Villagers of Lai in Jharkhand’s Latehar district have backed CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Koel Sankh Zone’s claim that CRPF personnel used villagers, including women and children, as “human shields” during an encounter on November 26.
Following the encounter, security forces had taken eight men and detained them for two days before releasing them without levelling any charges.
Of them, three belonged to the Parhariya tribe, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.
Latehar SP Michael S Raj denied the charge, calling it propaganda by Maoists.
The Lai encounter had taken place when CRPF and CoBRA personnel who were returning after providing
security at Manika constituency for the first phase of the Assembly polls were attacked.
According to a CPI (Maoist) leader identifying himself only as ‘Manasji’, the encounter had gone on from 8.30 am till around 4 pm, with the Maoists burning eight tractors carrying CRPF supplies before retreating. There were no injuries on either side, and the only ones who suffered were the villagers, Manasji said.
Lai has 85 households and a population of around 400.
Manti Kumari (18), who lives closest to the site of the encounter, shows the four bullet holes in the walls of her house. She says four-five CRPF personnel had arrived at her door an hour into the encounter. “They began slapping me and my sister,” she says, calling the two of them Maoists and telling them to strip. “We refused.”
Jagdish Pahariya says the CRPF found three countrymade guns at his house which he kept for security while hunting. “But they dragged me and my son out and started beating us,” says the 60-year-old.
Kaleshwar Parhaiya (51) claims to have been hit with the butt of a rifle, while wife Indermani Devi was allegedly beaten with lathis.
As the security forces left, allege villagers, they took along some of them as “shelter”. “They made us stand in a (horizontal) line and walked behind us,” says Sushil. “When the Maoists saw us, they began shooting. The bullets passed overhead,” Sushil said.
Manasji, however, said the PLGA had stopped shooting on spotting the villagers.
“Lai is a region where the Maoists enjoy immense support. They have forced the villagers to make these claims,” said SP Raj.