Fact-finding team alleges CRPF brutality in Jharkhand village; police defensive

CRPF personnel patrol the Bindagiri Forest of Chaibasa area in Jharkhand's West Singhbhum district on 10 March 2010. Residents of West Singhbhum's Anjedbeda village have alleged that more than a dozen CRPF personnel attacked them on 15 June 2020, according to a fact-finding report.  PTI
Elections 2024
13 July, 2020

On the afternoon of 15 June, at least a dozen personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force attacked more than ten residents of Anjedbeda village in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, according to interviews conducted by social activists from the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of human-rights organisations. Manki Tubid and Kamal Kishore Purty, the social activists, compiled nine of these testimonies in their fact-finding report and shared them with me and other media persons. 

The activists visited the village after Prabhat News, a local Hindi newspaper, published a report on 17 June saying that the villagers had been attacked by “armed Maoists.” To the contrary, the activists mentioned in the fact-finding report, the villagers said that the CRPF had attacked them at random while some of them were fixing khaprail, a type of tile, on the roof of a villager’s hut. While a majority of Anjedbeda’s residents are from the Ho community—listed as a Scheduled Tribe in the census—and mostly communicate in the Ho language, the CRPF personnel insisted the villagers speak in Hindi, the report states.

The social activists also video recorded some testimonies and circulated these online. We showed video testimonies of four locals to a resident of Chaibasa who speaks in the Ho language. The resident, who wished not to be named, confirmed that the locals were describing an attack by the CRPF.

According to the fact-finding activists’ report, at around 12.30 pm that day, the residents of Anjedbeda’s Chidiyabeda settlement were fixing khaprail on the roof of Bauj Surin’s home, when more than a dozen CRPF jawans reached and surrounded the house from all sides. Surin is a village resident. The personnel asked the villagers who were tiling the house to climb down from the roof. As the villagers could not understand what the jawans were saying, it took them a while to understand their gestures and climb down. The villagers were made to sit on the wall of an under-construction house nearby, the report mentions. “There, they were asked where are the Naxals,” the activists wrote in the report. “Due to the language barrier, they were unable to answer. Then, they were separated, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were beaten up.”

Among the villagers who were working on the roof was Sinu Sundi, a 17-year-old, Tubid told me. According to the fact-finding report, Sundi said he had heard a woman say, “Policemen are coming.” He replied, “So, we aren’t doing anything wrong,” and continued to work. The soldiers started yelling at them in Hindi and gesturing for them to come down. “They asked where are the Naxalis,” Sundi told the activists, according to the report. “When we replied we didn’t know, they said speak in Hindi, then I said I didn’t know. They beat me with a moonga stick, which was kept nearby.” The fact-finding report quotes Sundi saying that the personnel called him a Naxal too. “They took off my shirt from my shoulder to see a patch that had become black type from carrying wood, and then the CRPF personnel said, ‘He is a Naxal.’ They made me lie on a wooden slab on my stomach, and beat me up, leaving wounds.”

Tubid told me that a 19-year-old villager named Sidiyu Jojo was explaining to others what the personnel were saying. Jojo, who was also among the men who were fixing the roof, understood Hindi a little and but did not know how to speak in the language. According to the fact-finding report, Jojo said the personnel asked him where they can take water from and he started walking them to the well in the village. “Some people from the force started to hit me from behind, from the rifle butt,” Jojo said to the activists. “I showed them where they could take water. I was then made to sit to on the side, kicked from behind and then I fainted. When I regained consciousness, they made me carry the bottles to the place we were doing the tiling work.” 

The fact-finding report mentioned that Jojo alleged that the personnel tried to coerce him to speak in Hindi. “They were asking us, again and again, to speak in Hindi—they will give Rs 10,000 if I spoke in Hindi and if I don’t, they would send me to jail for four months. They threatened me with a knife. I thought they will kill me right then.” Jojo said the personnel took him to a nearby peepal tree, where some women came to help him and he was let go.

Like Jojo, Dobro Sorin, another man who was fixing the roof, told the activists that the CRPF asked him to speak in Hindi, according to the report. “When I couldn’t, they asked me to lie in the sun and shut my eyes and then they beat me with a stick. After that, we shut our eyes,” he told the activists. The fact-finding report quotes him saying that a few others were given the same instructions. “They kicked one person, Sulup Gop, in the chest as he had opened his eyes a little. He started screaming and then also they didn’t stop. He was made to lay on a stone road and then he started to pass out.”

