March 16: Bullet marks on those gunned down in Nandigram suggest police “lost their head” and shot to kill, flouting guidelines for controlling and dispersing mobs, senior officials conceded today.
All the 14 confirmed killed had been shot either in the chest or in the stomach, and a woman was hit in the back, a list compiled by The Telegraph shows (see chart below).
The seven unidentified bodies are that of six men and a woman, aged between 20 and 30 — all with bullet injuries in the stomach or in the chest.
A preliminary probe carried out by the state police has shown that between 400 and 500 rounds were fired to disperse a group of around 2,000 people assembled at the Bhangabera bridge on Wednesday morning.
The cold statistic translates into one bullet for every four persons, an “astronomical figure”, according to veteran officers.
“The police guidelines clearly state the purpose of firing is to disperse the crowd and not to kill,” a senior police official said. “The term that we use is ‘controlled firing’ — to deter and disperse the crowd.”
Quoting from the manual, an official said the police can open fire only if baton-charge fails and non-lethal options like tear gas shells and rubber bullets are exhausted.
“The guidelines state that you have to hit one person in the leg if the situation becomes violent and then watch to see if the crowd is deterred,” an official said. “If the situation still does not improve, some more people should be shot at, but always in the leg where the possibility of death is minimal.”
All the 10 bullet-hit patients admitted to Calcutta’s SSKM hospital have been struck above the waist. Many of the 23 patients with bullet injuries in the Tamluk and Nandigram hospitals have also been hit above the waist.
Even the non-lethal options were not used as they should have been. Allowing modern tools of crowd management to idle, the police lobbed metal-cased tear gas shells.
Such shells, with a limited range of less than 100 metres, force the police to go closer to the crowd — a recipe for snapping taut nerves and triggering panic reactions on both sides. Besides, the flaming-hot shells themselves can cause grievous injuries if they make body contact, unlike smoke grenades whose plastic canisters melt during explosion.
Bhumi Jana, the husband of Supriya who was shot in the back, said: “My wife was not trying to harm the police, she was simply trying to run away in fear and they shot her in the back, the bullet pierced her heart and she died.”
The officers The Telegraph spoke to said “something must have gone wrong” for the police to have fired with “such vengeance”. “It all seemed pretty indiscriminate,” said a senior official. “It seems that the leadership must have lost control over their men who shot deliberately to kill.”
Sheikh Raja’s brother-in-law Shamsher Khan, too, believes that the 18-year-old, who was to have appeared for the Higher Secondary exams in a few days, had been deliberately killed by a “police gone mad”.