Orissa: Their Crime Was They Were Boys
Posted by Admin on April 10, 2010
Close to a village where police shot Adivasis dead last November, 13 minors have been jailed for ‘waging war against the State’. BRIJESH PANDEY reports from Koraput district of Orissa. Photographs by ANSHIKA VARMA
|Police did not disclose that six people mentioned in the FIR as adults were minors, one of them just 13 years old|
MY SON Narsingh is only 15. Yet he was mercilessly beaten and arrested by the police. Police are calling him a Naxal and a threat to the State. Are the police so weak that a young boy has become a threat to them?” asks a distraught Morapa Wano. Narsingh is one of six minors in Orissa’s Naxalite-infested Koraput district, almost astride the border with Andhra Pradesh, who have been charged under Sections 121 and 121A (waging war against the State) of the Indian Penal Code.
A TEHELKA team travelled nearly 100 km by motorcycle from Koraput town to reach Jangdivalsa village, where children as young as 13 have been arrested, to find out the truth and make sense of the events. The first 60 km of the journey feels as if one is heading for a vacation —the beautiful hills and scenic surroundings make it a most unlikely war zone. The tryst with nature comes to a rude jolt 5 km ahead of Narayanpatna where a company of CRPF, sitting on both sides of the road, armed with machine guns and mortars, stares you in your face. Our guide instructs us not to look them in the eye unless we wish to invite trouble. A further 3 km up the hill and we come across one more company of CRPF, armed with heavy weaponry, inspecting the nooks and corners of the hills and keeping a close vigil on those entering the area.
|My son is being called a Naxal. Are the police so weak that a young boy has become a threat to the State?’
MORAPA WANO, Mother of Narsingh, 15
Narayanpatna is where the Indian Reserve Battalion, a paramilitary force stationed at the local police station, opened fire on 150 Adivasis protesting in front of the station on November 20 last year. Two Adivasis — members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) which has been fighting for the Adivasis’ right over land — died in the firing and 60 villagers were injured. The Adivasis were part of a 150-strong group protesting against excesses committed by police and paramilitary forces which entered their villages during search and combing operations.
Police claimed the tribals had laid siege to the police station and fired at them, prompting retaliatory fire. Eight days later, it punished the villagers of Jangdivalsa for being supporters of the CMAS. Police descended on the village around 7 am on November 28, 2009, surrounding it from all sides. The men were beaten brutally. Even women and children were not spared. The mayhem continued till noon.
|BRANDED NAXALS AND JAILED
The 13 teenagers charged with ‘waging war against the State’ and attempt to murder
TEHELKA, which visited Narayanpatna last November to unearth the truth, was back in Orissa a few days ago to investigate how much the Jangdivalsa juvenile arrests owe to the November firings. Villagers there told our team that police refused to believe that they had nothing to do with the Narayanpatna protest. “They just dragged us out of our house and we were beaten mercilessly. We thought they would spare our children but they showed no mercy,” said Vishwanath, among a handful who were fortunate enough to not be in the village at the time of the police crackdown.
Bala, 11, was another of the fortunate few, away grazing cattle at the time of the attack. When he returned, he saw his father writhing in pain in their hut. Speaking in the local Kondhi dialect, translated into broken Hindi to us by a villager, Bala says: “My father was very worried about my elder brother Penta . He feared that those whom police had taken away would be killed and branded as Naxals. He heaved a sigh of relief when he came to know that they were not killed but taken to jail.”
|Lucky survivor Bala, 11, was away grazing cattle when police struck. His brother Penta, 15, was not so lucky.|
|Lucky survivor Jurko Wadeka was roughed up by the police and her husband and sons arrested|
|Brutalised Setaiyah was pushed around by police when they came to arrest her son, Kadurka Bheema, 15|
Police claimed they had arrested 15 people, including local civil rights activists Tapan Mishra and Padmanava Sahu, from the area. All 15 were charged with waging war against the nation and possession of explosives. What was not disclosed was that six people mentioned in the FIR as adults were minors, including a child as young as 13.
