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Collateral damage of battle for turf in Red corridor

- Toll mounts across Bihar and Jharkhand amid charges of ‘fake encounters’ & ‘unnecessary killings’

The battle for domination has already claimed hundreds of lives. Jharkhand police spokesperson S.N. Pradhan said that in the first 10 months of 2012 alone, 23 jawans of the joint forces and 33 Maoists, including rival groups, had been killed along with 96 civilians as government forces and the rebels clashed in their fight to reclaim or hold on to turf.

The police and the CRPF toll has since gone up after clashes in Giridih and Latehar of Jharkhand.

In Gaya, nine CRPF jawans were killed in the first 10 months of last year, while the Maoists lost four activists, though Bihar police officer N.H. Khan, DIG (Magadh range), said more rebels fell to bullets fired by security forces.

“The exact number is difficult to ascertain since the Maoists often do not leave behind their dead,” the officer said.

In 2011, the dead numbered 222 — 32 jawans, 59 Maoists and 131 civilians.

How deadly the conflict has been can be gauged from a report by the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement, a Ranchi-based Gandhian organisation that has compiled police and other records.

According to the organisation, security forces killed 916 extremists, mostly Maoists, between 2000 and 2011 in Jharkhand, while 557 people were killed in alleged fake encounters.

On the other hand, 399 policemen, 300 special police officers, or government-appointed anti-Maoist vigilantes, and 395 civilians were killed by the rebels, mostly Maoists. The report also mentioned that since the creation of Jharkhand in 2000, 4,372 people had been arrested as suspected Maoists. Of them, 315 are hardcore rebels on whom the government had announced cash awards. The remaining 4,057 have no record of any criminal offence. Even the police have been unable to establish their involvement with Maoists.

An earlier Jharkhand police affidavit submitted in the high court in Ranchi in response to a PIL by Sashibhusan Pathak, secretary of the state unit of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, had put the casualty figure for security forces at 310 and the civilian toll at 854 between 2002 and 2008.

‘Unavoidable’ killings

Both sides claimed they had hit back only in self-defence. Maoist leaders justified the killings of security personnel as an “unavoidable part” of their “resistance against state repression” while complaining about extra-judicial killings, torture and implications in false cases.

“We don’t want to kill the common jawans and want them to emulate the example of Mangal Pandey. The blasts would not have taken place if they had not ignored our caution and ventured into our zone,” Prasant alias Manas, spokesperson for the CPI (Maoist)’s Bihar-Jharkhand-north Chhattisgarh regional committee, said, referring to the hero of India’s first war of independence.

Manas said governments have “imposed a war on us to destroy the peoples’ resistance against the plunder of natural resources in Jharkhand and elsewhere”. “They have unleashed thousands of paramilitary forces on us and pressed army helicopters into action to ferry troops and heavy weapons. Fake encounter killings, tortures, illegal detentions and false cases have become widespread,” he said.

While admitting killings of alleged police informers among villagers, sometimes on mere suspicion, the Maoist leader tried to be politically correct by conceding “mistakes”.

“We killed informers after they did not heed our warnings. But it’s not that we did not commit mistakes in our judgements,” he said, though he blamed “mounting paramilitary attacks” for such mistaken killings.

Not magicians

Police officials denied widespread atrocities but admitted some “excesses”. “I must admit there were some excesses by forces in the heat of anti-extremist operations, particularly when jawans were killed and injured,” Jharkhand police spokesman Pradhan said.

Pradhan, who is also IG (law and order), said 16,000 central paramilitary forces, in addition to 25,000 state forces, have been engaged in flushing out the rebels and indicated that some “excesses” were unavoidable with such massive mobilisations.

“Not all Maoists live in the jungles. Many were arrested from villages where people supported the Maoists or their rivals. Our forces are not magicians. Making a distinction between innocent villagers and fugitives is difficult during operations.”

But he insisted no “excess was condoned” and that three such cases were being investigated.

Larger goal

Khan, the DIG (Magadh range), said a probe into the “controversial killings” of two Chakarbandha villagers in Gaya in June 2012 was still pending. But no case has been filed against the CRPF “as there is no complaint against the force”, he added.

Khan said investigations into complaints of fake encounters and custodial deaths had been left to higher authorities in the state police directorate and the CID.

The officer, however, said he had found some substance in complaints of false implication of innocent people in Maoist-related cases.

According to him, as many as 40 villagers were cleared of charges against them in connection with Maoist violence, mostly at Dumaria and Barachhetti in Gaya. “In my own probes, I found charges against the accused were not substantiated by convincing evidence and relieved them,” Khan said.

According to Bihar police insiders, an SDPO close to an influential leader from the ruling Janata Dal (United) in Gaya was instrumental in filing most of these false cases implicating opposition RJD leaders and others believed to have cordial relations with Maoists.

“The SDPO cited incidents that had not taken place at all. His supervisory note on the cases was found perfunctory. Khan has recommended removal and punishment of that SPDO,” another official said.

In the battle to win the hearts of ordinary villagers, the DIG said he has been trying his “best to sensitise” both the paramilitary CRPF and the state police.

“We have to instil confidence in the minds of the people about our intentions. No one who is innocent should be punished,” he said. “I know the ground reality is complex and there are vested interests to mislead us. Still, the forces have to take care of our larger goal.”