There had been an employees’ strike at the college since February. Mukesh Sahu, 21, a second-year B.Sc. student, spent the Thursday afternoon in March running errands at Gumla market. As he sat down near the town pond to catch up with his college friends, his phone rang. “Naveen has been shot. The police shot him.” It was his uncle, a couple of years older than him, whose village his brother Naveen had left for that morning.
The next few hours were a blur, Mukesh recalls, as he and his family reached the Gumla police station. The police claimed that Naveen, 17, a student of Class XI, was Rajesh Tiger, an area commander of the breakaway Maoist group, People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), in Gumla. The police claimed that they had shot him while he was trying to escape with two PLFI members, after extorting Rs.38,000 from an entrepreneur. “Naveen helped to cultivate the small plot of family land after school hours. Classes have been irregular since the strike began at college. That day, he had gone to meet the family of my grandfather’s brother at Pakri Chaura because we needed a putujhaarh (a grass fence) for the farm, and our relatives’ village has more forested land,” Mukesh says.
“We stood in the police station, crying, screaming for hours till it was dark. The police brought Naveen’s body in an auto. I recognised the blue-white shirt he had worn that morning. As more of our relatives gathered, the police called a bus full of policemen. We were scared that they were going to lathi-charge us, so we went back home,” recalls Naveen’s aunt Anita Sahu, 32.
At 6 a.m. the next day, the family reached the government hospital. Four hours later, the police brought Naveen’s body for an autopsy. His family members recall that they watched the police go in with a magistrate and doctors, but were denied entry. A month later, after they got a copy of the autopsy report, the family approached the Gumla district branch of the State Human Rights Commission, but was discouraged by officials there from pursuing the matter. “The officer asked for Rs.2,000 in bribe,” alleges Anita Sahu, who has trained as an auxiliary midwife nurse at the Gumla government hospital.
In April, a friend in Ranchi, 100 km away, helped the family contact Jharkhand Human Rights Movement general secretary Gladson Dungdung, who wrote to the National Human Rights Commission, demanding an inquiry into the alleged encounter. But the family members are still grappling with questions over Naveen’s killing.
“If my son was an area commander, how come the police have no records of him, no photos, no evidence of his links to the PLFI,” asks Naveen’s mother Bhagvanti Devi. Ajay Kumar, director, Wings IT Computer Centre for Education & Solutions, Gumla, shared records with The Hindu, which show that Naveen got admission to a Diploma of Computer Applications on a 60 per cent scholarship in January and attended five of seven classes the previous week.
The First Information Report registered at the Gumla station notes that at 4.30 p.m. on March 21, the Gumla police and Inspector Digvijay Singh of the Raidih police station chased three PLFI men who were trying to escape southwards of Pakri Chaura on a motorcycle, after collecting Rs. 38,000 from Gumla entrepreneur Manoj Sahu. According to the FIR, one of the three men, PLFI commander Rajesh Tiger, fell after being shot; two others escaped with the money. A pistol and an empty shell were recovered from his side.
“On my way to pick my nephew from his tuition classes, I saw a police jeep by the side of the path out of the village. A motorbike was lying by the road. The police were firing on the sides of a man who ran a few metres, his hand on the right side of his chest, then fell and rolled over in the field. His face was covered, and I realised only later that it was Naveen who was on my uncle’s motorbike. There were no other men with him as claimed by the police,” claims Mahesh (name changed), Naveen’s uncle, who then called Mukesh up to inform him of what he had seen. “The local journalist who reported on this came to meet my family and said he did not see any gun or shell near where Naveen’s body lay. The police put it there,” said Mukesh. The police have not yet recorded the statements of either.
More shockingly, the autopsy report records a firearm injury from a long distance, with an entry wound of 0.5 by 0.5 inch on the chest and an exit wound of 1.5 by 1.5 inch on the back. But Naveen’s family say that while there was a bullet wound on the chest, there was no mark on the back. “The family washed Naveen’s body before we cremated him. There are 100 people who can to testify that there was no mark on the back. Why this lie in the report? Did they remove the bullet to remove evidence and then fabricate this?” asks Anita.
“My suspicion is that this boy was 200 per cent PLFI [man]. If human rights groups interfere with the police work, the PLFI will be never finished from the area,” says Saurav Prasad, one of the three doctors at the government hospital who performed the autopsy.
While the FIR records that Manoj Sahu’s family was being threatened by the PLFI, Mr. Sahu says he received phone calls from Pahadi Cheetah, a splinter group also active in Gumla. “Men who identified themselves as Pahadi Cheetah and who killed my father some years back called my brother Ravi incessantly after March 16, demanding Rs. 1 lakh. We agreed to give Rs.38,000; my older brother sent me to Pakri Chaura with the money, but I did not see the encounter,” he said.
IG CID Anurag Gupta has said the police will inquire into the incident. “From the facts, it seems the boy was a student and did not have any criminal history.”
The PLFI is one of the more than 15 breakaway Maoists groups active in Jharkhand. In March, the Jharkhand police stepped up operations against PLFI leader Dinesh Gop active in Gumla, Simdega and Khunti districts.