Following media reports of an encounter between the police and Maoists in Gajapathi district of Odisha on November 14 leading to the death of 5 Maoists, a team of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) enquired into the matter. The team, consisting of HRF general secretary VS Krishna and writer and social activist Deba Ranjan Sarangi visited the villages of four of the deceased on November 21 and spoke with their relatives and the local people. The names of those killed in the firing by the police are: (1) Aiba Padra (35) of Bujuli village in Gadhapur panchayat. (II) Shyamson Majhi (50) of Bhingiriguda in Saramuli panchayat. (III) Ghasiram Bagsingh (33) of Mardhipanka village, Saramuli panchayat and Sanathan Mallick (27) of Gaheju village in Hatimunda panchayat. All four villages are located in Daringabadi block of Kandhamal district and fall in the jurisdiction of the Brahmanigaon police station. For reasons of time we could not visit the village of the 5th deceased Laxmi Kanta Nayak which is Lujuramunda in Bahadasahi panchayat of block Bastingia in the limits of Tikabali police station. However, we spoke with his relatives and wife Basanthi over the phone.
On the basis of our enquiries we state emphatically that all five of the deceased are not armed Maoist cadre but civilians. They did not die in an encounter but were murdered by the police. The version of the police that a combing party of the Special Operations Group and District Voluntary Force were fired upon on the forenoon of November 14 by Maoists in the Bhaliaguda forest area of Gobindapur panchayat (on the Gajapati-Ganjam border) in the jurisdiction of the Mohana police station following which they returned the fire in self-defence resulting in the death of 5 Maoists is nothing but a blatant falsehood.
All five killed were civilians and unarmed. They were farmers who were leading completely over-ground lives. While three of them, Aiba Padra, Shyamson Majhi and Sanatan Mallick were adivasis of the Kondh tribe, Ghasiram Bagsingh and Laxmi Kanta Nayak were Scheduled Castes belonging to the Pano community. Interestingly, three of them, Ghasiram Bhagsingh, Shyamson Majhi and Aiba Padra were also social activists.
Aiba Padra of Bujuli (located at about 2 km up a mountain) had some land on which he raised ginger and turmeric. His wife Ranjita is an anganwadi worker in the village and they have a 6 year old son who studies at the Good Shephard School in Brahmanigaon. Aiba was employed with an NGO Orissa Health and Medical Research Institute for which he was filling in details of the government’s socio-economic and caste census. He was, according to residents of the village, quite concerned about the development of the area and took an active part in persuading his maternal uncle Lukosuna Majhi, a BJD functionary and that party’s contestant for the 2009 Assembly polls from G Udayagiri, to get a road laid to Bujuli. According to Ranjita, Aiba was driving her and their son on his motorbike from Brahmanigaon on November 12 when he said that there was some work he had to attend on and would be back the next day. He dropped them off enroute Bujuli and that was the last she saw him alive. She heard the news of his death from some residents of the village who had gone to Brahmanigaon to collect their pension.
Shyamson Majhi of Bhingiriguda was a much respected man. He had unsuccessfully contested for the Saramuli sarpanch’s post in 2006. He was president, since 2004, of a local committee formed by the people and was quite active in issues like exposing panchayat raj corruption and laying of roads to remote villages. He, along with several other activists, had met the Revenue Divisional Commissioner of Southern Region at Berhampur recently seeking electricity for his and other villages. Shyamson was also trying to get an NGO in the area to facilitate a potable drinking water scheme for Bhingiriguda.
Along with Ghasiram Bagsingh, (one of the others killed in the bogus encounter) Shyamson took active part in the anti-corruption movement in the panchayat that focused upon, among other things, the siphoning of rice meant for relief for the 2008 Khandamal riot-hit. The Saramuli sarpanch Kamala Patmajhi and her husband Karma Patmajhi and their associates were responsible for diverting a substantial part of the rice and were thus profiting. Because of the sustained movement this year against them, the sarpanch was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for about 2 weeks.
On November 13, Shyamson asked his brother Judhistir, a teacher, for his motorcycle saying he had to go to Daringabadi to seek legal help for 11 of their associates who were being implicated in a false case by Karma Patmajhi and their associates. That was the last his wife Sikko Alu Majhi saw him. The couple have two sons, one of who is mentally challenged. The family learnt of Shyamson’s death on the 15th of November from relatives.
