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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 39, September 18, 2010

Fake Encounters in Jharkhand

Monday 20 September 2010, by Gladson Dungdung


In the afternoon on July 5, 2010, the security forces, comprising the JAP and SAF under the leadership of E.H. Siddique, the officer-in-charge of Tamar Police Station, arrived in Gunti village and picked up 45-year-old Etwa Munda of Papirdah village (which comes under Tamar Police Station of Ranchi district in Jharkhand), when he was in the house of his relative Manav Munda. The police also caught a girl, Bengi Kumari, and escorted both of them towards Jabla pahari (forest). After sometime, the villagers heard the sound of firing and rushed toward the spot. They were shocked to see the dead body of Etwa Munda lying on the ground. The police framed the cold-blooded murder of Etwa Munda as a result of an encounter between the police and the Maoists. The police also depicted him as a hardcore Maoist who was very close to the Maoist Zonal Commander, Kundan Pahan. Perhaps, Etwa Munda was not an innocent person but under which law did the police kill him in a fake encounter? This is the question that needs to be answered.

Since the villagers were fully aware of the cold-blooded murder of Etwa Munda, the police spared Bengi Kumari and threatened the villagers and family members of the deceased to keep quiet. However, the villagers wanted to raise the issue; therefore they approached a local activist, Xavier Soy, and told him about the fake encounter. Meanwhile, on coming to know about Xavier Soy’s acts of attempting to unearth the fact of the fake encounter and encouraging the villagers for raising the issue, the police put Xavier Soy with his school-going son behind bars accusing them of keeping Maoist literature in their house. The police also do not allow outsiders, especially the human rights activists and journalists, to roam in the area so that the truth remains buried. Finally, the police succeeded in silencing the villagers and framing the cold-blooded murder as a genuine case of encounter between the police and Maoists.

Amidst all this, Tamar Police picked up another villager, Rajesh Singh Munda, of Papridah village on August 1, 2010 before dawn from his village when he was sleeping. They took him near the Koja river in Heso forest and gunned him down after branding him as a hardcore Maoist and aide of the Maoist Zonal Commander, Kundan Pahan. The former Jharkhand Chief Minister, Arjun Munda, raised the issue and demanded a CBI inquiry alleging that the police had killed Rajesh Singh Munda in cold blood. He also said that Naxalism would grow if innocent villagers were being branded as Naxalites and killed in fake encounters. He further said that the police kill innocent Adivasis precisely because they are voiceless. Perhaps this is the first time in Jharkhand when a political leader has raised questions against cold-blooded murders. Obviously, most of the people keep quiet in cases of fake encounters because licensed killings are not only accepted in our so-called civilised society but we also applaud such crimes, award the killers and make them heroes of our Indian society whose foundation lies on the ethos of non-violence.

It would be very interesting to know whether Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda were members of the Maoist groups. The circumstances suggest that they were not. For instance, the Maoists had called an ‘India blockade’ on July 7 after the alleged killing of their leader, Azad. Similarly, on August 8, 2010, they shut down Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal in protest against the arrest of Maoist leader Rajesh alias Udayji from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. However, they did not even issue a statement after the brutal killings of Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda by the security forces; this was a clear indication that they were not the members of Maoist groups. However, the villagers do not deny Etwa Munda’s involvement in some illegal activities but refute the charge of him being a member of a Maoist group. Perhaps, Rajesh Singh Munda was completely innocent.

Indeed, the police often conduct fake encounters for ensuring medals, awards and promotions for them; but now things have changed. The purposes of cold-blooded murders are entirely different in the red corridor. The security forces have been organising fake encounters in the forests with the intention of frightening the villagers so that they stop supporting the Maoists. It is to show the brave work of the security forces to the city dwellers, especially the middle class, for getting their support during bigger assaults against the Maoists. It is also to bring back the lost moral ground of the security forces. And, of course, it is to hide their failures and justify the so-called anti-Naxal operations of the Indian Government.

For instance, on July 1, 2010, the police had organised a mass meeting at Sarjormdih village near Bunda Police Station of Ranchi district in Jharkhand against the Maoists, where 3000 villagers of 24 villages had participated and challenged the Maoists. Instead of surrendering, the Maoists killed on July 3 Sandu Munda who was the first speaker at the meeting. The police had instigated the villagers for going against the Maoists without ensuring their security; therefore the Jharkhand Police had to face heavy criticism. In this situation, there was no other way to counter the criticism; therefore the police killed Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda in cold blood and depicted them as hardcore Maoists. The people just followed the media’s story and kept quiet.

