Statement issued by Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan (GASS, Odisha) and the Human Rights Forum (HRF, AP and Telangana).
We demand that personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) who participated in the firing that resulted in the death of five civilians of Gumudumaha village in Paranpanga panchayat of Tumdibandha block in Kandhamal district of Odisha on July 8, 2016 be duly charged under relevant provisions of the IPC as well as those of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and criminally prosecuted.
A four-member team of the Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan (GASS, Odisha) and the Human Rights Forum (HRF, AP and Telangana) visited Gumudumaha village on July 17 and spoke with local residents including eyewitnesses to the killings. Over 15 residents of the village had hired an auto-rickshaw at Balliguda on the evening of July 8 to take them to their village. Most of them were returning home after having collected their MGNREGS wages at the sub-divisional headquarters (Balliguda). At about 8.20 pm the auto was close to the village but had to get over a steep incline. The passengers got down and while the women, two of them carrying infant sons, walked ahead, the men pushed the auto up the kutcha road.
Upon reaching the top, the women first began to get into the auto when SOG personnel lying in wait amidst bushes not more than 10 to 15 metres away to the left of the road opened fire with no warning whatsoever. Five people, including three women, and a two-year old boy were killed instantly while seven others were wounded, five of them seriously. The dead and wounded belong to the adivasi Kondh and the Scheduled Caste Pano communities.
Every single person that our team spoke to (those who were at the spot that night) stated emphatically that the firing only emanated from the left and that there was no firing from the other side of the road. This clearly rules out the possibility of any exchange of fire. Soon after the firing began, those who were not hit ran to the village which was not more than 200 metres. Within a few minutes they rushed back with other residents to the spot only to find the dead. They carried the injured back to their homes in the village where five of the seriously hurt spent the entire night in pain, terror and delirium.
Those who died in this gruesome firing are two-year old Jehad Digal who was hit by a bullet that went through his stomach, three women Kimuri Mallick (35), Bimbuli Mallick (45) and Midiali Mallick (40) and Kukala Digal (42) who was the former sarpanch of Paranpanga.
Though it was a cloudy night and there was no moonlight, the two head-lights of the auto were switched on and from where the SOG personnel lay in wait, they could easily see that it was civilians who were by the auto. That the SOG still resorted to firing upon a group of unarmed villagers reflects a mind-set that can only be described as morbid.
When the villagers went to the spot the next morning, the SOG personnel disallowed them from moving the bodies. They even disallowed them from taking the injured in the village for treatment. On the other hand, no effort was made by the administration to shift those who were hurt to hospital. It was only after several adivasi and dalit organisations in Tumdibandha block raised an outcry and held protests that the injured were allowed to be taken to hospital. While two of the injured remained in the village since their wounds were very minor, the other five were carried by the villagers on foot and they reached the road point at Kurtamgarh, a good 15 km away, by the afternoon of July 9.
Four of the injured are now being treated at MKCG Hospital in Berhampur. They are Luka Digal and his wife Sunita who are parents of the two-year deceased boy Jehad, Tempu Mallick (50) and Gottisi Digal (35). Bannomali Mallick (35), who is in a serious condition, is in the SCB Medical College, Cuttack. In what can only be described as extreme luck, Kajanti Mallick (22), who was holding her 17-month son Krishna in her arms, got away with a bullet only scraping her left calf. Sahalu Mallick also escaped with a splinter on his back.
As is their habit, the police put out the customary concoction of an exchange of fire with the Maoists. The official version is that a 15-member joint drive by the police and SOG based on intelligence inputs about Maoists presence in the area was fired upon by the latter who had positioned themselves atop a hillock. The SOG, who were approaching the hillock, retaliated in self-defence. While the exchange was going on, an auto-rickshaw that was passing by got stuck in the mud forcing the passengers to alight and therefore the helpless villagers got trapped in the crossfire!
This is pure nonsense. To describe these killings, like some in the security establishment are doing, as “an engagement with the Maoists gone horribly wrong” is to miss the point. This is by no means an isolated case. During our joint fact-findings over the past few years (the list is given below) we have found that special forces, whether the CRPF, SOG or BSF have killed 17 persons, most of them adivasis and all unarmed civilians, in the South Odisha districts of Kalahandi, Rayagada, Koraput , Kandhamal and Gajapati.
Almost a year ago, on July 26, 2015, SOG personnel shot dead Dhubeswar Nayak (50) and his wife Bubhudi Nayak (45) near their village Pangalapadar in Madaguda panchayat of Kotagarh block, also in Kandhamal district. The couple were on a hill-top about half a km from their village speaking over the mobile with their sons who were in Kerala when they were murdered by the SOG. They were atop the hill since that is the only place where mobiles phones can pick up BSNL signals and like many of Pangalapadar residents they make the climb occasionally to avail of the facility. Till date, no official has visited the village nor has any meaningful investigation taken place. On that occasion too public protests forced the government to hand over meagre compensation to the family but there has been no initiation of criminal proceedings against the killer SOG personnel. If those responsible for such deliberate and wanton killings been brought to book, would the Gumudumaha killings have happened?