Ghasiram Bagsingh (33) of Mardhipanka was by all accounts an exceptionally dynamic activist. He was elected panchayat samiti member in the 2006 polls and was quite well known in the area. Apart from some farming, he also did small construction contracts. He was the leader of the anti-corruption crusade in the panchayat that resulted in the sarpanch getting arrested. He, along with people like Shyamson Majhi took out an impressive rally at Daringabadi on October 2 seeking action against not just the sarpanch but all those who were involved in the rice misappropriation and other illegalities. Videos of this rally are available with shots of the BDO and tehsildar also who the agitationists petitioned on the occasion. Ghasiram was driving the bike with Shyamson pillion riding on November 13th when they left for Daringabadi. This is the last seen of both of them alive.
Ghasiram was the virtual head of the family after his father passed away in 1998. He took care of his 5 sisters and a brother. Ghasiram’s wife Laxmi is left with four children, two boys and two girls. His entire family and village residents are devastated.
Sanatan Mallick (28) of Gaheju was a farmer who raised ginger and paddy. He was also a pastor. He and his wife Mamita, an anganwadi helper, also ran a small kirana shop in the village. They have two daughters. According to the village residents, he was a good man and of a helpful nature. He would often speak in terms of doing the right thing. The last time Mamita saw him alive was on November 13th when he left home in the morning saying he would return the next day.
While we could not visit Lujuramunda, the native village of Laxmi Kanta Nayak (38), we could gather some information over the phone. He and Basanti, his wife, have 2 daughters and a son. Nayak was a marginal farmer and wage labourer as well. He had left the village along with his cousin Junes Digal on November 13 for Daringabadi. They went to invite Digal’s uncle for a domestic function related to the recent birth of Digal’s second daughter. They even called up a relative Amit saying that they had finished inviting the uncle and would be back in the village. When they failed to return on the 14th, their relatives made enquiries in Daringabadi but to no avail. They learnt the next day that Nayak was no more.
In fact, we were told by several people that Junes Digal survived the firing by the police after which he was taken into their custody. The police kept him confined in illegal custody for almost a week and acknowledged his arrest only on November 20. Two more persons Samsan Mallick (25) of Dahugram and Arun
Sunamajhi (22) of Goudugram, coming under Bahmanigaon police station, were
produced before the court by the police on 22nd November after
family members of both moved a habeas corpus petition in the Odisha High Court. They had gone missing after the Bhaliaguda encounter
The insensitivity of the administration is evident in the fact that not a single one of the families was even informed about the deaths. It was only friends or relatives that gave them the news and they all rushed to the MKCG at Berhampur to pick up the bodies.
We reiterate that the five deceased are unarmed civilians and not underground functionaries of the Maoists as is being made out by the police. This fact can easily be verified from a visit to their villages. None of the 5 had any cases registered against them and they were all leading law-abiding lives.
There was no exchange of fire on the forenoon of November 14 but only unilateral firing by the police. The police, as is their wont, continue to assert that these 5 were armed Maoists who fired upon them thereby necessitating return fire in self-defence resulting in the deaths. This is a standard concoction of the police to explain away extra-judicial killings. After registering a case under section 307 of the IPC (relating to attempt to murder) against the deceased, the police seek to close the case. To allow this to happen would be plain mockery of the law.
A mandatory magisterial enquiry will no doubt be done by the administration but that is no substitute for criminal prosecution of those who perpetrated these killings. The law and the Constitution of India will not have it any other way. We demand that:
- The police officers/personnel who participated in the Bhaliaguda killings of November 14, 2012 must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder as well as other relevant provisions of the penal code and prosecuted.
- The investigation in the case must be done by the CBI or a criminal investigation team under the aegis of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
- Compensation of not less than Rs 10 lakh must be handed over without delay to the family members of all five killed.
- The government must seriously implement protective legislation for adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers in the 5th Schedule areas of the State.
- The State and Central governments must desist from treating the Maoist movement as an outbreak of mere criminality. They must acknowledge that the movement has roots in material deprivation, un-freedom and social oppression. The ongoing policy of brutal suppression must be stopped and that movement addressed politically.
VS Krishna Deba Ranjan Sarangi
(General Secretary, HRF) (Writer and Social Activist)