The Border Security Force has ordered an internal inquiry into allegations that BSF soldiers in Chhattisgarh's Kanker district tortured villagers into confessing that they were Maoists. The allegations were levelled by Sunita Tulavi, 19, in a story published in The Hindu on September 11.
A resident of Aloor village, Sunita said she was illegally detained, blindfolded and electrocuted in the BSF camp at Durgkondal, Kanker, on September 5 and released four days later.
Villagers of Pachangi and Aloor have also accused the BSF of assaulting at least 40 men, five of whom are still recuperating at the Kanker hospital, and molesting two women, one of whom is a minor.
Promising a thorough inquiry, BSF Director-General Raman Srivastava told The Hindu on the phone that any soldier found guilty of torture would be prosecuted under the BSF Act. “I am not interested in protecting anybody,” Mr. Srivastava said. “The BSF is a disciplined force.”
On September 8 and 10, the Kanker police claimed to have arrested 17 Maoists who, the police claimed, were involved in the August 29 ambush, in which three BSF soldiers and two policemen were killed.
While the police claim the suspects were picked up in two separate raids in the forests of Kanker, villagers told this correspondent that 15 of the 17 alleged Maoists were picked up from their homes at Pachangi and Aloor on September 5 and 6, and their confessions were extracted under torture.
“On Teacher's Day [September 5], I returned home at 3 p.m. to find the BSF taking away my daughters, Sunita and Sarita,” said Punnim Kumar Tulavi, a government school teacher who has taught at Aloor for 13 years. Punnim alleged that a BSF commander told him that the girls had been detained for routine questioning, and would be released. Worried that the interrogation would last into the night, Tulavi went along.
“About 10 of us were taken to the school building at the BSF camp near P.V. 34 and given some tea,” said Tulavi. “Then we were blindfolded, our hands were tied behind our back and we were put into a closed truck.” After a long drive, the truck stopped, and the villagers were pushed out and made to sit on the ground.
“After a while, I heard the sound of beatings and people crying out,” said Punnim. “I thought of my daughters being beaten up and began to cry.” A sympathetic soldier loosened Punnim's blindfold, and that was when he realised that he and his daughters were in the BSF camp at Durgkondal, along with 15 other villagers from Pachangi and Aloor.
During the beatings, soldiers told the villagers to confess that they were Maoists, Punnim alleged.
“Once we reached the camp, it was evening,” said Sunita, Punnim Tulavi's elder daughter. “I was taken to a closed room where three or four uniformed men loosened my blindfold and started questioning me.” Sunita said the soldiers kept saying, “You are a terrorist, you attend Maoist meetings in the jungle and take part in the fighting.”
During the interrogation, Sunita alleged, soldiers wrapped wires around her throat, feet and stomach and administered electric shocks for about 15 minutes. “I started crying and perspiring and felt weak,” she said. After the interrogation ended, she was returned to the tent, but was not allowed to speak to anyone. On September 7, Sunita was moved to the police station next door as she was suffering from malaria.
On September 8, seven of the 17, including six girls aged between 16 and 19, were taken to Kanker town, and formally arrested for being Maoists. One of them was Sarita Tulavi, 16, Sunita's sister. Sunita believes she was spared as she was almost delirious with fever.
On the same day, those remaining in the BSF camp were subjected to electric shocks until they confessed to being Maoists, Punnim said. They were then taken to the police station next door. “The police made the villagers pose with guns they had seized in a prior raid,” Tulavi alleged. “A local reporter took photographs.”
Punnim believes he was spared because he was a government school teacher.
Punnim and Sunita Tulavi were released without any charge on September 9. On September 10, the Kanker police announced the arrest of another 10 Maoists — eight of whom, Punnim alleges, were tortured before his eyes.
Kanker Superintendent of Police Ajay Yadav said the arrests were made in a manner prescribed by the law, and on the basis of specific intelligence inputs.
When asked about the allegations of torture, Mr. Yadav said the police were also conducting an internal inquiry into the events of September 5 and 6.