On 17 March 2019, several newspapers reported that two “Maoists” have been killed by the security forces in Visakhapatnam region of Andhra Pradesh. The story of this encounter, however, was soon questioned by several activists groups, who questioned its legitimacy. Human Rights Forum—a non-political, non-funded voluntary organization based in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh—along with several Adivasi organisations formed a fact finding team and visited the location. The team found that like many previous cases, it was a fake encounter and two Adivasis—Batti Bhushanam (52) and Sidaari Jamadhar (30) were both innocent farmers.
The report released in March 2019, stated that, “We have no hesitation is stating that the official police version that 2 contingents of Greyhounds and CRPF personnel who were on combing operations were fired upon by Maoists of the Pedabayulu Area Committee following which they were compelled to retaliate thereby resulting in the death of two Maoist squad members is a brazen and shameless lie. There was no exchange of fire on that night, only unprovoked, one-sided firing by the police that led to the death of two Adivasis. In fact, the firing was not preceded by any warning.” The full statement can be accessed here.
Following the fact-finding team report, Adivasi Reservation Porata Samithi—an organization for protection of Adivasi reservations, based in Visakhapatnam—sent a memorandum to National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and National Human Rights Commission, demanding intervention and justice for the killing of two Adivasis.
The memorandum stated —
We are functionaries of several Adivasi rights, welfare, employees, teachers and students organizations primarily based in the Paderu divisional headquarters region which is located in the Fifth Schedule region of Visakhapatnam district in the State of Andhra Pradesh. We want to place before the NCST and NHRC briefly facts regarding the shooting to death by Greyhounds police and personnel of the CRPF of two Adivasi farmers Batti Bhushanam (52) and Sidaari Jamadhar (30) of Mettaveedhi and Pedakodapalle villages respectively on the intervening night of March 15-16 this year.
The police are trying to portray the two Adivasi civilians as armed squad members of the Pedabayulu Area Committee of the proscribed CPI (Maoist) party who were shot dead in an exchange of fire. We state emphatically that the two deceased had no connection with the Maoists and were shot dead recklessly and brutally by the police without any warning or provocation; while the two Adivasis were out hunting for birds and leisure. We visited the area on 19 March, where the killings took place and spoke in detail with the tribals of Mettaveedhi and Pedakoodapalli as well as residents of surrounding villages like Buradamamidi and Jayantikota. Two tribal youth Sidaari Rambabu and Koda Bonjubabu, who were also on the hunt that night and fortunately survived the wanton shooting by the police also accompanied us to the spot of the killings and narrated to us what transpired on that night.
On the basis of our fact-finding, we are of the firm belief that the death of the two Adivasis on the intervening night of March 15-16 was not the result of an encounter as claimed by the police. Rather, they were killed in unilateral firing by personnel of the Greyhounds and 198 CRPF Battalion. Contrary to the police assertion that the deceased were members of the proscribed Maoist party, they were Adivasi farmers from Mettaveedhi and Pedakodepalli village. The deceased Bhushanam is survived by his wife Varalamma and three children—Ranjit, Govinda Rao and Shyamala. While Jamadhar, who was recently married, is survived by his wife Kondamma.
According to the the villagers, on the night of March 15, after dinner Bhushanam and Bonjubabu (residents of Mettaveedhi, a hamlet of Pedakodapalli) and Jamadhar and Rambabu (first cousins and residents of the Pedakodapalli main village) set out for a hunt hoping to strike some game, mainly birds. As you may be aware, this is normal and fairly regular practice in Adivasi society, particularly in the dry summer months. Bhushanam and Jamadhar were each carrying a country-made weapon and had torch lights fixed with a strap across their head while the other two were holding torches.
The four crossed the local Gede Gedda and after a sojourn beyond Jayantikota took a turn back around midnight descending the Arnambayalu Konda (hill) near Buradamamidi village. All four, were dressed in civil clothes. They were walking on a track in the fields belonging to residents of Buradamamidi when they were shot upon by the police from about a half a furlong away to their left. There was no forewarning whatsoever. Neither was there any provocation by the four Adivasis. Both Rambabu, who was walking in front, and Bonjubabu who was at the back ran for their lives. Ramababu managed to crawl some distance and then run by the local rivulet away from the spot where they were fired upon. He was so terrified that he hid in the hills, on top of a mango tree and only emerged at about 8 am near his village. Bonjubabu ran to his village Mettaveedhi and to the safety of his home.
Bhushanam and Jamadhar were not so lucky. Both died as a result of the firing which continued for several minutes. Within a few hours of this, the police trotted out the customary concoction of an exchange of fire with Maoists. They are trying to pass off these senseless killings that resulted from their own criminality as one of an “encounter” by invoking the plea of self-defence. What is even more alarming is that these wanton killings did not take place in some remote habitation. Buradamamidi is only about 15 km from Paderu, the divisional headquarters.
We reiterate that on the intervening night of March 15-16, a combing party of the Greyhounds and CRPF personnel chanced upon the four Adivasis, two of them with country-made weapons, in the Buradamamidi forest and opened fire straightaway. If their reaction was provoked by two of the Adivasis holding country-made weapons, then it makes it no less of a crime. There was no attempt whatever by the police to call out to the Adivasis. A hail of bullets were immediately let lose killing two Adivasi civilians instantly. The argument given by the police that there was an exchange of fire is patently false. In reality, there was no provocation of any sort by the Adivasis warranting the police to exercise any force upon them, much less kill them.
