“Those who did not die in the firing were killed by the police with axes”

An all-India, fact-finding team of rights activists has brought out graphic details of what it described as the “plain slaughter” of tribals of Sarkeguda and Kottaguda in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh as the Central Reserve Police Force gave no quarter even to those who survived its firing on the night of June 28.

A report quoted villagers as telling the 16-member team, which visited Sarketuda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta on July 6 and 7, that “those who did not die from the bullet wounds were killed by the police with axes they picked up from the village itself.” Eyewitnesses, including mediapersons, who saw the bodies, said the victims were brutalised with deep hacking cuts in the chest and forehead, the report said.

“I have never seen such butchery in my 25 years’ work in human rights,” said V. S. Krishna, general secretary of the Human Rights Forum, referring to the death of 17 Adivasis in the firing by CRPF personnel and CoBRA. About 60 Adivasis had assembled around 8 p.m. on June 28 in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kottaguda. As the sowing season was about to begin, they were to discuss biju pondum, the traditional seed sowing festival, distribution of land for tilling, lending help to families without cattle, deciding rent for a new tractor and arrears of Rs. 10,000 due to them for tendu leaf collection.

It was a cloudy night and visibility was poor. A contingent of the CRPF and the CoBRA commandos, numbering over a hundred, cordoned off the area. At about 10 p.m, there was a burst of gunfire which hit three Adivasis, killing them instantly. Firing followed from three other directions, sending the terrified villagers running and screaming. It continued for about 30 minutes after which the CRPF men fired two flares to light up the area and survey the scene.

Sixteen, including six minors, died that night and one the next day. The 17 victim was Irpa Ramesh. After the firing began, he ran and made it to the safety of his house and stepped out at dawn to survey the area. He was fired upon immediately and, though hit, he managed to get back inside his house. The CRPF men followed him and clobbered him to death with a brick in front of his wife and three children, and also took away Rs. 5,000 from their house, the report said.

The CDRO sought to debunk the CRPF’s attempts to portray the carnage as the result of an exchange of fire with dreaded Maoists and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s repetition of this claim. Observing that the plea of ‘self-defence’ was a favourite invocation by police to explain away extra-judicial killings, the team said there was no exchange of fire; it was one-sided, unannounced and unprovoked. It was plausible that the injuries to six CRPF and CoBRA personnel were caused by firing by their colleagues from other sides.