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Tirupati Red Sanders killings: Police said gunned down but bodies tell story of skin peeled off, ‘torture’

The Indian Express photographed the bodies and recorded videos six hours after ‘encounter’.

Red Sanders, Tirupati Red Sanders, Red Sanders killings, Tirupati killings, Tirupati Red Sanders killings, Andhra police, Seshachalam forest, India latest news Two trousers on one body; forensic expert who saw images says marks on bodies rebut police version.

Blistered skin peeled off in several places; extensive burn marks; one body bizarrely clad in two trousers, one partially pulled up over the other; bullet marks without evidence of bleeding — and a head smashed in so hard the face can’t be recognised.

Clearly visible in photographs and video clips shot and recorded by The Indian Express six hours after the “encounter” on April 7, these features of the bodies of the 20 alleged red sanders smugglers raise several doubts about the Andhra police claim that all were shot in “self-defence”.

The photographs, too explicit to be published, were shared with police and forensics experts and the consensus was clear: they raise more questions than they answer.

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ALSO READ: Burn scars, bloodless wounds and many question marks

Coming after the trail of cellphone records, as reported in The Indian Express on Tuesday, that rebut the police version about their movement, these images add another layer of mystery to the encounter.

“It would be unjust to say that it was an encounter. An encounter would be one where the victims oppose or use force or attempt to defend themselves. Here, it appears that they have not attempted any resistance and were killed using firearms or blunt instruments… I think this is a coldblooded, gruesome murder,” said Bangalore-based top forensic expert Dr P Chandra Sekharan when he was shown the pictures and video clips taken by this reporter.

Watch video:

Dr Sekharan has served as expert in many high-profile investigations, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and has also analysed digital evidence of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka for various international agencies.

The Indian Express shared with Dr Sekharan clips and images taken from multiple angles of 10 bodies. They were among the 20 laid out in two clusters at the “encounter” sites, about 1 km apart – nine bodies, all clad in trousers and shirts, in one spot; 11 bodies dressed in shorts, except one that was clad in a vest too, in the other.

“Even after death, there are symptoms of injuries on the body or of them being shot with firearms,” said Dr Sekharan.

ALSO READ: ‘This is a cold blooded murder’

These are among the key features visible in the photographs which Dr Sekharan says call for further investigation:

* In at least four cases, the heads were smashed “probably by a heavy stone or a blunt instrument”.

* One body was found clad in two trousers, both not stained with blood, both unbuckled and zipped open with the outer pant not fully pulled over up to the waist.

* One body had an injury caused by a blunt instrument on the right arm which Dr Sekharan says “looks like he tried to defend an attack”.

* In one case, there were a bullet mark on the stomach that hardly caused any bleeding. “This shows that the body could have been shot after death”.

* Another body appeared to have sustained injuries which Dr Sekharan says seem to have been caused when it was dragged through rough terrain.

* In another case, blackening and blistering and broken skin, especially the face, indicates, Dr Sekharan says, that the body had been exposed to fire. “This tells us the extent of torture he had undergone before the death,” he said.

These do not square up, Dr Sekharan says, with the official narrative of the sequence of events on the night of April 6-7.

In its two FIRs, the Andhra Police said the first “encounter” took place in the early hours on April 7 when K Nataraja, a forest section officer in Tirupati’s Chamala range and a special task force team headed by DySP G Harinath Babu came across hundreds of red sanders smugglers at Cheekatigala Kona, near Chandragiri Mandal, at around 5.30 am.

According to an FIR filed by Nataraja, a few people tried to attack them, swearing in Tamil. It added that DySP Babu identified himself and “cried out loudly that they were a police party”.

But the armed “smugglers” trespassed into the prohibited forest zone, hurled stones and axes and fired arrows at the task force, injuring some of its members, said the FIR.

When three warning rounds fired by police failed to scare them, the FIR said, the team including Nataraja and Babu opened fire in self-defence. Nine people were killed in the encounter that lasted about “30 minutes” from 5.30 am to 6am, it said.

Watch video:

The second FIR, almost a verbatim replay of the other, filed by Bheema Naiker, a forest beat officer, states that he along with a task force team headed by another unidentified DySP had a similar 30-minute encounter, at the same time, about 1 km away, in the same area.

Apart from some names, the main difference in this FIR is the number of those killed: 11.

Incidentally, four days before the “encounter”, M Kantha Rao, the Andhra Police DIG heading the task force for red sanders operations, had told reporters that he was awaiting a nod from the state government for permission to open fire on smugglers of the precious wood.

Within a week of the encounter, three survivors told the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that their associates were picked up from different locations near the Andhra border on the previous night itself.

As The Indian Express reported on Tuesday, this version was supported by call records of four of the victims —- the data showed they were travelling from Tamil Nadu towards Tirupati, near the encounter spot, till a few hours before the firing.

Dr Sekharan listed some of the questions the killings and the photographs of the bodies have raised: “Why were there no cartridges at the spot? When there are 20 victims among hundreds, there would be at least 30-40 people who would survive with bullet injuries; why was not even a single injured smuggler caught alive? How did the rest manage to escape? Why were there no woodcutting tools such axes or sickles, which police said they were attacked with, at the encounter spot?”

He added: “Also, the photos show the bodies lying in an open area with shrubs; there are no signs of any thickly wooded forest nearby from where they would have brought the wood.”

The families of the victims are still awaiting the first post-mortem reports of all 20 and re-postmortem reports of five bodies that were conducted on the court’s orders.

First published on: 20-05-2015 at 03:53:12 am
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