Jharkhand – Fact finding report on atrocities committed by CRPF and police in Saranda

September 17, 2011

[The following is a brief fact-finding report done by a group of journalists and human rights activists on the atrocities done by the police on the Adivasi people in Saranda forests, West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, during August 2011.-Ed]

SARANDA: In a bid to liberate Saranda forest from the control of Maoists, a joint operation was initiated by the CRPF and the Jharkhand police on August 1. They returned recently with two villagers dead, three in death bed, several houses destroyed and granaries incinerated, the victims and eyewitness told The Hindu.

Saranda, a dense sal forest which covers an area of 820 kilometers and situated in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. It has been reported that the forest was under the influence of the banned CPI (Maoists) since 2000. Saranda was a training as well as the hiding ground for the ultras.

Forces entered Thalkobad village, which is on the top of the hill at a height of 1,800ft, on August 1 in search of Maoists and police claimed that they have liberated the village from the ultras. On visiting the area, this correspondent came to know the real situation,which has left hundreds homeless and brutalised. Thalkobad which is 280 km from the State capital can be reached by Karampada Road. It is 40 km down the hilltop with no blacktop roads. The only way to reach the place is by traveling through red muddy road of the dense Saranda forest.

Earlier the village had a population of 65 families but after the operation only 5 people stay there and The Hindu met few villagers who had returned to the village to take some of their belongings after one month. The force stayed in the area for a month so the villagers were forced to stay away from their homes.

Describing her experience, Binodini Devi said: “The force arrived at 8 in the morning and surrounded the village. They fired a few shots in the air and we ran into the forests. No one stay here anymore, we came here after one month just to take some of our belongings.”

“Police destroyed all our foodgrains and houses. We never helped any Maoists and even we didn’t provide them any kind of support, but police never listened to poor people like us,” she added.

When police entered the village, they first destroyed the school building and went in search for the teacher but as they failed they started beating Judida Honhanga (65) who can’t move now and in death bed due to injuries, said Judida Honhanga.

“Police asked for my son who teaches in the village school as I failed to provide them any information they started hitting me. They took all our identity cards, land papers, Ration card and MNEGRA card as well.The CRPF swept through the village, destroyed the straw roofs, stayed in our homes and forced us to move away . They burnt our clothes, valuables, money and killed our cattle. My wife is very ill so she can’t move,” he added.

Honhanga couple are lying helplessly on their bed and are critically ill. During the month long operation they didn’t get any medical aid. According to an official in National Rural Health Mission, the nearest primary health center is 42 kilometers away and as the Tholkobad has no roads an ambulance can’t reach them.

Most schools have been shut down or blown up during the operation. Villagers survive on subsistence farming and public distribution system which no longer has any existence in the place as their ration cards were taken by the police. Police sources say they found neither arms factories nor Maoists at Thalkobad.

The situation is similar in Tirilposi village as well. Mangal Honhanga and Soma Guria, were killed by security forces at point blank range during the operation. On August 2nd, total of 16 villagers of Tirilposi village were randomly picked up by the police for Maoists links and made them act as their courier to carry explosives found in the jungle, said eyewitness to The Hindu.

Mangal started running in fear of the explosives but police fired at him. After the death of Mangal his body was sent for postmortem and was handed over to his family members on the next day.

“Police came to my house at the middle of the night and searched for me as I was away for work they said I was spying for the Maoists and molested my wife,” said Kujuri Jaita Ram.

Gladson Dungdung, member of the assessment and monitoring authority of the Planning Commission, raised their voice under the banner of the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM). Dungdung said: “The security force have violated the Human Right Act by killing innocent people. The Operation is just a eye wash for the media and the common people, Government is trying to make way for the multinational companies to start mining in that area. To start mining companies are required to follow the standards of environmental policy by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and a written declaration that there is no violation of the Forests Rights Act. For this reason they have taken land documents and identity cards of the villagers. If that’s not the reason then why force will take land documents and destroys houses?”

In 2006, the Arjun Munda Government signed Mous with several multinational companies and according to the list Electro Steel, a Chinese company, had been allotted land near Tholkobad to set up its mining reserves and export raw iron ore through the Sahebganj-Barhet road and the north-eastern corridor to China.

Mr. GS Rath Director General of Police said he will look into the matter and will have a CID investigation to find out if the security forces violated any human rights in their month long operation.