Three Madhya Pradesh policemen, who the government said were injured in a controversial encounter with a group of Islamist radicals, appear to have gone missing.
Repeated attempts to trace them ran into a police wall or angry and anxious family members.
An HT investigation, however, found that none of them were seriously injured and one of them has been attending office without a break since the encounter on the outskirts of Bhopal on October 31. A family member of another cop told an HT reporter that the policeman had gone to hospital alone on his motorcycle.
The three were said to have been injured when fired upon by eight SIMI members who allegedly escaped from Bhopal jail and were shot dead by police in the encounter, which has come under a cloud following contradictory statements by police officials and surfacing of amateur video clips.
“They received cut injuries on hand and feet,” was the curt reply of SP (north) Arvind Saxena when asked about the nature of injuries. It was only after repeated requests that he revealed their names — special task force head constable Narayan Singh and crime branch constables Dinesh Khatri and Mayand Singh. But he refused to give their residential addresses.
“Even the police department is not disturbing them, we cannot allow you to meet them. They are recovering at home,” he said, adding that a judicial inquiry has been instituted and their statements will be recorded soon.
Officials of the crime branch, which is investigating the encounter, also refused to give any details.
HT managed to meet the family members of two of the policemen.
At Narayan Singh’s house, a woman who identified herself as his wife Sita, said the head constable has been attending duty regularly. Singh’s wife and their 11-year-old daughter Ankita said he was injured while chasing the SIMI operatives, and received a cut below the elbow joint. “He was carrying a gun…and fell because the surface was uneven,” Sita said.
At constable Dinesh Khatri’s house, a person identifying himself as his brother Suraj, came out and bolted the door from outside, preventing the HT team from meeting anyone else.
“He (Dinesh Khatri) is not at home. He has gone to the hospital to dress his wound,” Suraj said, claiming his brother had injured his palms. “The injury is not that serious,” he said. “We don’t know how he was injured,” Suraj said before shutting the door.
The third — constable Mayand Singh — remained unreachable. Although police claimed that he received cuts on his leg, they did not give details of the hospital he was referred to.
Police’s unwillingness to share details has raised more questions about the authenticity of the encounter, which has put the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government on the back foot for alleged human rights violations by the police. “From the beginning, there have been several questions that remain unanswered,” former IPS officer Arun Gurtoo said.
Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi also raised questions over the three “missing” policemen. “If they are heroes of the encounter, we should reward them, and not force them into hiding.”