A mysterious death in Raipur hospital reveals routine cross-border raids in A.P. by Chhattisgarh police

They lock the door when a post-mortem is under way, but the smell of death seeps through the exhaust vents of the mortuary at the Medical College Hospital in Raipur. Outside the morgue, a pack of dogs sniffed the air experimentally; inside, the corpse of Gangraj, a middle-aged Adivasi man lay in body bag in a refrigerated chamber.

On August 24 this year, Chhattisgarh's local press reported that Gangraj, Maoist arms supplier, had died in a hospital in Raipur. It was reported, he procured weapons for the guerrilla army of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was a key accused in the April 6, 2010 ambush in which the rebels killed 76 troopers of the CRPF in a few hours.But, who was Gangraj? Where was he arrested? How did he die?

Investigations reveal that the Chhattisgarh police have conducted a number of secretive raids across the Andhra Pradesh border, which have resulted in a number of arrests and at least one death. “Gangraj was admitted on August 12,” said Vivek Choudhary, Superintendent of the Medical College Hospital. “He was brought in an unconscious condition. An operation was conducted three days later, but he did not survive.”

Dr. Choudhary said he died of subdural haematoma, a type of brain haemorrhage, — implying that he was beaten up while in custody.

The Chhattisgarh police denied that his death was a custodial killing. “Gangraj was arrested in July last week and handed over to judicial custody within 24 hours. He then fell sick and was admitted to hospital,” said Ankit Garg, Dantewada Superintendent of Police. Mr. Garg declined to comment on the cause of death as he was yet to receive the post-mortem report.

Police sources said Gangraj was arrested as part of an investigation to identify the culprits behind an incident on May 17 this year in which seven CRPF troopers were killed in an IED explosion near Kerlapal village in Dantewada. In July, the police arrested Nandlal, a resident of Kerlapal, who allegedly worked as a ‘spotter' for the guerrillas who detonated the IED under the CRPF vehicle. The police also recovered a number of hollow steering rods, which, they claim, are used as barrels for country-made shotguns used by low-ranking Maoist cadres. On interrogation, Nandlal allegedly revealed a secret Maoist weapons dump in Khamam district in Andhra Pradesh.

“The Chhattisgarh police and the CRPF conducted a joint raid in Kukunoor mandal in Khamam at the end of July, early August and recovered some country-made weapons and arrested one person — possibly Gangraj. The Andhra Pradesh police were informed after the raid,” said an intelligence agent based in Andhra Pradesh. “The next day, the Andhra Pradesh police raided a second location and recovered more arms.” Mr. Garg confirmed that Gangraj was picked up during the raid, but said senior officers in the Andhra Pradesh police were informed in advance.

In August, representatives of the Human Rights Forum (HRF), an Andhra Pradesh-based rights organisation, visited the area and came away with a very different impression of the raid. “‘Gangraj' was a man called Madkam Jogarao, a tribal who had served as a pastor at a church in Banjargudam village for the past 15 years. He was abducted by the Chhattisgarh police in a raid on his house and his death, we suspect, is due to the beatings he received [in custody],” said V.S. Krishna, HRF State Secretary.

Mr. Krishna said he had interviewed Madkam Jogarao's family members who said Jogarao was picked up on the night of July 26 when between 20 and 30 heavily armed men in plainclothes raided Banjargudam, a village 25 km from Bhadrachalam. Villagers also claimed, Mr. Krishna said, to have seen a masked man who appeared to be a police informer. All the armed men, save one, allegedly spoke to each other and the villagers in Hindi — indicating that they were not from the area.

Mr. Krishna said the Andhra Pradesh police raided the nearby village of Regulacheruvu the next day, recovered four country-made shotguns, arrested eight youths and allegedly assaulted a number of villagers. “These eight men were illegally detained for about 10 days and then released without any charges,” said Mr. Krishna, “Villagers told me that the shotguns were personal weapons used for hunting game in the forests.”

In a telephone interview with this correspondent on August 14, Maoist commander Ramanna distanced his party from both Nandlal and Gangraj. “Neither Nandlal nor Gangraj have anything to do with our party. The police have not raided any of our weapons dumps,” Ramanna said. On August 27 this year, the Andhra Pradesh police informed the family that Jogarao had died in a hospital in Raipur and gave them a certificate to claim the body; thereby conclusively proving that Jogarao and Gangraj were one and the same.

“We are deeply concerned by these cross-border raids,” said Mr. Krishna.

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