Seventeen Adivasi villagers of Samna in Orissa’s Narayanpatna block claim that they were brutally assaulted in custody last week, an allegation the police have denied.
According to the villagers, they were picked up on May 9, as part of a joint operation conducted by the Orissa and Andhra Pradesh police along the inter-State border, airlifted to a police station in Andhra Pradesh and held in custody for three days before being released on May 14.
“Uniformed policemen surrounded our village on Sunday morning [May 9], when we were leaving for the market,” said Nachika Jaddo, one of those who were picked up. “Seventeen men, including two dokras [old men] were rounded up, beaten up and then dragged to a spot 2 km away.”
The villagers were then bundled into a waiting helicopter, blindfolded and flown to the Salur police station in Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh.
“They tied our hands behind our back and repeatedly struck us with lathis,” said another victim, who had bruises all over the back and shoulders. “They kept asking us about Maoists, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
Most of the Adivasis along the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border speak Kondi – an Adivasi dialect – and are often unable to communicate with those outside their tribe. “They spoke to us in Hindi, Oriya and Telugu, and when we couldn’t answer, they hit us all over, including on the soles of our feet,” said a third victim.
In all, The Hindu interviewed four of the 17 victims, including 60-year-old Nachika Chuchai, with the help of a translator.
Koraput Superintendent of Police Anup Kumar Sahoo confirmed that 17 villagers had been detained for questioning, but denied that they were beaten up or airlifted. “These 17 men were found in the forest on May 9 near the site of an encounter between security forces and the Maoists.” They were then taken to Andhra Pradesh on foot, which took almost three days.” The villagers were immediately produced before a district magistrate in Salur and released on May 14. None was formally arrested, the SP said.
Informed sources in the Andhra police suggest that the villagers might have been picked up as part of a much larger exercise. According to the sources, the police operation was planned when the Andhra Pradesh police received information that members of the Kalimela Dalam, involved in the killing of 38 security force members at Chitrakonda in 2008, were moving through the Narayanpatna jungles.
On May 9, 2010, there was an exchange of fire between Maoists and the security forces. The local press reported police sources as claiming that up to 10 Maoists were killed. However, not a single body has been recovered as yet. The 17 villagers were picked up, soon after the skirmishes. According to the sources, the villagers were immediately airlifted to Salur, where they were interrogated for information on the movement of Maoist companies in Narayanpatna and subsequently released.
Intelligence sources told The Hindu that Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra share a set of Mi-17 helicopters which can carry up to 32 passengers. The sources, however, declined to provide the exact number of helicopters for reasons of operational security.
Those detained were Nachika Jaddo, Nachika Musri, Nachika Lachna, Nachika Sudru, Nachika Sehra, Nachika Nando, Nachika Roopa, Nachika Sonna, Nachika Porda/Podda, Nachika Kuslu, Nachika Abhi, Nachika Lassu, Nachika Dora and Nachika Chuchai (both above 60), Nachika Subana, Nachika Johra and Nachika Kumlu.
The Hindu – May 17, 2010