Chhattisgarh encounter seems more like a massacre

State and CRPF narrative is full of gaps

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | July 2, 2012


The bodies of 20 suspected naxalites who were killed in a crackdown by the Central Reserve Police Force in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh on Friday.
The bodies of 20 suspected naxalites who were killed in a crackdown by the Central Reserve Police Force in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh on Friday.

Was it a genuine encounter that led to the killing of 20 Maoists in Basaguda of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh last Thursday night, as is being claimed by the state and CRPF? Or was it a huge intelligence failure that led to the massacre of innocent villagers gathered for a late night meeting?

The details that are in the public domain seem to point more to the latter than the former.

There are serious gaps in the account provided so far. First the nature of the ‘gathering’ that was attacked by the security forces, comprising of about 800 personnel from CRPF, CoBRA force and state police. The state government says it was a “regular meeting” of the Maoists with the villagers. But CRPF’s inspector-general of police (operations) PK Singh says it was “a full-fledged training camp” in progress. It is normal to expect Maoists to be in uniform while training. But not one of the killed is seen wearing any.

Second, there is confusion about who fired first. Singh is quoted by newspapers as saying on Friday that the Maoists fired first when the security forces surrounded them from three sides, forcing retaliation. On Sunday, he changed his account to say that the security forces “attacked” the training camp from three sides.

Third, the identities of the killed are questionable too. District collector Rajat Kumar told Governance Now on Monday that only three to four of the dead had been identified as Maoists, the background check on others were still on.

This is probably the only incident of its kind in which an encounter between the security forces and the Maoists leads to killing of only the Maoists, in such a large number and all bodies are seized. In almost all such cases in the recent past, barring the operation in which Maoist leader Kishenji was killed, the precise opposite happened.

And then how does one explain so many women and children among the dead? It is difficult to imagine the Maoists under attack breaking ranks to rush to huts, pull out women and children to be used as ‘human shield’ against the security forces.

Even assuming that it was indeed a meeting of the Maoists with security forces, there seems little justification in carrying out such an attack at close to midnight, in complete darkness.

Given the fact that no more than 40-50 people were there in the ‘gathering’ and the security forces numbered 800, the latter could have kept the ‘gathering’ surrounded for the night and launched the operation after the day broke.

“The details emerging from Chhattisgarh are very very disturbing. The story that has emerged so far is not very credible. Even if one were to give the benefit of doubts to the security forces, it doesn’t indicate a clean operation. At best, it is a botched operation,” says security expert Ajai Sahni. Even if they were all Maoists, how were the children killed, why those killed were not in uniform and how is that there is no fatality from the security forces?” he demands to know. For the record, six CRPF and CoBRA personnel were injured in the operation.

But then how does one explain injury to the security forces? Manish Kunjam, CPI leader who mediated the release of Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon in March and visited the spot on Sunday, has no doubts in his mind. He says it was because of “friendly fire” as the security forces had surrounded the gathering from three sides and attacked simultaneously.

As for seizure of arms and ammunitions from the spot, those who have followed the functioning of security forces, planting arms and ammunition is not a very unusual occurrence.

Two inquiries have so far been ordered into the incident: one by the district collector, who has asked his sub-divisional magistrate to go into the incident, and the other by the CRPF which has ordered an “internal inquiry” by the local commandant. Hopefully, a picture will emerge once these exercises are completed.
 

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