We have conducted fact-findings into each one of these incidents and found them to be cases of unilateral firing by the security forces. These deaths of civilians can only be described as murders. The sad reality, however, is that in not a single one of these cases have those who perpetrated the crime been criminally prosecuted though it is a basic requirement of law. Mere quibbling over standard operating procedures will not be of much use. What is required is accountability.
The government of Odisha persists with the undemocratic policy of continuing to treat the Maoist movement as an outbreak of criminality which can be sorted out with the deployment of more and more security forces armed to the teeth. This was once again echoed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during the recent Inter-State Council meet in Delhi where he described “left wing extremism is the biggest threat” and sought deployment of even more troops to meet it. While the impunity given to these special police is a matter of serious concern to society at large, to those residing in the 5th Scheduled districts of South Odisha it is a matter of life and death. Small wonder that we heard the uniform plea by local residents that they wanted an immediate withdrawal of para military forces from the region.
We have consistently made the point that the Maoist movement is a political movement that has to be met politically. Any response by the police to the violence by Maoists has to be within the ambit of the law without trampling upon people’s rights.
A day after the full horror and inhumanity of the Gumudumaha killings had sunk in, the Odisha Chief Minister made the customary noises of “deep regret and unfortunate deaths” and proceeded to announce compensation and employment of sorts to a family member of those killed. This, however, does not meet the ends of justice. For that to happen a diligent criminal investigation is a requisite. This must be done by an agency as independent as possible of the local police. We consider the SIT constituted by the State DGP to investigate the deaths as a mere eyewash. We cannot accept policemen sitting in enquiry on the homicidal deeds of their fellow policemen.
A judicial enquiry into the killings is no substitute for a proper criminal investigation by an independent authority. We recall the slaughter of 17 adivasi civilians at Sarkeguda village in Bijapur district of South Chattisgarh on June 28, 2012 by security forces. The political dispensation in power then and now in that State is the BJP. Four years down the line, the judicial probe ordered in that case is yet to be completed.
We demand that:
- SOG personnel who participated in the killing on five civilians near Gumudumaha village on July 8 be booked under provisions of the IPC including murder as well as relevant sections of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and criminally prosecuted.
- The investigation into this case must be handed over to the CBI.
- Compensation amounts must be enhanced considerably than what have been being announced.
- The same procedure is to be followed in all the other five cases cited below.
- The government must desist from viewing the Maoist movement through a purely law and order prism. It must acknowledge that it is primarily a political movement and deal with it politically.
GASS-HRF fact-finding team members:
Deba Ranjan and Debi Prasanna (Members, Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakhya Sangathan, GASS), VS Krishna (general secretary, Human Rights Forum, HRF) and K Sudha (HRF executive committee member).
List of killings of civilians by security forces in South Odisha:
- July 8, 2016. Jehad Digal, Kimuri Mallick, Bimbuli Mallick, Midiali Mallick and Kukala Digal of Gumudumaha village of Paranpanga panchayat in Tumdibandha block of Kandhamal district. Shot dead by SOG.
- February 27, 2016, Manda Kadraka of Rangamati village in Parsali panchayat, Kalyansingpur block, Rayagada district, shot dead by SOG.
- November 16, 2015, Harishankar Nayak, Sukru Majhi and Jaya Majhi of Nisanguda area in Jugsaipatna panchayat of Kalahandi district. Shot dead by CRPF.
- July 26, 2015, Dhubeswar Nayak and his wife Bubhudi Nayak of Pangalapadar village of Madaguda panchayat in Kotagarh block of Kandhamal district. Shot dead by SOG.
- October 29, 2013, Gangadhar Kirsani of Litiput village in Gunnepada panchayat of Lamtaput block, Koraput district. Shot dead by BSF.
- November 14, 2012, Aiba Padra of Bujuli village in Gadhapur panchayat, Shyamson Majhi of Bhingiriguda in Saramuli panchayat, Ghasiram Bagsingh of Mardhipanka village, Saramuli panchayat, Sanathan Mallick of Gaheju village in Hatimunda panchayat, all in Daringabadi block of Kandhamal district and Laxmi Kanta Nayak of Lujuramunda village in Bahadasahi panchayat of Tikabali block in Kandhamal district. All five were shot dead by SOG.
(This is by no means an exhaustive list. We have mentioned only those cases that we have elicited facts about.)