Chhattisgarh police have confirmed the death of Mediyum Bandhi, a 27-year-old adivasi from Aitpal village, in the Sukma police station in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district. Police claim they shot Bandhi as he tried to escape from the lock-up. Bandhi was shot three times in the back with a Self Loading Rifle (SLR).

Bandhi's death comes three days after an explosion, triggered by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), killed 15 civilians and 16 members of the security forces. Many of the policemen killed were Special Police Officers based out of Sukma.

According to Sukma police, Bandhi, 27, and Podiyam Kosa, 25, were apprehended on Wednesday morning from Aitpal village as they were wanted in a number of criminal cases including murder. The two villagers were first taken to Gadiras police station for questioning and then brought to Sukma as Gadiras does not have a lock-up.

“The villagers were brought [here] at about 6:30 p.m.,” said Sukma SHO Sandeep Chandrakar. “At about 7.15 p.m. we took them out of the cell for dinner, when two shots were fired outside the thana. Bandhi slipped out of his handcuffs and ran out of the thana's open gate and so we opened fire.” Mr. Chandrakar says Bandhi's body was found more than 100 metres from the gate. Podiyam Kosa is still in police custody.

Others, however, contest the SHO's account.

“A group of 300 to 400 uniformed men came to our village just before the sun rose on Sunday May 16,” said a villager at Aitpal. “They rounded up all the men and tried to take us away.”

According to the villager, only the intervention of the village women saved most of the men but the soldiers grabbed Bandhi and Kosa, tied scarves around their mouths and eyes and marched them off to Gadiras.

“We caught the two men on Sunday May 16,” confirmed Rajesh Jha, Town Inspector of Gadiras Police Station, “But they both escaped the same day.” Mr. Jha claims the two men were absconding for three days before they were caught by the Sukma police on May 19. He maintains that Bandhi tried to escape for the second time in four days when he was shot three times in the back.

“Bandhi was killed in a fake encounter,” said Manish Kunjam, former MLA of the Communist Party of India and president of the Adivasi Mahasabha, “The police are now issuing contradictory statements.” The CPI has issued a statement condemning the killing. Mr. Kunjam believes Bandhi was probably killed on the afternoon of May 19 in the thana, rather than at 7.15 p.m. while trying to escape.

His theory is bolstered by the fact that on the afternoon of May 19, locals reported hearing two shots fired within the boundaries of the Sukma thana. When TheHindu spoke to Mr. Chandrakar that afternoon, he claimed that the shots had been fired accidentally. “A bullet was lodged in the chamber of a police officer's SLR,” said Mr. Chandrakar. “The gun malfunctioned and 2 rounds were fired.”