Jharkhand: BJP government uses police to terrorise Khunti villagers
The local police in Khunti routinely pick up young men in middle of the night, lock them up in the police station, intimidate them, some are beaten up, made to sign few statements and then released
Intimidation and persecution of villagers by the BJP government have become the norm in Khunti, Jharkhand, which was one of the districts where in several hamlets stone plaques, known as Pathalgadi, had come up at the entry points last year.
The local police in these parts routinely pick up young men in the middle of the night, lock them up in the police station, intimidate them, some are beaten up, made to sign few statements and then released.
On April 27, four young men were picked up from Dadagama village and one person from the neighbouring Chandidi in Khunti at 11 pm and none of them was told why. The five men, Basingh Hasa, Seemusingh Hasa, Bahadur Singh Munda, Phagu Munda and Rughu Munda had no inkling as to why they were woken up from their sleep. Three of them were taken in one jeep, and two (Phagu Munda and Rughu Munda) were taken in another vehicle.
Once they were all locked up in the police station, they began to question why they were picked up. “The police officers were evasive. They kept saying that the ‘big boss’ would come and inform them in the morning. However, in the course of the night, it became evident that three of us were picked up because the police said they had information that we were asking people to not vote. And the other two were picked up in relation to a murder case,” says Basingh Hasa, the eldest of them.
“The police told us that they had information that we were asking people to not vote. Why would we do that and how can we do that. We vote en masse and the decision on who to vote for is taken after a village council meeting where everyone participates. The village council is set to meet; most likely we will meet on May 3 or May 4. The police is simply intimidating us because we are known to support Guruji. Three of us were released on April 28 but two were released only on April 29,” explains Basingh. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren is fondly called Guruji by his supporters.
Rughu Munda, who was picked up on suspicion of murder was reluctant to speak and even more reluctant to be videographed speaking. “All of this is because of the pathalgadi movement. The neighbouring Ghagra village was involved in Pathalgadi, but we didn’t put a plaque because several of them were picked up. We were afraid. We thought we would do it two weeks after they had, but the fear of the police and the state made us think otherwise,” says a worried Rughu.
“I was taken along with the others, but Phagu and I were locked up separately. The others were only slapped a couple of times, but the two of us were beaten up badly. They kept asking us about the murder which had occurred in a nearby locality. We don’t know much about it. They wanted us to say something about it, but how can we when we don’t know anything. They kept us on April 28 night also at the station and released us only on April 29 morning. We had to the Gagra hospital as the pain was unbearable,” emphasises Rughu.
Rughu surmises that they were left because the police have no information and they were hoping to falsely implicate them in the murder case. “I have not done anything, and I don’t even know how that murder happened. So, how can they lock me up. If they had any information, do you think they would have left us,” observes Rughu
“To ensure that the police are free of blame. They made us sign on a paper which states that we were asked to come to the police station on April 28 morning, we were questioned in relation to the ‘vote behishkar’ matter and were left alone. The other two were asked to sign a paper which stated that they were questioned on the murder and released soon after,” narrated Basingh.
The police had the usual stock responses. “I don’t know what you are talking about and who you have spoken to. We did not pick up anyone at night. They were asked to come to the police station in the morning. None of them we asked about any voting issue. All five of them were picked up in relation to the murder case. We have proof that all five of them were involved. If you want more information the SP will give you. They are all under suspicion in the murder case. We can’t say why they were taken,” insisted Aditya Toppo, SHO of Khunti Station.
When he was informed that the villagers have been stating otherwise and that they said they were picked up in the middle of the night and that two of them were beaten up, Toppo said, “I don’t know who you spoke to and what information you have. No one was kept in the station at night. We can’t give proof of their involvement. We are the police.”
Election in Khunti constituency is slated for May 6. Here Kali Charan Munda of Congress is set to take on Arjun Munda of BJP. While the BJP seems to have an edge, there are several villagers who want to see the BJP gone. “We live in fear of being picked up every time we say anything. This is our land and the BJP government has been attempting to tweak the laws related to our lands. Mahagatbandhan must win,” says Basingh.
Khunti, the birthplace of the tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda, is also where the pathalgadi movement is the strongest. Kochang in the district is where the biggest Pathalgadi ceremony was held on February 25, 2018.