Salwa Judum - has showered heaps of praises on Bastar police through social media and other mediums for "completing the annual target of killing Maoists set by IG Kalluri."
"The Maoist sympathisers and social activists will keep on shouting and Bastar police will continue targeting the insurgents," said Farukh Ali, one of the leaders of AGNI.
Meanwhile, the killing of two youths has snowballed into a major controversy in the state. The Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, as well as social activists, are alleging the police has yet again targeted the innocent people in the name of anti-Maoist operations.
On 23 September, Sonaku Ram (16), son of Payaku Kashyap, and Somadu (19-20 yrs) son of Naugu, both residents of village Gauda under the Barsoor police station were killed in an alleged encounter. IG Kalluri announced prize money of Rs 1 lakh to the policemen involved in the operations.
However, locals claim Sonaku Ram, a Muria Adivasi, had gone to his aunt's house with Somadu to convey condolence messages. Both of them stayed in the village for the night. A police team barged into the house in the wee hours and picked them up. When the aunt tried to intervene, she was brutally beaten. The youths were then allegedly taken to the jungle and shot down.
The unanswered questions
The incident has raised several questions. The Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee chief Bhupesh Baghel has demanded a CBI probe into the encounter. According to him, the slain youths could have been arrested and kept in a juvenile correctional home. "The government is only killing innocent tribals in the name of the eradication of Maoists", Baghel stated.
A fact-finding team of Congress legislators from Bastar, including Dantewada MLA Devti Karma visited the region to take stock of the situation. Karma says she found empty cartridges at the site where the dead bodies of Sonaku and Somadu were found. This raises the suspicion that they were shot close range.
Prakash Thakur, the president of the Bastar unit of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, also visited Sanguel village. He claimed many villagers heard the frantic cries of the two youths when the police was dragging them away.
If Thakur is to be believed, the victims were waterboarded in a nearby nullah and then gunned down. The cops even drank liquor while the corpses were still lying in the area. The social activists say villagers witnessed the incident, but are afraid to speak for the fear of police reprisal.
The father's claim
Sonaku's father Payaku Kashyap insists his son and Somadu were not Maoists. He says both the young boys had gone to the Sanguel village to inform their aunt, Mase, about the demise of a six-year-old child in their family.
According to Payaku, Sonaku studied in Pota Cabin school in Hitameta village while his friend had dropped out of school after failing his examination. The Chitrakoot MLA Deepak Baij alleges the police are using surrendered Maoists for fake encounters.
"The latter are tipping off the police about villagers who share their names with the Maoists," Baij says.