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The commando killing whodunit

Surya’s wife alleges that behind the killing was a police officer he was travelling with

Last month’s killing of Koya commando Kartam Surya,the “best fighter against Naxals”,remains mired in mystery as ever. Chhattisgarh policemen feel they have cracked the case after interrogating an alleged mole,who is supposed to have informed Naxals about Surya’s presence in their stronghold. But the “mole” himself has died in circumstances no less mystifying.

Surya’s wife alleges that behind the killing was a police officer he was travelling with. And the CBI has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court questioning the actions of this officer,who was to depose before the agency in another case.

Surya was killed on February 9. Police say this happened in a Maoist ambush while he was returning with a police team from Polampalli to Dornapal.

That night,police say,Maoists attacked Dornapal police station and firing continued for hours. The CBI,on the other hand,says SPOs went on the rampage after Surya’s death.

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Contradictions remain between the versions of the police and the CBI,those of the police and villagers,and within the police. Here are the events before and after the killing,and what various sides make of these.

The trip

ASP D S Maravi had taken Surya and another Koya commando,Kiche Nanda,from Dornapal to Polampalli,a Naxal bastion. They had no escort,though Nanda and Surya were in the hit-list of Maoists. The two were the leaders among SPO-turned-constables and both had a history of police excesses.

Maravi was in Doranapal to depose before a CBI team probing last year’s torching of three villages,allegedly by SPOs. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court,the CBI says its officers had asked Maravi to join them at Jagdalpur and go to Dornapal by helicopter,but he informed them he would travel alone by road. “After reaching Dornapal [on February 8,Maravi was contacted… he [said he is in Konta for personal work,” says the affidavit. Konta is three hours’ drive from Dornapal.

“On 9 February 3.30 pm,” the CBI notes,“Maravi said his work with the CBI team was over and he wanted to leave…he was informed that his work was not yet over. He then informed the IO that he was staying back and would come in a moment… prior to leaving Maravi neither informed the CBI team where he was proceeding nor disclosed who else were accompanying him.”

Maravi tells The Indian Express: “I was there on February 8 and 9,but the CBI did not take my statement. I was feeling bored. The Sukma SP knew Surya,Nanda and I were going to Polampalli.”

An hour after they had set off,the attack took place. Nanda and two constables were injured,while driver Suryaprakash Sonawane was killed with Surya. Maravi was unhurt except for a little splinter in the leg.

Surya was posted in Bhejji,some three hours from Dornapal,when Maravi allegedly called him on the trip. “No one knows why Maravi Saab took us there,” says Nanda. When asked why,Maravi reportedly said: “Let’s hunt birds.” Maravi’s version is that Surya “came to Dornapal on his own”. He says,“The area has a Koya commando camp. I wanted to visit old friends. All of us,Nanda,Surya and I,wanted to visit Polampalli.”

The local police had asked Maravi repeatedly to take security but he refused. “Polampalli is not that sensitive an area. Nanda and Surya knew the region well. I didn’t sense any danger,” he says.

Nanda says no police team ever goes to Polampalli without a road-opening party,and he has also told the DGP that it was Maravi who asked them to accompany him.

At first,Maravi reportedly told DGP Anil M Nawaney that the trip was because Nanda wanted to meet his parents. When Nanda denied this,Maravi retracted and “apologised for taking them”.

“An inquiry is already on into why he went there,” Nawaney tells The Indian Express,refusing to discuss it further.

The ASP & the SPOs

“Naxals did not kill my husband,” says Surya’s wife Pushpa,sarpanch of Mishma village. “Maravi is behind the killing.”

“Surya was very close to me,” Maravi counters. “I lost my driver and they blame me. If I wished I could have got Surya killed anywhere. I too was injured.”

Contrary to his claim,even Dornapal policemen say Maravi’s relations with Surya were strained. Many say Maravi led the team that allegedly burnt down the villages. And some claim Surya had warned Maravi,“If I tell the CBI,you will go to jail.”

As Surya’s body arrived at Dornapal police station,the CBI notes,“SPOs lost control. Maravi was shifted to the CRPF battalion headquarters.” Police locked up the CBI team in a room in a thana to protect them. SPOs kept banging on the door till the CRPF rescued the team. The CBI,in its affidavit,has now sought state protection from SPOs.

“Yes,SPOs were agitated that night,” SP Abhishek Shandilya says. “We are preparing a report… but there is no conspiracy.”

Firing too was heard that night; the police version is Naxals attacked the thana after the ambush. “Naxals fired at some morchas and police retaliated,” the SP says.

According to the CBI,Maravi was shifted to the CRPF camp around 10 pm and “intermittent firing continued for about 1-2 hours.” This was exactly the time when the police had claimed the Naxal attack took place. Maravi says he knows nothing of the SPOs getting agitated.

The ‘moles’

Days later,Koya commandos at Polampalli picked up “mole” Podiyam Arjun for interrogation,and claimed to have solved the case. It was Arjun who had informed Maoists about the presence of Surya and Nanda,they said. On February 14,he allegedly consumed poison. “His secret that he was an informer was out,so he killed himself,” says Dornapal thana-in-charge R D Kurre.

In Arjun’s Atul Para village,the view is Koya commandos killed him. “They thrashed him so badly he consumed poison to escape them.”

Koyas also nabbed Naxal informers Madkam Bhima and Banjam Sona,and Kurre says they told police about Arjun. But the dates appear mismatched. The police register shows the arrests on February 16; Arjun had died two days earlier. Shandilya is vague about the details. “Someone committed suicide,but he was not linked with the case.”

Locals allege Koyas had nabbed the three together,along with Arjun’s father Pudiyam Nanda,on February 11 and beaten them up in their camp. After Arjun died,they released his father. They allege the postmortem was not done in the presence of his relatives,but at the Koya commando camp in a hurry.

Dr V Prakash Rao noted severe bruises caused by hard,blunt objects all over the body. He sought a helicopter to take Bhima and Sona to Dornapal for treatment. “He did ask,but chopper availability is always an issue,” Shandilya says. The request was on February 15,the day before the stated date of arrest.

Rao had a bike accident after the postmortem. His report will be submitted soon,over a month after it was conducted.

In Surya’s village Mishma and Arjun’s Atul Para,no villager doubts the ambush had been faked. Arjun was a tribal priest who built a small temple. “He would worship the whole day,how could he have been an informer?” his father says.

The family has left Arjun’s belongings at the site of the cremation: a suitcase,an umbrella,a cot and a few clothes. They have not picked up the ashes.

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Arjun,incidentally,was a cousin of suspected Naxal Podiyam Mara,who according to the police had hanged himself in Sukma police station in January. Citing his medical report and the absence of a crime record,The Indian Express had reported signs that suggested torture before death. This led to an NHRC notice to the state.