The CRPF also ransacked Dobro’s home, according to the report. The report quotes his father, Ram Sorin, who said that he was fishing that day. “When I came back, my son was crying and he had wounds on his body,” he said. “Trunks, clothes and bags, everything was broken. Paddy, rice, kesari, small peas were strewn around. In the trunk, I saw that Rs 35,000 … were missing and so were the family’s Aadhaar cards, land documents, tax papers and documents of my children.” 

The personnel also attacked an elderly woman, according to the report. Gonor Tamsoy, an elderly widow, told the activists that she saw the villagers being beaten up and tried to help them. “One person from the force dragged me to the stone road and threw me there. I couldn’t get back up at that time. When I got up, I just stood and saw what they were doing while crying,” she said, before adding that they threw around her ration. “One of them started burning my Aadhaar card and some other documents in the stove.”

The activists wrote in the report that seven villagers were injured and three were in a critical condition. “The next day, the villagers somehow carried the critically injured residents on a charpoy for six kilometres to the main road of the village and then managed to get a vehicle to take them to the Sadar hospital in Chaibasa,” the report said. According to the activists, the residents went to the nearby Muffasil police station where they were told that the village does not fall in their jurisdiction and asked to go to the Goilkera police station instead. 

On 17 June, around five villagers went with Tubid to the hospital to visit those who had been admitted. A group of policemen were already present there when they reached. “The policemen said they will not register a case but will help with the treatment and that they don’t know the attackers,” the activists wrote in the report. According to Tubid, the policemen asked the injured villagers not to file a complaint against the CRPF but against “masked men.” The police then called the villagers to the nearby Sadar police station and said that a first-information report has been registered in the case, but did not hand them a copy of the FIR. Finally, Tubid said, the villagers filed an FIR online. 

I called Rajkumar, the inspector general of police of CRPF for the Jharkhand sector, for a comment about the allegations. “I have no information about this. I cannot talk about this,” he said. We emailed a questionnaire regarding the allegations to the public-relations officer and the director general of the CRPF but did not receive a response. This story will be updated if and when they respond. 

But Indrajit Mahatha, the superintendent of police of Chaibasa—the district headquarters—told me he had the CRPF’s version of events. “When they were crossing the village they saw some activities by Maoists on a pahadi”—hill—“they saw four or five and later found out that there was a dasta”—squad—“of some fifty Maoists. But they did not attack the force since there were many personnel there,” he said. “Their interceptor caught that someone was relaying information to them. This meant that someone from the village was relaying information to the Maoists—they caught this information from their gadgets,” he said. “For this, they started questioning people and two or four villagers started to run and then the allegation of mishandling came up. They found a pamphlet too. They have submitted it to a police station. We have started investigating it.” He said, “It’s possible that there was mishandling and that will be investigated.”

He said the police will be “fair” in its investigation, but seemed defensive of the CRPF. I asked him about the villagers’ allegations that they were beaten up as they were unable to speak in Hindi. “No, it’s not like that,” he replied. “One of the boys over there was speaking in Hindi during the questioning. Then he stopped replying in Hindi and someone must have said that just now he said he can’t speak in Hindi.” When asked about the allegation that the police asked villagers to file a complaint against masked men, Mahtha replied, “I won’t comment on this, sir. This doesn’t happen.”

According to him, the Maoists are hatching a conspiracy against the police. He said they frequent the area and interact with the villagers. He sent me pictures of a pamphlet and poster that, according to him, called for political revenge for the death of two Maoists. He said these were pasted in the village. Mahtha said that the Maoists want the Anjedbeda incident to get traction. “Maoists want this mishandling to be shown as such a big issue that the police gets engaged in a lawsuit and the CRPF thinks ten times before going there because it’s their agenda.” 

Throughout the conversation, Mahtha emphasised that there was also a need to talk about a more significant issue which was lack of development due to Maoism. He said it is important to understand that there is a lot of “propaganda here.” He referred to the videos of testimonies of villagers were doing rounds on social media. “The videos that are doing rounds, in all those videos you can’t see them in the background but they are standing there and getting those videos to be made, this is our input,” he said. “We know the villagers are also helpless as there is always an atmosphere of fear.” He said, “We aren’t accusing villagers at all, of being Naxals, because we know they are victims. We have registered FIR against Maoists.” 

I asked Purty, who had recorded video testimonies that were published online, about the Mahtha’s claim. He laughed. “Were the policemen there when it was recorded? How are they saying that?” he replied. “We asked them to speak without fear. They said everything on their own.”