The villagers of Panchangi and Aalor of Kanker district in Chhattisgarh are a terrified lot. On 5-6 September, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel allegedly ransacked the villages, thrashed the people and subjected them to electric shocks. The district magistrate and the BSF have ordered inquiries to ascertain the truth.
The villagers say this was in retaliation for the incident on 28 August, when Naxalites ambushed a BSF and District Force raiding party and killed five security personnel in the nearby Bhuski village. After the ambush, when the BSF jawans were unable to arrest Naxals responsible for the attack, they vent their anger on helpless villagers.
TEHELKA's inquiries revealed that five villagers were beaten so brutally that they were admitted to the district hospital of Kanker in a critical condition. But when the incident came to light, they were discharged immediately, with no mention of their condition in their discharge report.
During the TEHELKA team's visit to Aalor, women started crying while narrating their ordeal. Sunita said she was lucky that the BSF jawan left her after torturing her for almost 10 hours. But her father Punem Kumar Telami and sister Sarita weren't lucky. They have been branded Naxals and are in police custody.
According to Sunita, on 5 September, BSF men surrounded the village. They searched her house and threw out all the belongings. Her father was not at home at that time. The BSF men asked both the sisters and their mother to accompany them to a camp because a senior officer wanted to question them.
When Sunita's father reached the camp, he was detained and her mother was allowed to go. Later in the evening, both the sisters were taken to a camp located in Durg Kondal where Sunita was asked whether she had attended any Naxal meeting. When she denied having done so, angry BSF officers asked his men to give her electric shocks. She immediately admitted to having attended two meetings called by Naxals. She was later released but her sister had no such luck.
Meanwhile, Sunita's uncle Suklu was put in jail for trying to rescue his nieces. Others, including, Ramnath Duga and Amrita, were assaulted and arrested by the jawans and later branded Naxals.
Worse was to follow. On 6 September, BSF jawans raided Panchangi village and, according to the villagers, crossed all limits of decency. Viddey Ram, a victim of BSF brutality, is unable to stand on his feet, while his sister Mangtey has been sent to a juvenile home.
According to villagers, they were asked to assemble at the anganwadi centre and then one by one they were taken to the nearby hill where they were thrashed and asked where they had kept their SLRs (self-loading rifles). When the sarpanch of the village tried to intervene, he was threatened by the jawans.
Dhanso's brother Narsingh is still not able to walk on his own. Narsingh had married recently and all his household items were destroyed by the BSF jawans.
Villagers also allege that while the menfolk were being beaten in the hills, some BSF jawans tried to outrage the modesty of the girls. The family of Laluram Koram alleges that a BSF jawan tried to rape his minor girl child. But the presence of several villagers outside his house forced the jawan to beat a hasty retreat.
Another girl, Urmila, whom TEHELKA was not able to meet, has testified before the Scheduled Tribes (ST) Commission that BSF jawans tried to outrage her modesty as well.
THE BSF has arrested several persons from these villages, including six minors, who were sent to a juvenile detention centre. When this brutal incident came to light, the state ST Commission constituted an inquiry. But when the chairperson, Devlal Dugga, went to Durg Kondal for the public hearing, villagers were not allowed to attend the meeting on the plea that heavy firing was going on in a BSF camp near Gumdidih jungle.
Dugga confirmed that villagers were stopped from reaching Durg Kondal. He also said that as soon as he came to know about it, he ordered policemen to bring all the villagers before him.
He has also asked for the version of those people who are in police custody. After hearing both sides, the commission will submit its report to the government.
Kanker Collector Nirmal Khakha has ordered a criminal probe into the incident and the BSF, on its part, has also set up a court of inquiry. However, the securitymen remain defiant. "Allegations have been levelled at the jawans. They are yet to be verified," says BSF DIG Ram Avtar.
Meanwhile, Kanker SP Ajay Yadav is dismissive of the incident. He claims that all these accusations were made under pressure from the Naxalites and the real picture will emerge soon.
But until the real culprits are identified and punished, the villagers will continue to live in fear of the uniform.
(Tehelka, 17th September)