To counter Maoists, security agencies in the state are fuelling growth of terror gangs that are abusing human rights with impunity
By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Jan 24, 2016
riyanshu Kumari remembers her father as a teacher. Uday Yadav taught in a government school during the day and gave mathematics lessons to his children in the evening. “He insisted I should continue my studies to become like him,” recalls the 12-year-old, sitting at the doorstep of her brick-and-plaster house in Jharkahand’s Manika village.
But Yadav left home one night last June – and suddenly acquired several other identities overnight. Some alleged he was a Maoist, others said he was a police informer while a few described him as a mediator between the two combating sides. “After dinner, he went to the terrace to sleep. Around 10 pm, somebody on a motorcycle called him down and took him along,” said Priyanshu, her fingers fidgeting under a blue dupatta.
The next morning she learnt from news channels that Yadav was among 12 suspected Maoists police had killed in an encounter in Satbarua village, about 10 km from Manika. A picture of Yadav’s shirtless body lying with other dead men in a pool of blood was flashed across television screens. “He was working as a contract teacher with the state government for 10 years. There were no charges against him. He was not living in hiding. If he was a Maoist, why did the police not arrest him all these years?” asks Jawahar Prasad, Yadav’s father.
Family, friends and human rights activists insist Yadav and at least four other people killed in the encounter were not Maoists. The CPI (Maoist), the outlawed national Maoist party, backed their claim in a statement on June 18, calling the encounter “fake” and identifying only seven of those killed as its active members. A top police official on condition of anonymity supported the claim as well.
So, if the five men were not Maoists, why did they die in a clash with police? Or, was it really police that killed them? Testimonies of local residents, reports by human rights groups and the CPI (Maoist) statement suggest they became collateral damage in a counter-insurgency strategy covertly adopted by security forces that involves using rival armed gangs to counter Maoists in the state. With security agencies turning a blind eye to their activities, these groups violate human rights with impunity in several districts. “I can’t believe the law and order situation in a state can be so compromised. People trapped in this insurgency can’t even go to the police for help,” said Shashi Bhushan Pathak, convenor of rights group Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (JCDR).
I can’t believe the law and order situation in a state can be so compromised. People trapped in this insurgency can’t even go to the police for help
- Shashi Bhushan Pathak, convenor of rights group JCDR
MAOISTS VS NON-MAOISTS
Jharkhand lies in the middle of the so-called "red corridor", a string of states infested with Maoist insurgents who claim to be fighting for the rights of peasants, tribals and landless labourers. For years, the mineral-rich state served as a base for the insurgents who have been at the centre of India’s longest-running internal conflict that has taken more lives than the conflict in Kashmir.
But unlike other "red-corridor" states, Jharkhand also has more than a dozen armed groups active in its forests, many of them breakaway factions of the CPI (Maoist). Though the state government has banned activities of several Left Wing Extremist (LWE) groups and security forces claim to be going after them, rights activists allege security agencies have covertly propped these terror gangs to use them against the Maoists.
“In the early 2000s, police suffered severe losses at the hands of the Maoists. As a strategy, they tried to split the CPI (Maoists) which led to the creation of several splinter groups. Police used these groups to gather information against the Maoists and pitched them to fight against them,” said a senior state police official. “The strategy to pitch one guerrilla gang against the other worked initially and security forces patted their backs as the Maoists receded from several areas. But today the other groups are out of the police's control.”
The so-called splinter groups are nothing but corrupt extortionists and murderers.
It’s tough to tell members of these armed gangs from the Maoists. They wear similar battle uniforms, camp in hiding in dense forests and control forest territories where they extort a levy from mining and development projects by the power of the gun. “The original Naxals (Maoists) had some kind of ideology, although questionable, and some principles. But the so-called splinter groups are nothing but corrupt extortionists and murderers,” said SN Pradhan, additional director general of police in Jharkhand.
As security agencies take sides in the war between Maoists and anti-Maoists, people’s lives and rights are the biggest casualty. A study by the Bindrai Institute of Research, Study and Action (BIRSA), a Jharkhand-based non-profit working on mining and tribal rights, shows that out of 519 civilian killings in the insurgency between 2009 and 2014, almost 50% were by non-Maoist groups. Every year, civilian killings by Maoists have come down but killings by non-Maoist groups have gone up. In 2014, more than 75% of civilian killings were caused by non-Maoist groups.
“Earlier Maoists killed civilians, calling them police informers. Now anti-Maoist gangs kill them, calling them Maoist informers. In a situation where so many armed groups are fighting a turf war and security forces are running several covert operations siding with one group or the other, as a civilian, you don’t know which side you should be on. You can be pulled into the war anytime,” said Gopinath Ghosh, a researcher at BIRSA.
The Satbarua encounter is a classic example. According to the CPI (Maoist) statement, security agencies laid a trap using an “underground, anti-rebel armed group … nurtured by the security agencies” called the Jharkhand Jana Mukti Parishad (JJMP) to kill a Maoist area commander named Dr RK who planned to betray the party. Yadav – who knew the commander, police and JJMP members – was used as mediator to fix the meeting between Dr RK and JJMP kingpin Pappu Lohra at Satbarua.
The commander had called his son and nephew to Satbarua in a taxi and another villager was asked to deliver food to the meeting. Once all the men gathered, they were killed in “cold blood” by Pappu Lohra “under the guidance” of security forces. Police also passed on some arms seized from Dr RK to the JJMP, said the statement.