It would be pertinent to point out that this is not the first time that such killings of Adivasi civilians by policemen have taken place. In the Visakhapatnam Agency itself we recall the killing of three Adivasi youth (Marri Nageswara Rao, Mamidi Gopala Rao and Musidi Bangarayya) on 3 December 2007 near Kannavaram village of Budharalla panchayat in Koyyuru mandal. The incident took place in the day time around 4.30 pm. On that occasion the youth were part of a group of 25-30 Adivasi villagers of Nallabilli and Kannavaram who were scaring away wild animals like wild boar from laying waste to their fields.They were resting at a perennial stream when they were fired upon by Greyhounds personnel and killed on the spot.
Three years ago, on the afternoon of 21 February 2016, two Adivasi farmers Ganga Madkami (40) and Ganga Podiami (33), residents of Balakati village in Korukonda block of Malkangiri district in Odissa, who were out hunting, were fired upon and killed by Greyhounds in the Puttakota forest area, also in Koyyuru mandal. On that occasion, the police got hold of Irma Kawasi, who was injured, got him treated at Visakhapatnam where he was operated upon and then sent him home after about three weeks. In both these killings, the police again falsely claimed that the deceased were armed Maoist cadre – of the Galikonda Area Committee.
As you know, Adivasis set out to the forest, with which they have a deep and organic relationship, for a myriad of work. People of several villages in the Pedakodepalli area told us that following the Buradamamidi killings they were hesitant to venture out, particularly at night. There is palpable fear among Adivasis in the agency region of Visakhapatnam district for their safety.
Contrary to the habitual assertion by the police, all these killings stated above are not of “firing in self-defence resulting in the death of Maoist cadre”. The killings of March 15-16 this year was an instance of the police callously shooting dead two Adivasi farmers as if their lives had no value. Those responsible for these deaths cannot be allowed to wash their hands off in such a cavalier manner. To meet the ends of justice, they must be held accountable to the law. The State has a responsibility to also see to the welfare of the families of the deceased as they are poor and resourceless.
We are of the view that in all such ‘encounter’ cases, following upon the very report of the police officer who has committed the killing and who thereupon goes to the local police station to give his report (the Pedabayulu police station in this instant case), a case of culpable homicide amounting to murder and other appropriate sections of the IPC has to be booked against him as well as all members of the police party, if any, that he was part of. Further, the case has to be investigated fairly and impartially by an agency as independent as possible of the perpetrators of the offence; and the final decision whether life has been taken or injury has been caused by them in permissible circumstances that would exonerate them has to be that of a competent Court and not that of the executive, namely the police themselves, much less the killer himself. So far, only a mandatory magisterial enquiry has been ordered. This will not meet the ends of justice.
We believe State impunity is a matter of extreme concern. Time and again, police personnel have escaped judicial oversight for plain murder and many Adivasis have succumbed because of police impunity. We are a democratic, civilized nation, not a police State where those endowed with the responsibility of investigating crime and maintaining public order can merrily escape judicial scrutiny. Such staged encounters mock at the rule of law and constitute a gross violation of the right to life, a tenet enshrined in the Indian Constitution as well as international human rights law.
In view of the above, we appeal that the Honorable Commission may, in the interests of justice:
— Direct the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) to file cases of culpable homicide amounting to murder and other appropriate sections of the IPC and also relevant sections of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 against all Greyhounds and CRPF personnel responsible for the wanton killing of Batti Bhushanam and Sidaari Jamadhar on the intervening night of March 15-16, 2019 in the forest region of Visakhapatnam district.
— Since it is the Greyhounds and CRPF police in AP who will be the accused, the criminal investigation into the case must be handed over to an agency as independent as possible of the perpetrators of the offence. Either the CBI or a Special Investigation Team monitored by the Court must be handed over the cases for there to be a credible investigation. A magisterial or judicial enquiry is no substitute for this lawful process. We therefore urge upon the NCST to recommend this to the AP government.
— The NCST may also constitute a special team to look into the matter. A visit to the Pedakodepalli village near Paderu will reveal all facts.
— Recommend to the government of AP modalities for payment of substantial compensation and welfare benefits to the families of the two Adivasis killed.
The letter dated 28 March 2019, was signed by the members of Adivasi Reservation Porata Samithi:
Ramarao Dora, Convener, Adivasi Reservation Parirakshana Porata Samithi (ARPPS)
Koda Simhadri, Rural District President, All India Tribal Employees Union, Visakhapatnam, AP.
Someli Simhachalam, General Secretary, All India Tribal Employees Union, Visakhapatnam, AP
Chittapuli Srinivasu Padal, State president, Tribal Welfare Teachers Union
Kirasani Kishor, District President, Girijana Students Union (GSU), Visakhapatnam Dist, AP
Jaliya Anandrao, Convener, Adivasi Hakkula Vedika
Javvadi Suryanarayana, Dist Joint Secretary, Civil Liberty Committee
Featured image: Members of the fact finding team documenting narratives from villagers. (Photo: Ramarao Dora)