The CRPF claimed a spectacular breakthrough in June, 2012 in its campaign against Maoists in Chhattisgarh. A CRPF contingent, it claimed, had killed 22 Maoists when they were plotting an armed action.
The claim led to the CRPF top brass and ministers, clearly misled by the CRPF, congratulating the force. So convinced were they with the official CRPF version that neither the BJP Government in Chhattisgarh nor the UPA Government at the Centre were ready to order an enquiry lest it demoralised the force.
But right from the day after the encounter, there was overwhelming evidence that it was one operation that had gone horribly wrong. A newspaper headline had summed up the growing public scepticism—‘Top Naxals are two 15-yr-old toppers’.
Two of the killed, Nagesh and Ramvilas, were among the three students selected by their school to visit Visakhapatnam in January, 2012. There, they got their first glimpse of the sea and ships, inspiring the awed duo to dream of becoming mariners. India’s “biggest Maoist encounter” brought that dream to a brutal end.
Twenty-year-old Sarita, the first woman from the village to pursue a professional course in BSc (Nursing) in Jagdalpur, 220 km away, lost her brother, Kaka Samaiya, in the encounter.
“First they kill us,” she said, “then they tell us we are Naxals. Search the entire village and see if you can find even a single weapon. Can’t they at least say sorry?”
A class 10 student Kaka Sarika told the BBC, that when the CRPF men surrounded them and started firing, she had tried to escape. She told Salman Ravi of the BBC that one of the jawans pinned her to the ground to protect her from the bullets flying overhead. But another jawan, she alleges, tried to misbehave with her. There were several young men and teens, she recalls, who lay writhing on the ground while jawans hurled obscenities at them and grilled them for information.
Yashwant Dhote, writing in Outlook magazine, reported, “What does appear plausible is that the CRPF company made a genuine mistake at Sakerguda. It had information of a Maoist meeting and once it came across a congregation, it used its overwhelming firepower to shoot its way through. But admitting mistakes is not in the DNA of our security forces or the government. And when it involves the lives of some poor and innocent tribals, why bother?”
The then CRPF director-general K. Vijay Kumar was terse in dismissing allegations that innocent villagers could have been killed. The CRPF, he told an interviewer, was not “a rag-tag and irresponsible militia”. Bullets, he philosophised, were blind and did not discriminate on grounds of gender or age.
Moreover, it was a dark night, he claimed, and the CRPF contingent, led by a DIG, was merely following the Standard Operating Pprocedure in firing to kill when they came under fire, he had said.
But then it was not a dark night. It was actually a moonlit night on June 28, showed the Almanac. The villagers had gathered in the open, as they would often do in summer months, and were discussing preparations for an impending festival.
Even the one judge enquiry commission, which found no evidence to back up the CRPF claim, however, felt that the villagers’ claim was not convincing. It shows ignorance of the tribal ways of life and how villagers live in Bastar.
Even as the report is laid in the Chhattisgarh Assembly and demands surface for suitable action against the guilty and suitable compensation for the victims, the following discrepancies were glaring and had been reported widely in the media even in 2012.
1. CRPF claim: The encounter took place past midnight.
Counterclaim: Villagers ask why the fit CRPF men required three hours or more to cover three Kilometres if they had set out at 9 pm. Some of the villagers were killed at 6 am, they said.
2. CRPF claim: Maoists, who had managed to escape after firing at troops, were holding the midnight meeting
Counterclaim: Villagers claimed they were finalising details of an impending festival and that they were ambushed in the early hours of the morning.
3. CRPF claim: It was a dark night; it was difficult to see
Counterclaim: June 28 was a moonlit night, according to the almanac. The CRPF forces were also armed with night vision binoculars.
4. CRPF claim: Seven of the dead were Maoists
Counterclaim: As many as 22 people were killed that night, 18 of them at Sakerguda. The rest were killed in two other encounters elsewhere in the district. Officials claim seven of them had ‘police or criminal records’. The majority, by implication, were innocent. Villagers said all were innocent, lived in the village and had BPL ration cards and voter ID cards.
5. CRPF claim: Six CRPF jawans were also injured.
Counterclaim: Two of the jawans were injured when they slipped and fell to the ground. Two others were wounded by pellets. The remaining two sustained bullet injuries. Villagers claimed they were shot by troops which had surrounded the villagers.