An inquiry has been ordered into the killing of 15 Naxalites by the police in an encounter in Bastar after villagers alleged that those shot dead were 17 innocent people,including six women.
The villagers say a group comprising security personnel,activists of the anti-Naxalite Salwa Judum movement,and Special Police Officers (SPOs) had rounded up some villagers to carry rice bags for them at village Simgaram,a remote village located in the forests,about 20 km from the Maraiguda-Golapali road near the border between Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh,on the afternoon of January 8,and then shot them dead.
The controversy flared up after the bodies of the Naxalites could not be recovered,though the police claimed that those killed were Maoists. They also claimed to have shot a video film of the encounter site and photographed the alleged Naxalites in action.
The police said they could not recover the bodies as they had to rush the three injured SPOs to the hospital before sunset. They claimed that the three SPOs got injured during the encounter.
All that they have released to the media in south Bastar are photographs of the body of an alleged Naxalite in uniform,with a few old and rusted weapons,including bows and arrows,which were reportedly seized during the encounter.
The first murmurs of protest arose after Telegu media from neighbouring Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh reached Simgaram and quoted the villagers as saying that 17 people,including six women,had been shot dead by a group of about 100 people comprising security personnel and Salwa Judum activists and that the group had been seen around the villages of Danteshpuram,Simgaram,Korasguda,Puspalli,Venjalvai for the last two-three days.
Dantewada district Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma,however,insisted that the encounter was genuine. It was a bona fide encounter. How many of those killed were hardcore Naxalites and how many local militia or Sangam members village-level sympathisers of outlawed CPI (Maoists) could be an issue, he said.
Sharma said since there is a controversy,a magisterial inquiry has been ordered. A sub-divisional magistrate,other officials and a doctor have already reached the village for the inquiry, he said.
The reason no bodies had been found,he claimed,was that the rebels normally take away the bodies of those killed in any encounter with the police. Senior tribal leader and state Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar also said that the rebels usually take away the bodies of their comrades after such encounters. Kanwar is planning to visit the area soon.
A team of 16 journalists from South Bastar has also visited Simgaram and nearby villages. According to Dakshin Bastar Patrakar Sangh president N R K Pillai,who was among this team,the villagers told them that a large group,comprising security personnel,Salwa Judum activists and SPOs,had asked the villagers to carry rice bags for them. They were taken to an open place about a kilometre away and shot dead,they said. Pillai claimed the encounter site showed no signs of a struggle or conflict. CPI leader and Adivasi Mahasabha president Manish Kunjam,who visited the area on Monday,told The Indian Express over telephone that the situation was tense and scared tribals could desert their villages and migrate to other places.