A day after eight villagers were killed in a gun battle between security forces and alleged Maoists at Bijapur in south Chhattisgarh, the state government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.
Eight tribals, including three children, all of whom the security forces suspected were Maoists, died during the encounter at Edakmeta village near Gangalur, about 400km south of here, on Friday night. A member of the Cobra battalion was also killed. Four villagers suffered bullet injuries.
A government spokesperson said former high court justice VK Agrawal, who is investigating the Basaguda encounter that occurred last year, would head a single-member judicial committee to probe Friday's encounter. The general administration department would issue a notification to this effect on Monday, the spokesperson added.
Angered by the death of the eight persons - all of whom were residents of Edakmeta - locals, mostly women, protested at the Gangalur police station and pelted stones on Sunday. They refused to accept the bodies, which were brought for identification.
"The post-mortem report is awaited," Bijapur collector Mohammed Qaiser Abdul Haq said. "We have also ordered a magisterial probe to know the circumstances in which they were killed. We will look into the possibilities of whether the villagers were used as human shields by Maoists or killed in the crossfire or had any Maoist link."
Chhattisgarh police reiterated that the encounter had taken place with the Maoists. "There was firing from the other side and a jawan was killed," said additional director general (anti-Maoist operation) RK Vij. Villagers claimed the the jawan was killed in the crossfire.
The incident took place when a joint party of the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police were on a combing operation in Gangalur after getting a tip-off.
"The villagers had assembled to perform the rituals of beej pandum (seed festival) before the onset of monsoon," a villager said. "It was not a Maoist meeting."
"Several villagers are missing. We don't know whether they were abducted or driven away from the village," said Edakmeta residents Sonu Punem and Karam Budhru.
Last year security forces had gunned down 17 alleged Maoists, including children at Sarkeguda in Bijapur.