At Podapadar village nearby, the situation was not much different. Here too, juveniles were taken into custody, shown as adults and charged with serious offences. Jurko Wadeka, a villager, says: “My husband and two sons were beaten up and then forcibly taken to jail. When we protested, the police also roughed us up. I just hope that this ordeal ends quickly for us.”
MOST OF the villagers we spoke to requested us not to publish their names. They say that with ‘Operation Green Hunt’ having been launched on April 1, they are at risk. Clearly, the fear of a police backlash is very strong. The police version, as expected, is rather different. The FIR filed in the case says the police “received credible information that some members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), armed with firearms, explosives and other weapons would assemble at Jangdivalsa [on November 28] and finalise a plan to attack the police station to snatch arms and ammunition. Acting on this information, a police party along with the Special Operations Group and Cobra forces proceeded to Jangdivalsa village and surrounded it.” The FIR goes on to add that police spotted a group of armed men that had “congregated on the northern side of the forest”. Some of them managed to escape on seeing the police but “we were able to nab 15 activists and recovered a lot of firearms and detonators and one bow and arrow”, the FIR says. On interrogation, the men “told us that they were planning to destroy a bridge and damage a mobile phone tower in the locality. We arrested them and produced them in the court”, it adds.
Among those arrested was Puala Bheema, 13. He was charged with the same offences as the rest, but was lucky enough to be sent off to the juvenile centre in Behrampur. The other five juveniles were not so fortunate — they were bundled off to the district jail in complete violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, which states that children cannot be imprisoned with adults and hardened criminals.
V Balakrishna, a lawyer representing the juveniles in court, says: “They [police] killed two tribals in Narayanpatna when they demanded their rights [to land] and protested police highhandedness and now they are terrorising these villagers to ensure they desist from making such demands in the future. What they are not realising is that they are literally pushing them into the hands of Naxals.”
|‘What about our police stations being blown to bits and arms looted by Naxals?’ fumes the Koraput SP|
Interestingly, police no longer insist that all those arrested were adults. TEHELKA has in its possession schoolleaving certificates of two of the accused, proving that they are juveniles. When asked about juveniles being arrested and being charged with offences like waging war, the Koraput SP, Amit Sahu, shot back angrily: “What about us? What about the fact that our police stations are blown to bits and arms looted by these people? Don’t we have some rights?” Regaining his composure, Sahu added: “We are screening such cases and will forward a list to the court of individuals which we think are juvenile.” Asked if the officers who violated the Juvenile Act would be pulled up, he replied: “No comments.”
Rajendra Prasada Sahu, the public prosecutor at Jeypore court in Koraput, is more candid. He admitted that there were 14-15 juveniles in jail right now and district authorities are trying to resolve the matter. “On March 23, 2010, there was a meeting of senior officers in the circuit house at Koraput, including the Collector, SP and District Judge. We had a discussion about these juveniles. Even the SP expressed unhappiness about the manner of their arrest. The accused are in the age group 15-16. We also went to the jail to meet them. We are trying to find a solution.” But even he steered clear of the alleged violation of the Juvenile Act. However, the court staff, on condition of anonymity, told TEHELKA that even basic arrest procedures had not been followed. After the case was brought before the court, not a single statement had been recorded from the 15 accused.
Balakrishna does not think the errant police officers will be punished. “It is doubtful that police will act against its own brethren. What is bothering me most is the fact that those poor juveniles who don’t even know Oriya have to put up with hardened criminals. How they must be fending for themselves is beyond comprehension.” The lawyer hopes that since the matter is now in the public domain, authorities might act fast and try to undo the injustice meted out to the juveniles.
Two days after the TEHELKA team left Koraput, a landmine was set off in Govindpalli in the neighbouring Malkangari district, killing nine Special Operations Group personnel. Considering that police intensified random arrests after Maoists triggered a blast in Koraput — to halt combing operations following the November 20 firing — the latest blast could trigger a fresh round of hostilities. The war continues.