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An Encounter in the Forest: Bharath Sundaram and Nitin Rai

Guest post by BHARATH SUNDARAM and NITIN RAI

The labelling of the Seshachalam incident as a ‘law and order’ problem by State actors obfuscates the larger underlying problem deriving from lopsided notions of the human-environment relationship, and flies in the face of ecological concerns and social justice

The massacre of twenty people in the Seshachalam forests in a joint operation by the Red-Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) of the Andhra Pradesh Police and the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department is reflective of the hegemonic control of natural resources by an increasingly militarised state. It is particularly shocking that such a massacre occurred just as calls are being made nationally for a democratic forest management approach that gives local people more rights and powers to manage forests.

Encounter killings in Seshachalam forests
Encounter killings in Seshachalam forests, courtesy Hindustan Times

While the state has chosen to depict the killing of 20 people in the Seshachalam forests as a response to a law and order issue, such a draconian response to the cutting of trees by peasants is indicative of a much deeper malaise in the governance of natural resources in India. On the evening or night of 6th of April, 2015, twenty people, purportedly smugglers of red sanders, were shot to death by ten officials of the RSASTF and one official from the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. The shooting and killing (using automatic weapons) was supposedly an act of ‘self-defence’ precipitated by an attack on the officials by more than 100 people who ‘rained stones and hurled sickles’ during the raid. Three days after the incident, ‘country weapons’ and ‘firearms’ were added to the list of weapons used by the smugglers. That would work in their favor, because who better than the smugglers to know where to buy AK 47 Rifles and assault weapons.

Observer accounts mention that several of those killed were shot in the face, chest, or back. Nobody was apprehended in an injured state. Official post-mortem reports of those killed remain unavailable. No government officials were reported injured immediately after the operation, although mysteriously, all eleven officials involved were placed in isolation in the A-Class ward of a government hospital four days after the incident occurred. Human rights activists, led by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organization have labelled the incident as a staged encounter, questioned the use of brute force, and have pointed out several inconsistencies in the official version of events. Continue reading An Encounter in the Forest: Bharath Sundaram and Nitin Rai