SN Pradhan, additional director general of police, Jharkhand, denied the allegations. “Every encounter in the country is questioned. We did not violate any procedure. We are open to any enquiry on this,” he said. The National Human Rights Commission has asked the Jharkhand government for a report and the JCDR has gone to the Ranchi High Court demanding an independent enquiry into the incident.
The allegation of collusion between the JJMP and security forces is not unfounded, admits a senior police official. According to him, the JJMP came up in 2005 when Sanjay Yadav, a CPI (Maoist) area commander, started his own gang. “He was later killed and the gang became defunct. Intelligence agencies then inducted Pappu Lohra, another former Maoist commander, to revive the gang and pitched it against the Maoists. Today, Lohra acts as the main source of information against the Maoists,” he said.
In another case that shows how the JJMP is violating human rights, Pappu Lohra and his men picked up 30-year-old Mahendra Thakur from his house in Latehar at gun-point in front of his family on August 31. The para-legal volunteer who provided legal aid to tribals and the poor in far-flung villages was brutally beaten for two days before his family secured his release.
“I had been fighting against village level corruption in the Public Distribution System and panchayat scheme … Lohra and his men asked me why I was so concerned about the rights of the people. They threatened me not to trouble the officials. They released me after my family members made a police official call Lohra,” said Thakur, who now lives in hiding in Ranchi. He said police had taken no action on his FIR against Lohra so far.
THE ROGUE GANGS
The JJMP is not the only anti-Maoist armed group active in the state. The People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC), Pahadi Cheetah, Shanti Sena and Jairam Sahu Giroh are among a long list of such groups in Jharkhand. Today, almost every district with a Maoist presence also has a powerful non-Maoist armed group.
The first to emerge was the TSPC following a caste dispute within the Maoists. In 2004, Dalit and tribal members in the CPI (Maoist) felt their concerns were not being addressed by upper caste Yadavs, prompting them to form their own gang under their leader Brajesh Ganju – with the backing of local police.
The group controls coal-rich areas in Chatra and Palamu district, and wields more power than the Maoists in the coal belt. It also has enormous political clout in some districts with some members elected to local panchayats. “In the initial years when the Maoists were after TSPC cadres, the police helped Ganju and his family. Since then, the group has only grown in size and power, and has waged a constant war against the Maoists,” said Ranchi-based journalist, Manob Chowdhury who has followed the activities of these groups for more than a decade. “In Lawalong block of Chatra, most panchayats have elected TSPC members as mukhias uncontested. Lawalong has huge mansions built by TSPC commanders. They even control a huge area in a tiger reserve where they cultivate opium.”
I won’t take names but the truth is police are growing one snake to kill the other. All these snakes are biting people.
- Luv Pandey, elder brother of Sunil Pandey who was killed after he filed a PIL alleging police collusion with armed groups
One of the apparent victims of the clout of the TSPC was social activist Sunil Pandey who was killed on December 5 in Bhandar village by masked bikers in broad daylight. Pandey had filed a PIL in the Ranchi High Court demanding an independent investigation into the alleged collusion of the state administration with the TSPC. Pandey had mentioned the names and phone numbers of some senior police officials, politicians and TSPC leaders in his PIL, and demanded an investigation into their call details.
“He was under pressure to withdraw the petition. He was attacked twice in the past one year by unidentified men,” said Luv Pandey, Sunil’s elder brother. When asked if the TSPC was behind the killing, Luv said: “I won’t take names but the truth is police are growing one snake to kill the other. All these snakes are biting people.”
Groups like the JJMP and TSPC thrive on a levy collected from mining in the state. Jharkhand accounts for nearly a third of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore and 16% of copper. It is also rich in cobalt, bauxite, uranium, manganese and limestone. “Every mining company, private or PSU, has to pay a levy to the most powerful groups,” said a state intelligence official. “On average, Rs 80 crore is collected as a levy annually from one coal mine. The annual figure of extortion from mining and other bussinesses in the state can be anywhere between Rs 7,000 - Rs 10,000 crore. Easy money from mining also gets easy recruits in unemployed youth for the armed groups.”
In return, the armed groups provide protection to mining companies and contractors, and at times, intimidate villagers to facilitate land acquisition on behalf of the companies. In a PIL filed in the Ranchi high court in December 2014, the Gram Sabha of Jala village in Latehar district alleged TSPC men threatened villagers when they opposed land acquisition for coal mining. “If a local doesn’t agree to give away land, the armed groups come into the picture and threaten with a gun,” said a resident of Khulari village near Magadh Coal mines.
Pradhan denied state agencies helped in the creation of anti-Maoist armed groups but admitted some of these groups were becoming a bigger law and order problem. “We all know splinter groups were created due to internal disputes among Maoists. I agree the PLFI and TSPC have become an equal or bigger danger than Maoists. There was a lack of attention towards these groups as we were pre-occupied with Maoists. But in the past two years we have come down heavily on them,” he said.
When asked if police used these groups to counter Maoists, Pradhan said: “To the extent that information can be collected from one criminal to catch the other, maybe that is happening. Maybe at the thana level, the TSPC is being tapped or something to get information on Maoists.”
George Monipally, a missionary and activist with Campaign for Survival and Dignity, said it was a counter-insurgency operation more dangerous than Salwa Judum of Chhattisgarh. “The demons created by security agencies are now out of their own control,” he said, referring to the jungle gangs of Jharkhand. “At least there(in Chhattisgarh), the state controlled the armed vigilante group (Salwa Judum) it had created to fight Maoists and shut its operations following criticism. Here, the state fuelled the growth of the armed groups without having control over them.”