Updated: June 30, 2021 7:20:16 am
More than a fortnight after a man from a tribal community was killed in Piri village, under Garu block of Jharkhand’s Latehar district on June 12, in what police claim was an incident of “crossfire”, more than 50 villagers on Tuesday went to the police station to lodge a complaint against the security personnel, calling it a case of unilateral firing by police.
They demanded that an FIR be registered against the security personnel and a cross-complaint lodged on their version of events.
Stating that they had received the complaint and will investigate the villagers’ “claims”, Latehar’s Superintendent of Police Prashant Anand, however, told The Indian Express that the police team was left with no option since the group on which they had opened fire were carrying guns. “The entire complaint seems to be an afterthought,” he said.
However, Anand said, “all their claims will be investigated thoroughly and we will act as per the law. The complaint will be passed to CID, which is investigating the death.”
Anand had earlier told The Indian Express that the villagers were told to surrender, and since they failed to do so, the police had to open fire. One villager had died died in the “crossfire”, he had said.
According to the FIR registered by police on June 13, a police party spotted around 12 men with “weapons” around 8 am June 12 and asked them to surrender. But despite “repeated” warnings, the villagers allegedly “fired at the police”, the FIR mentioned.
“In this situation the police fired in self-defence…and held five people with arms without any papers…” it stated.
The Indian Express had reported on June 24 that since the village is in a no-network zone, the news of Brahmdev Singh’s death emerged much later. According to the villagers, Brahmdev, 24, and a few others had gone to the jungles to hunt.
Of these men, Dinanath Singh, 25, who got injured, allegedly after a bullet grazed his finger, said they heard “loud voices” while heading towards the forest. “Before we could make sense of it, a group of villagers behind us started running away and the security personnel started firing,” he told The Indian Express outside Garu police station. “We somehow hid in the fields. Meanwhile, Brahmdev stripped himself, raised his hands and told security personnel that we were the janta (masses), not party-wale log (people from the party; or Maoists). His plea went unheeded — the security personnel continued firing.”
“A bullet grazed my hand and Brahmdev was shot,” he said.
He said they were scared and ran towards a house to take shelter.
The villagers contended that Brahmdev was shot a second time after an interval; that the security men asked asked the five others to fire from their own countrymade guns; and that they never fired at the security personnel to evoke a retaliatory response.
On allegations against the police, SP Anand said, “(Tuesday’s) complaint states that the villagers were going for hunting with a gun. What are police personnel on a combing operation supposed to do when they see people with guns? …Regarding the allegation that the deceased was shot twice (one allegedly at point-blank range), the truth will be revealed in the postmortem report.”
The police FIR stated that a “body was found at the base of a hill who was identified as Brahmdev Singh”. It did not mention whether Brahmdev died as a result of bullet wounds during the alleged crossfire. The FIR names him as an accused under various IPC sections, including Arms Act.
Brahmdev’s mother Maanti Devi, who had also come to Garu police station on Tuesday, said the spot where the police opened fire is not far from their village and claimed to have seen security personnel “dragging Brahmdev across the canal and shoot at him again”. “He had not fired at the security personnel; we were not allowed to go near him,” she said, claiming that her son was alive when he was shot a second time.
Another villager Shakaldev Singh, who was with Brahmdev, alleged that the security personnel continued firing at the house where they had taken shelter. Shakaldev said: “We were asked to strip and come outside. We were then taken inside the forest. They asked us why we had run away; we said we were scared of the continuous firing…. They took our countrymade guns and asked us to fire it in the open.”
The police’s FIR is against six people, including the deceased, and has invoked IPC sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 307 (attempt to murder), as also under Arms Act.
Both Dinanath and Shakaldev called all charges put against them as “baseless”, barring the Arms Act, which according to them, was “only used for hunting”. “The villagers did not fire a single shot at the security personnel; we did not assault anyone. We are clueless why they put all these charges against us,” Dinanath and Shakaldev said.
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