Chief Minister personally responsible, says opposition and stages walkout

A week after The Hindu first published allegations that security forces burnt close to three hundred homes, sexually assaulted three women and killed at least three men (two are still missing) in three villages in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, the State government finally broke its silence and blamed the atrocities on Maoist guerillas.

Speaking in the Vidhan Sabha, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar admitted that 327 troopers of the Chhattisgarh Police and Central Reserve Police Force conducted a five day area domination exercise from March 11 to March 16 and raided the villages of Morpalli, Timapuram and Tarmetla; but claimed that, in each instance, the security forces were ambushed by Maoists who burnt the villages and escaped in the ensuing confusion.

Rejecting the Home Minister’s explanations, the opposition held Chief Minister Raman Singh personally responsible for the incident and boycotted the Vidhan Sabha for the day.

According to Mr. Kanwar’s statement, the security forces raided Morpalli village on March 11 this year, when they were attacked by Maoists. The Maoists then allegedly set fire to a number of homes and escaped. Citing the testimony of one Madavi Ganga of Morpalli village in this regard, Mr. Kanwar said a case had been registered in the Chintalnar Police Station.

On March 20, this correspondent interviewed Madavi Ganga of Morpalli. As reported in The Hindu on March 23, Mr. Ganga said the police picked him up, along with his son and teenaged daughter, on March 11 and took him to the Chintalnar police station where he was held overnight and repeatedly beaten.

His daughter said she was kept in a separate cell and was sexually assaulted by policemen. The Madavi family said they were released only when the women of Morpalli surrounded the Chintalnar police station and demanded their release. This correspondent visited all three villages where eyewitnesses claimed that their homes had been burnt by Special Police Officers (SPOs) and Koya commandos of the Chhattisgarh police.

Mr. Kanwar claimed that a similar pattern of ambush and arson was witnessed when the security forces raided the villages of Timapuram and Tarmetla, where the Maoists surrounded the forces, killed three SPOs and set fire to the villages.

In each case, the Home Minister said that police cases had been registered at the Chintalnar police station. However on March 23, a week after the alleged crimes, Dantewada’s Senior Superindent of Police, S.R.P. Kalluri told IANS that he had no knowledge of any incidents in the area, claiming, “It’s all Maoist-propaganda, nothing happened there.” Mr. Kalluri has since been removed from his post and transferred to Surguja.

In the Vidhan Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition Ravindera Chaubey, refused to accept the Home Minister’s statements. “No one from the administration has been able to visit the site. How can we believe this?” he asked.