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Video & Report: The jungle gangs of Jharkhand


Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava reports: Groups like JJMP and TSPC thrive on a levy collected from mining. Jharkhand accounts for nearly a third of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore and 16% of copper. In return, the armed groups provide protection to mining companies and intimidate villagers to facilitate land acquisition for the companies.

To counter Maoists, security agencies in the state are fuelling growth of terror gangs that are abusing human rights with impunity

Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, Hindustan Times 

Priyanshu 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.

Priyanshu Kumari (left) with her mother and grandfather. The family struggles to fathom how Uday Yadav was made into a Maoist overnight. (Athar Rather/HT Photo)
Priyanshu Kumari (left) with her mother and grandfather. The family is struggling to fathom how Uday Yadav was made into a Maoist overnight. (Athar Rather/HT Photo)

 

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).

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.”

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