The Chhattisgarh police have confirmed that seven bodies were exhumed from the outskirts of the Gompad village, Dantewada district, last month and a preliminary post-mortem carried out. However, lawyers representing the families of those killed said the police were tampering with vital evidence.

Hand over probe to CBI

A petition filed in the Supreme Court holds the State police responsible for the killing of seven Adivasis of Gompad village as part of an anti-naxal operation on October 1, 2009. The petition demands that the investigation be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra, who was not present at the site, confirmed that the bodies were exhumed on January 23 by a team of doctors under the supervision of a magistrate. The procedure was recorded on a video camera. “We approached the District Magistrate with a request for exhumation and proceeded once permission was granted,” Mr. Mishra said.

Witnesses to the massacre, interviewed by The Hindu on January 15, 2010, alleged that on October 1 last, uniformed men stormed the village. They fatally stabbed and shot three men, three women and a 12-year-old girl, and cut off a two-year-old infant’s fingers. “I saw the force shoot Madavi Venka at close range and then someone in uniform stabbed him with a knife,” said a source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Post-mortem inconclusive

The doctors told The Hindu that the post-mortem was inconclusive. “We were only able to recover seven intact skeletons,” said Vijay Thakur, one of the doctors who conducted the post-mortem. “The bodies have been buried for more than three months, all muscle and tissue has wasted away. We are unable to ascertain the cause of death or determine if the bodies were mutilated in any way.”

In response to a question, Dr. Thakur stated that no spent bullets were recovered from any of the graves. Bone samples have been sent to a laboratory for DNA testing to identify the corpses.

Lawyer Colin Gonzalves has questioned the authority of the police to exhume the bodies at this juncture. “The bodies constitute evidence that could be used against the police in this case. As the matter is pending before the Supreme Court [on whether the CBI should take over the investigation], the police is the accused. And for it to exhume the bodies is tampering with evidence.”

Asked for his response, the Superintendent of Police said the police had acted within the confines of law.

Petitioners missing

At least four of the 12 villagers, who filed the petition in the Supreme Court are missing. Key witness Sodi Sambho, 28, was last seen at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. Ms. Sambho was undergoing treatment for a bullet wound. However, she was discharged a day before the court ruled that her lawyers be allowed to meet her.

While the Chhattisgarh police have publicly denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of three other petitioners — Soyam Dulla, Soyam Rama and Kattam Dulla — villagers claim the three men were picked up by the police in the first week of January and did not return home for at least two weeks.

Police sources told The Hindu that the three were questioned in a police station in Konta on January 13, 2009, but could not confirm their current location.

At the time of going to print, neither the police nor Mr. Gonzalves had any information on the whereabouts of the four petitioners.