Some villagers belonging to the Adivasi Ho community in Jharkhand were allegedly beaten up by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel as per a fact finding report of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha and few other organizations in the state. This incident took place in Chiriabera is a forest-based hamlet (vangram) of Anjerbera revenue village. Chiriabera is six km from Anjerbera and geographically falls in the Goilkera block and is surrounded by forests and hills on all sides. There are about 30 households in the village speaking Ho language and their livelihood dependent on agriculture and forest-based products (such as dry wood, datun, leaf plates etc) as well as rearing livestock. The village has no anganwadi; nearest school is 6 kms away which is accessible only through dense forest; there is no well or tubewell and their source of water is chuan (drinking water pits).
While this incident took place on June 15, it was misreported then as an incident where villagers were attacked by Maoists. It has taken more than a month for the incident to unfold as the fact finding team gathered testimonies of the victims, analysed the violent incident, assessed government response to it, met with the District Collector as well as the Superintendent of Police.
The fact finding team comprised representatives of Adivasi Women’s Network, Adivasi Adhikar Manch, Bagaicha, Bhumi Bachao Samanavay Manch, Kolhan, Human Rights Law Network, JOHAR, Kolhan Adivasi Young Star Unity, Our Land Our Life. The team members were – Anup Aggarwal, Bineet Mundu, Elina Horo, Kamal Purty, Manjit Hasda, Manki Tubid, Mily Birua, P. M. Tony, Praful Linda, Ramesh Jerai, Reyance Samad, Seerat Kachhap, Siraj Dutta.
About the incident
On June 15 about 150-200 CRPF personnel dressed in fatigues and boots, carrying guns, accompanied with big dogs on leash came near Bonj Surin’s hut in Chiriabera. Some 20 villagers were repairing the roof of Surin’s hut at that time and they were asked in Hindi to climb down. The villagers did not know Hindi and hence did not understand the CRPF men but then inferred through hand gestures and got down. They were asked in Hindi about the whereabouts of Naxals. The people responded in Ho that they did not understand Hindi and did not know the whereabouts of Naxals.
The CRPF personnel allegedly started abusing the villagers for their inability to respond in Hindi. They then allegedly brutally beat the 20 people, one by one. The CRPF personnel used wooden sticks, batons, rifle butts and boots to beat the villagers. They even allegedly ransacked Surin’s house; ration supplies were thrown around, important documents such as land documents, land tax receipt were also burnt. About Rs. 35,000 which the family had earned from recently selling some goats, was also found to be missing after the CRPF men left.
The CRPF personnel beat up 20 persons, among which 11 were severely beaten up and 3 of them sustained grievous injuries and had to be taken to a hospital several kilometres away. Many of these victims’ hands were tied while they were being beaten up and were made to lie down on the ground in scorching heat, as per individual testimonies recorded in the fact finding report. When a 53 year old woman intervened and objected to the beatings she was also thrown to the ground and dragged around. The victims of the beatings also include teenage boys and 3 minors.
It is pertinent to note here that the villagers were beaten up in retaliation to not being able to respond and not being able to understand Hindi as spoken by the CRPF men.
When the 3 grievously injured men were taken to Chaibasa Sadar hospital and were receiving treatment, some police/CRPF men in plain clothes visited them and paid them cash and asked them to not press charges against the CRPF men. They also told the victims that as they were poor and would not be able to handle the pressure from the CRPF, they should not file the case.
The government’s response
On June 17, evening, the villagers were called to the Chaibasa Sadar police station and informed that an FIR had been filed. However, they were not given a copy of the FIR. On June 18, the villagers also filed an online FIR.
On June 19, Anjerbera Gram Sabha wrote to the Superintendent of Police, Chaibasa with details of the incident and clearly mentioned that the CRPF personnel were responsible for the violence. On June 19, Mahasabha also put out video testimonies of victims and the initial fact-finding report on Twitter. The Chief Minister, Hemant Soren responded to this tweet and instructed the Deputy Commissioner and police to look into the issue and take “necessary measures as deemed fit”.
The Deputy Commissioner responded to the CM’s tweet and informed that an FIR had been filed and “independent and unbiased” investigation had started.
A copy of the FIR was accessed by the fact finding team and it was found that the FIR obscured many facts and makes no mention of CRPF men being responsible for the violence, instead it mentioned that the villagers were beaten by armed men in battle fatigues.
When the team met with the Superintendent of Police, West Singhbhum, he was told about the incident and about the FIR where facts were hidden. The SP said that he had been informed that the Maoists had tutored the victims about what to say in their testimony. He also shared that a departmental inquiry had been initiated within the CRPF but he did not have the details. He promised that the CRPF personnel responsible for the violence will be held accountable and justice will be ensured to the people.
When the team met with the Deputy Commissioner of Police, he assured the team that the FIR would be rectified with the villagers’ testimonies recorded again. He said that the district administration would ensure full medical checkup and support to all the victims.
Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha has demanded that FIR with proper facts be recorded and action be taken against the local police for not registering the testimony of victims as told to them. They further demand that a judicial inquiry be instituted with its report made public and strict action be taken against CRPF personnel responsible for the violence.
The rest of the demands are as follows:
· All the victims should be adequately compensated for the physical violence, mental harassment and loss of property.
· Jharkhand government should clearly instruct the local administration and security forces to not exploit people, especially Adivasis, in any way. All incidents of human rights violations by the state apparatus should be strictly dealt with. People should not be harassed by security forces under the garb of anti-Naxal operations.
· Local administration and security forces should be taught about Adivasi languages, customs, culture and worldview and the government should ensure their sensitivity towards Adivasis.
The fact finding report may be read here.