A set of well-thumbed photographs are being passed around by protestors gathered outside the Sukma post office in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district. The first is passport-sized, of a well-built, thirty year old man called Madkami Massa in a pale blue shirt smiling into the camera, the other grainier image shows Mr. Massa's contorted corpse on a white slab – his right arm severed at the elbow, his chest pierced by a bullet.
For the past week, Mr. Massa's violent end has brought residents from his village of Chikpal out onto the streets. On August 6, the Chhattisgarh police claimed to have killed an armed and uniformed Maoist guerilla and recovered his body during an early morning raid in Neelavaram village in Dantewada district. Two central reserve police force (CRPF) constables were injured during an exchange of fire and were admitted at the government hospital in Sukma. The body of the slain guerilla was kept at the morgue, autopsied and buried. Four days later, the body was identified as Mr. Massa on the basis of police photographs.
Chikpal's residents insist that Mr. Massa was picked up from his village on August 5, a day prior to the alleged fight, taken to the CRPF camp at Kerlapal, and shot the next day in a staged encounter. Villagers say that Mr. Massa was the ‘mukhiya' of Chikpal, a hereditary social position like a village headman, and had no connections with the Maoists. While Dantewada Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg and the CRPF maintain that the operation was genuine, the villagers are supported by statements from local politicians, their Congress MLA Kowasi Lakma, and former MLA Manish Kunjam.
If the allegations are true, Dantewada's security forces could be responsible for illegal detention and summary execution of a young adivasi man.
“[The] CRPF soldiers from Kerlapal came to Chikpal at about 12 o' clock on August 5,” said resident Irma Ram Markami in a recent interview, “They gathered everyone and shouted at us for not helping build the new CRPF camp. They warned us not to support the Maoists and then started searching some of the men.”
Mr. Markami said that Madkami Massa was singled out because he was a strong, well built young man with knotty muscles along his shoulders and back. “They [the CRPF] said he was built like a Maoist and they took him away.” “Villagers from Chikpal called me on the same day [August 5] and said Massa had been picked up by the CRPF,” said Kowasi Lakma, the MLA of Konta. “I called the police and asked them to release him, but they said they didn't have him. The next morning [August 6] I heard about the encounter and later realized Massa had been killed. This is a completely fake encounter.”
“Apart from Massa, others have been picked up by the forces and held without any charges like Muchaki Hidma from Phoolbagdi and Rava Hadma from Samsetti village,” said Manish Kunjam, Sukma resident and former MLA of Konta, who said that young men were routinely questioned by security forces and detained for long periods without being formally charged.
Rava Hadma has been released, but Muchaki Hidma is still untraced. A police source said that Rava Hadma had confirmed he was kept in captivity with Madkami Massa for a few hours before the two men were separated.
Officials in the CRPF insist that Mr. Massa was killed in combat. “There was a genuine exchange of fire,” said the CPRF Inspector General for anti-Maoist operations, Pankaj Singh. “Two of our men were injured and a uniformed body was recovered with a weapon.”
“Two CRPF constables were treated on August 6 and were discharged the same day,” said Dr. Pekre, at Sukma Hospital, “Both men had minor burns below the knee from what they said was a petrol bomb. One injury was about two inches by two inches, the other was smaller.”
“Massa's right arm was blown away by what could have been a grenade,” said Dr. Pekre, who conducted the post-mortem. “A bullet had entered his ribcage on the right side and exited on the left. He died from these injuries.” He added that the body showed no outward signs of torture.
In a phone call on Sunday evening, Maoist commander Ramanna said that security forces and Maoists did not clash on August 6. “Our forces did not exchange fire with the security forces that day. Massa was killed in cold blood,” he said, adding that Mr. Massa had never worked for the Maoists.
One theory, according to a source in the district police, is that Madkami Massa's death is a case of mistaken identity. On May 17 this year, seven CRPF troopers from the CRPF's second battalion were killed in an IED explosion. Over the last month, the CRPF and district police arrested one Dilip from Badde Setti in connection with the blast. Three others – including a man called Madkami Massa are still at large.
“While Dilip worked as an informer, the Maoist Madkami Massa is believed to be an explosives expert, but we have no other information on him,” said a police source. “It is possible that the CRPF found out that there was a Madkami Massa in Chikpal and killed the wrong man.”
Sources in the CRPF dismiss this suggestion. “We also arrested Dilip and handed him over the police. Why would we kill Massa?” asked a senior CRPF officer, seeking anonymity as he is not authorized to speak with the press.
But Chikpal's villagers want to know how a man who they say was picked up by the CRPF from his village at noon on August 5, reappeared as a corpse at a spot 15 km away on the morning of the next day.
“The force picked up a man in broad daylight in front of an entire village,” said Konta MLA Lakma, “Then they said they didn't have him. Then he was killed in an encounter. I knew Massa. He was a very nice man. He was a wealthy landowner. He was not a Maoist.”