Maoists resorted to indiscriminate firing at a gathering of villagers killing three and injuring four others in Raitonang village in Jharkhand’s Khunti district accusing them of holding a meeting against them.
Police were unaware of the incident until late night in the village is around 70 km from state capital Ranchi. It came to the fore when villagers brought the injured and the dead to the Khunti Sadar hospital.
The dead have been identified as Deet Munda, 45, Raukan Purti, 62, and Sukhram Munda, 50. The four injured men - Vikram Purti, Paku Purti, Toto Purti and Sinu Munda - were referred to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS).
“The People Liberation Front of India (PLFI) members were behind the entire incident,” Khunti additional superintendent of police (operation) PR Mishra said.
He added that a strong contingent of police force led by Ranchi’s deputy inspector general of police RK Dhan has started a combing operation to nab the extremists in Arki forest in Khunti.
Villagers said they had gathered to discuss the puja post harvesting in the village when over two dozen armed PLFI members came to the spot and asked them the reason for holding the meeting.
Even though the villagers told them the meeting was meant for a puja, the extremists alleged that it was a shanti sabha or a peace meeting against them. They started firing indiscriminately forcing the villagers to run.
More than half a dozen villagers became the target of the extremists’ bullets.
The PLFI members left the spot after the firing.
Over 40 villagers took the bodies to the Khunti Sadar hospital late in the evening.
Villagers in the three tribal-dominated districts of Jharkhand - Ranchi, Khunti and West Singhbhum - have been holding peace meetings urging people not to join left-wing extremist groups. Of the 24 districts in the state, 18 are affected by Maoist violence.
The peace meeting organisers take precautions to protect themselves from the rebel threats and say they will not be cowed down by the left-wing extremists. They say tribals have a tradition of holding mass meetings to solve problems faced by the community.
The left-wing rebels have been putting up posters in Jharkhand’s Khunti and Ranchi districts, asking villagers to hold “jan adalats”, punish people who are organising the peace meetings and urging them to oppose them.
In Jharkhand, as many as 1,691 people have been killed in Maoist violence since 2000. Most of them were poor tribals who were branded as police informers by Maoists and killed. At least 5,316 Maoist-related incidents have been reported between 2000 and 2015.
At least 507 policemen and 784 Maoists have died in encounters between police and left-wing groups since the formation of the state.
There has been a decline in the number of Maoist-related incidents since 2011 and Jharkhand police claim that 2015 has been the best year for it on LWE front in the past 10 years.