BIJAPUR (Chhattisgarh): A 15-year-old boy who sold vegetables in Awapalli, a small town of Bastar, was killed by a CRPF patrol party late night on June 3 this year. “He was a member of the Naxal Sangam and was planting a bomb when he was killed,” says V P Chauhan, the officer in charge of Awapalli police station.
But two facts make closure difficult for Unga Ooyam, the boy’s father. One, the policemen who killed his son, Lalu, knew him well. “Wo mere bete se hi to nimbu khareedte thhey (they used to buy lemons from my son). Worse, once they killed him, they called Lalu a Naxal. My son was a devout follower of the Shivananda Ashram at Gumargunda. How can a spiritual boy be a violent Naxal?”
Bastar is witnessing both a violent conflict between Maoists and security forces, and a parallel clash between human rights groups and the state. Human rights activists have accused the security forces of killing innocent people in the conflict. The police, in turn, allege the activists are running a campaign on behalf of Maoists to besmirch their reputation.
But Lalu’s case is free of this politics. It was not an activist, but many of town’s residents who walked up to this correspondent in the muddied rain swept market of Awapalli, sharing their torment over Lalu’s killing, vouching for his innocence.
Ahead on the street, at the camp that houses both the police station and the C company of CRPF’s 168 Battalion, records state that the boy killed in the CRPF operation on June 3, 2010, was a Naxal Sangam member.
The sequence leading to his killing is detailed: A bus carrying supplies for a CRPF camp was intercepted and looted by Maoists near the village of Murdunda. A party headed by CRPF inspector Kalyan Singh went out to comb the area at night. Maoists fired at it.
As the CRPF returned fire, the policemen saw a figure running away. They shot at it. Once the firing ended, the party recovered the body of the boy and an IED weighing 10 kgs, says Chauhan, police station in charge.
Unga says his son was sleeping in Murdunda village that night, as a stopover on way to their native village Tekmetla. Lalu wanted to relieve himself and asked his cousin to accompany him to the fields, but when his cousin refused, he stepped out alone.
“Next morning, as the townspeople saw his corpse being carried into the police station, they alerted me. I walked in and saw it was indeed my son lying dead. The police said, `Aapka beta Naxali mutbhed mein maraa gaaya (your son was killed in a Naxal encounter)’.” It came as a shock to Unga when he found out the police had labelled Lalu a Maoist.
“If this is indeed true, it reflects the complete demoralisation and loss of integrity of the police in Chhattisgarh,” says Ajai Sahni, executive director, Institute of Conflict Management.
“It’s likely the boy was a Sangam member. Why else would he be found at the site with explosives?” said Avinash Mohanty, SP of Bijapur. “But the case is still under investigation.” Privately, CRPF officers concede they are operating under extreme stress in Bastar, and “mistakes” could take place.
But security experts say it is wiser for the counter-insurgency forces to own up to accidental civilian killings as “regrettable deaths”, since a move to conceal or distort the truth further alienates the people. Toi