SINCE the so-called anti-Naxal operations have very clear links with the corporate interest, therefore one can understand the media’s silence on the state sponsored human rights violations. Meanwhile, it is very strange to know about the silence of human rights groups on the humiliations, molestations, torture, rape and cold-blooded murders by the security forces during the ongoing anti-Naxal operations in the State. These are the persons who ensure their bread and butter in the name of promotion and protection of human rights. Perhaps, these human rights groups are afraid of the state agencies, since anyone who raises the issue of human rights violation in the red corridor is characterised as a Maoist supporter. But does this mean they should keep silent?

However, the Indian Constitution does not deny the right to life to anyone residing in the country. Similarly, our corporate Home Minister P. Chidambaram, while responding to a question of alleged killing of Maoist leader Azad, said in Parliament: “Whether somebody is a good man or bad man, he should not be killed in a fake encounter.” He further said: “When I took charge of my Ministry, I made it clear that there would no fake encounter killings by the Central agency.” What does it mean? It clearly means the Indian state has been carrying the fake encounters, something which must be a serious concern for us. Therefore, CBI inquiries should be conducted in all cases of encounters that have taken place in the so-called red corridor since January 1, 2001 to August 15, 2010. If that happens the people of the country would be shocked to know how the security forces have killed the innocent people in fake encounters.

There are some very significant points in the so-called encounter cases. Interestingly, when the police kill any person either in a genuine or fake encounter, the person is described as the top Maoist (Area Commander or Zonal Commander) and when the Maoists attack the police those most affected are small policemen. Why are the police not able to target the guerillas though they are always able to get the top guns of the Maoists? Similarly, whenever the police catch a person, he is propagated as a hardcore Maoist. The strange thing is that at the end of the day police fail to provide sufficient evidence in the court and most of the so-called hardcore Maoists are acquitted due to lack of evidence. What does this mean? It clearly means the police victimise the innocent people and put them behind bars. Can the Indian state tell its people as to how many Maoists were convicted in the last four decades?

The peculiar thing in every case of encounter is that the Maoists fire more bullets on the security forces than vice-versa. Ironically, none of our security force personel gets injured and the Maoists are killed. Therefore, it is very difficult to understand the puzzle of encounters. Precisely because though our security forces are so smart, they at the same time are not able to cleanse the society of Maoists. In the case of Rajesh Singh Munda, the police claim that the Maoists fired 300 rounds of bullets on the police and the police fired merely 150 rounds in response. However, Rajesh Munda was shot dead and not a single policeman sustained injuries. Of course, no Indian would ever like an Indian soldier to be injured but we have to understand the logic of the so-called ‘encounters’.

The so-called educated people, who always raise questions about the intention of the human rights groups and attempt to brand them as overground Maoist sympathisers and supporters, must understand that we are the concerned taxpayer citizens of India, who have also given our mandate to the Indian state for promoting, protecting and ensuring everyone’s constitutional rights. Therefore, even if the Maoists create problems in the country, the responsibility lies with the Indian state. We also have every right to question the Indian state whenever and wherever the human rights of the marginalised people are violated. Anyone who is annoyed with such questions does not deserve to be in power. If P. Chidmabaram does not want to hear our cries, he must step down from the post of Home Minister immediately because the buck would always stop at his desk whenever and wherever the Central forces violate the human rights of the people in India.

However, whether Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda were innocent or guilty, their constitutional right—right to life—was taken away by the mighty guns and the state is responsible for it; therefore it must tell its people the truth. Can we accept the killing of anyone either legally or illegally in a civilised society? Are we really civilised people? How can we take anyone’s life if we cannot give life to anyone? In some cases of licensed killings we might be legally right but we would be always ethically wrong. And, of course, killing is a sin before humanity. Therefore, we must ask the state to uphold the Constitution of India and we should not accept any cold-blooded murder in any circumstance. The state is duty-bound to promote, protect and ensure the human rights of everyone; it cannot shy away from its responsibility. And of course, we should not let it do so.

While addressing the people on the 64th Independence Day, the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, said that his government was committed to protect every citizen. Therefore one should question as to whether Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda were also Indian citizens or not. Is the Indian Government committed to protect only the corporate sharks, politicians and bigwigs? Or is the Indian state also committed to protect the common man? If so, then it must stop handing over the livelihood resources of the common man to corporate sharks and stop Operation Green Hunt, which is hunting the innocents rather than cleansing the area of the Maoists. The question that remains unanswered is: will Etwa Munda and Rajesh Singh Munda get justice or would our police- men be allowed to enjoy impunity as they have been enjoying? Certainly one can hope for justice for the victims of cold-blooded murders now that the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case is moving in the right direction. But only time will tell if justice would be really delivered.

Gladson Dungdung is a human rights activist and writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached at

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