Markachcho (Koderma), Jan. 22: At least four persons were killed and 11 wounded when police opened fire on a group of around 600 villagers who had laid siege to the police station here this afternoon.
Police said they opened fire when the mob set ablaze the police station at Markachcho, a hamlet around 60 km from Koderma, the district headquarters.
The villagers, however, said the protesters burnt down a part of the police station only after “unprovoked” firing.
Those killed were identified as Savitri Devi, Lalan Barnawal, Ramchandra Yadav and Mahesh Singh. Three of the injured were shifted to Parvati Nursing Home in Jhumri Tilaiya in a critical condition. Among those wounded is a 15-year-old boy.
The police headquarters in Ranchi, however, put the toll at three and said five people were injured.
The villagers, all members or sympathisers of the CPI-ML, had laid siege to the police station, demanding basic facilities, installation of electric transformers and an end to “police excesses” in the region.
Markachcho, a CPI-ML stronghold, has also been in the news for being marauded by wild elephants. A dilapidated road, part of it unmetalled, connects the village with the rest of the state.
Jharkhand director-general of police R.R. Prasad said the government has ordered an inquiry into the incident, to be conducted by the North Chhotanagpur commissioner and the range deputy inspector-general of police.
Prasad claimed the police opened fire in “self-defence” when the mob resorted to brick-batting and torched the police station. “The mob, led by CPI-ML state committee member Raj Kumar Yadav, had assembled since morning. Around 2.30 pm, the crowd turned violent and things went out of hand,” he said. Forty-nine rounds were fired by the police.
A villager said along with Yadav, local CPI-ML heavyweight Charanjit Singh was also leading the protest.
One of the injured, Kishore Singh, told The Telegraph: “We were in a peaceful protest. The police had prior information of the agitation. We were demanding basic facilities. But the policemen opened fire without provocation.”
An assistant sub-inspector of the police station, who did not wish to be identified, said the force panicked and fired. “We had to open fire in self-defence. It is true that before we opened fire, the villagers had not torched the police station. But the protesters did pelt stones. The mob was huge and we panicked.”
The CPI-ML will observe a “black day” throughout Jharkhand tomorrow and has called for a Koderma bandh on Friday. Party legislator Mahendra Prasad Singh said in Ranchi: “The villagers were protesting against police atrocities and their connivance with the local criminals. The demonstrators included women and children. There is no question of attacking the police because the agitation had already been announced earlier. A police officer ordered the constables standing on the roof of the police station to open fire on the villagers.”
CPI-ML central committee member Ibnul Hasan Basru and the party’s state secretary, Subhendu Sen, will visit the spot tomorrow.
“The police, which gets cold feet when confronted by Naxalites, finds it convenient to murder innocent villagers in cold blood. Jharkhand now has a dozen incidents of police opening fire on villagers, while there have been over a 100 cases where the police have run away when facing Naxalites,” Singh said.