The great Naxal con job: how NHRC stumbled on to a big fake surrender racket
Four years after over a 100 men in the Naxal violence-hit state of Jharkhand claimed to have lost everything, including their identity and money, to a staged surrender plan, the National Human Rights Commission has found the allegations to be 'prima facie' true.
The victims, who claimed to have nothing to do with Naxalism, had said that they were conned by a Military Intelligence officer and senior officers of CRPF into surrendering as Naxals between 2011-12.
These officers are also alleged to have fleeced the tribals, of as much as Rs 2 lakh per person, with the promise of giving them jobs in the paramilitary service.
After publicly 'surrendering' along with arms, which were provided by these officers, the tribals were allegedly told to spend some time in jail as a formality, after which, they were told, that they would be recruited in CRPF as commandos and lead a financially secure life in the conflict zone where avenues of employment are few.
Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) HL Dattu on 8 September, in a public hearing in Ranchi, said "Prima facie, the allegations were found to be true. The probe report has been sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs and also the state government."
NHRC has asked the state to respond to the allegations within three months.
A well-entrenched scam
The case is not only outrageous considering the allegations - that very senior officers of the state in a hurry to show progress against their fight against Naxalism and to earn personal rewards, staked the lives of hundreds of innocent tribals and accepted bribes from them.
It is also representative of a huge scam that has been playing out in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). Not just Jharkhand, several such stories have also emerged from Chattisgarh where Naxals seem to be, without any reason, 'surrendering' by the hundreds every week.
The case that Dattu referred to was reported to have occurred between 2011 and 2012. Ravi Bodra, a west Singhbhum resident and rape accused, and a former Military Intelligence (MI) officer, reportedly approached Jharkhand authorities in early 2011 claiming to get Naxals to surrender without resorting to violence.
In itself, the state considers surrender policy to be more effective than search-and-kill operations simply because anyone who surrenders is bound to have severely demoralising effect on his colleagues and get them too to lay down their guns without risking anyone's life.
So the authorities apparently agreed to Bodra's plans and he lures several hundred men (some estimate the number to be over 500) and gets them interred in a jail facility, after getting them to surrender publicly.
The timeline of the Bodra case
In October 2012, the new IG of CRPF finds the men occupying the jail premises illegally and asks the police to take over the case.
In March 2014, police lodge a case and arrest two middlemen. No senior officers are questioned.
In May 2014, Hemant Soren government recommends CBI to take over the case.
In March 2015, after huge ruckus in the state assembly, Soren assures that the state government will approach CBI again. It calls out the scam and claims it to be the result of an ambitious project of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) gone wrong.
According to reports, the CBI has refused to pick up this case claiming to be 'overburdened'.
Around six years later, the victims of this alleged con-job are still clueless about their fate.
The NHRC steps in
NHRC's report confines it inquiry to the case of just this lot of tribal men. However, if one looks at the figures of surrenders since that time, one can only imagine how many times over have human rights violations increase since then. Which was perhaps aided by the impunity that the alleged officers have enjoyed so far.
In 2011, since this alleged scam started, a total of 227 'Naxals' 'surrendered' before the authorities. In 2012, this number rose to 414. A year later, that number went up to a staggering 1,930. In 2014, the number of surrenders dipped to 656.
Then in 2015, 615 'Naxal surrenders' were reported and so far this year 1,548 surrenders have already been reported till August.
Earlier this year Catch reported on how tribals who were made to surrender in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, had no idea about what surrender even means. Some claimed that they were promised rehabilitation in secured quarters and offered jobs, which still haven't been given to them.
A big conundrum
While police, and consequently, the MHA may have something to brag about through these numbers, the truth is that the state has not managed to get not even 10 high-profile Naxals to surrender in last one year in either of these states.
What's more, by getting tribals in hordes to sign police registers and publicly claim to renounce Naxal way of life, the state has put a lot of people in harm's way - in form of vengeance by actual Naxals who have good enough reasons to kill tribals to discourage them to 'surrender' before authorities.
So at a time, when no investigative agency is looking into these presumably mass-scale con-jobs, HL Dattu's promise to seek explanation from Jharkhand and talk to the MHA about this case gives these people, and others outside, a lot of hope.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu