Anatomy Of An Encounter in South BastarNovember 8, 2009
Channu Mandavi, 19, was shot dead by the police in an alleged fake encounter.
On the 12th of April 2009, a 30-minute encounter took place between the villages of Kutrem and Hiroli, between the police and the Naxalites, where three ‘Naxalites’ were shot dead. The police recovered an AK47 and an unexploded grenade. The police took no casualties.
That’s of course, the official police version.
According to the villagers of Samalwar, on the 12th of April, 2009, three men were picked out of a wedding party, not far from Hiroli. The two of them, had made the critical mistake of attempting to run away from the screaming, gun-toting, lathi-wielding SPOs: according to the police that is an act that automatically indicates guilt. Some four-five other young boys and girls were also picked up but most of them were released there itself. Three men were not, and that was the last time the villagers of Samalwar, themselves bruised and beaten, saw them. The next time they saw them, they were in the Kirnadool police station, lying with eyes wide open, staring ceaselessly into space, their blood run dry onto gunny bags.
Somewhere, en route to the Police Station at Kirandool, they were shot dead.
SPOs who were previously Sangam members, had identified one Naxalite at Samalwar, and the police would later reveal a photograph of the same man, sitting on a chair, amidst an unkempt green garden, holding an AK47. The three ‘Naxalites’ were later identified as Raju, Bhasker and Channu Mandavi.
The same day, just a few kilometers away, the police had beaten up the villagers from the villages of Goomiyapal. Inga Budoo was beaten mercilessly by Gondi-speaking SPOs, and was only left alone as he feigned unconsciousness. The same SPO’s also beat Inga Budoo’s mother Piso, who was pleading with her son’s attackers to leave him alone.
Inga Budoo, lay on the bed, his bare back swollen and red, barely able to speak yet lucky to be alive. Unlike Raju, Bhasker and Channu Mandavi.
On condition of anonymity, many villagers do accept that Raju and Bhasker were Naxals, yet not a single villager from Hiroli and Samalwar believe that Channu Mandavi was one. He was, in fact, just a nineteen year old boy, who recently got selected to work for the National Mineral Development Corporation. And of course, for that job, one needs a police verification certificate. Channu Mandavi had one, and he was about to start work in a few days. News of his death hadn’t reached his village or his parents until morning. Most thought he was just detained and taken away for questioning. The police, of course, didn’t shoot them dead at Samalwar. There was no gunfight at Samalwar where they were apparently apprehended, merely SPOs going after villagers with lathis and rifles. So what question is there of an encounter?
Yet by afternoon, the whole village of Hiroli, numbering about a thousand people, eventually marched to the police station, quietly, empty-handed, while mother’s had their infants tied to their chests. They all demanded the body of Channu Mandavi. His father Suka quietly and stoically walked to the station, his mother Maley wept incessantly and wasn’t alone. The police meanwhile had no qualms about releasing the body but they had to perform an autopsy.
Channu Mandavi’s parents were let in to identify the body of their youngest son that was lying in the summer sun all afternoon. His mother was now hysterical, and would continue to cry for the next two hours, right outside the police station, to the discomfort of all the SPOs, the IRBs, the CRPF, as well as the doctor performing the autopsy. Once the body was released she wasn’t the only one. The father, Suka Mandavi broke down, and as the body reached the rest of the villagers who were waiting a few hundred meters away, a chorus of women also began to wail – in a rhythm, in unison.
For one Channu Mandavi, a hundred women wept, and that means that the police have killed a hundred Channu Mandavis. If the state wants to win the hearts and minds of the Adivasis of Bastar, it has to start by valuing every single life, for they certainly do. Yet does it really look like they want that? And whose police is it anyway? It is naïve to believe that the Chattisgarhi security forces provide security to anyone but themselves. Their camps are often garlanded by barbwire, and the sentry posts look over their own. They don’t provide any security to the public that live in the vicinity, and all they do in combing operations is help alienate themselves from the people they’re entitled to serve.
Now, coming to the matter of encounters.
The word ‘fake’ before ‘encounter’ is really redundant in itself. A public consciousness is more or less aware of the reality of the Indian Police and it’s modus operandi. Yet unlike the metropolitan cities where encounters are an accepted reality, in Bastar, there’s the outrage and grief of the Adivasi’s that the Maoists would feed off.
In Bombay, if you shoot dead a Dawood Ibrahim, or a Chhotta Rajan, the public would more or less, sigh in relief, exclaim good riddance, and the film directors and hacks would show up on the spot and start delving for inspiration. In Bastar, you shoot dead a Raju or a Bhasker, and you merely contribute to Naxalite logic: to no quarter, to terror and counter-terror and the ceaseless cycle that the Adivasi’s of Bastar have found themselves between. You go further and shoot dead a Channu Mandavi, and you’ve helped create another 100 Rajus and Bhaskers.
Meanwhile, no one voted from Goomiyapal, Samalwar, Hiroli and the nearby villages of Aalnar and Kallepal, to name a few. The Indian government ceased to exist in those villages. A few days later, the police re-entered the village of Samalwar and intimidated the villagers for speaking to journalists.
The villagers of Goomiyapal who suffered beatings as well as the family of Channu Mandavi are planning to file a FIR against the police, against the SPOs – the young Muria boys who were given guns and a freehand to kill their own people. The same SPO’s whose own survival depends on the annihilation of the Naxalites, who have promised them no quarter themselves.
So far there hasn’t been any action taken regarding the other 1000 or more FIRs filed against the SPOs, the Salwa Judum and the CRPF over the last four years. And FIRs are barely an indication of the number crimes committed against the Adivasi’s of Bastar, considering most don’t file FIRs aware of the futility of the government machinery that either abandons them, or merely comes to shoot their Channu Mandavis, and beat up their Inga Budoos.
Justice is really an ambition for the Adivasis of south Bastar.
So, whose judiciary is it anyway?