PUCL Bulletin June 1981

"There is not a single lawless group in the whole country whose record of crime anywhere nears the record of the organised unit whichis known as the Indian Police force".

(from a judgement by Justice A.N. Mullab in Allababad High Court.)

Police Firings-Some Case Studies


According to newspaper reports, the police opened fire on a mob of stone-throwing tribals killing 13 of them at Indervelli town in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh on April 20, 1981. The tribals who were reported to be armed heavily with sticks, spears and axes, had earlier mobbed the police and speared a policeman to death. Several other policemen were also reported to have been injured.

"The official version offered for public consumption being so misleading and unconvincing," according to the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Hyderabad, that they appointed a fact-finding committee to tour the area, gather facts and place them before the public. This committee was chaired by well-known cardio-thoracic surgeon of Secunderabad Prof. C.R. Rajagopalan, and included as its members Mr. K.G. Kannabiran, leading advocate and member of National Executive, PUCL, and Dr. S. G. Kulkarni of the Philosophy Department, Hyderabad Central

Produced below are excerpts from their report:
On April 20, over 60 people, mostly Gond tribals were shot dead in an indiscriminate massacre by the police when they were converging to Indervelli to attend both a weekly 'shandy' (bazaar) and a rally organised by the Girijan Ryot Kooli Sangham, a tribal peasant-worker organisation.

From April 16, the police began to arrest student and youth leaders working for the rally. On the 19th, a Gond leader, Khadia, was taken into custody when he went to collect the police permission for the rally which had already been applied for. On the same day, Sec. 144 Cr. P.C. was imposed in the area and four platoons of police occupied the local High School.

The following day, April 20, Gonds from the surrounding areas started coming into Indervelli. The police had encircled the village and blocked the road entry from both. By 4 p.m., larger numbers of them started arriving, unaware of the police obstruction or the imposition of Sec. 144. The police continued to lathi-charge, then resorted to tear gas shelling and suddenly, without warning, opened fire. Some policemen took positions atop trees and fired. A open jeep full of armed policemen ploughed through the crowd and started firing. The crowd ran helter-skelter. Even though the tribals attempted to assist fellow injured and dead, the police prevented anyone from touching them by opening fire. The dead and the wounded were carried away in trucks.

According to the police version, 13 Gonds and one policeman were killed and 17 tribals received bullet injuries. The dead were cremated with the help of the municipal authorities as, according to the police, no one claimed them.

On the other hand, people gave varying estimates of the dead. The Gonds told the investigating Committee that till April 26, Panchannama (last rites) had been conducted on 60 dead bodies. Another estimate put the number around 100. No dead body was handed over to relatives and no photographs were shown. Neither was any ex-gratia payment made to them.

Legally the degree of force which may be used in the suppression of an unlawful assembly depends on the nature of the assembly. The force must always be moderated in proportion to the circumstance of the case. The taking of life can only be justified by the necessity of protecting the lives of persons or properties against various forms of violent crime or by the necessity of dispersing a riotous crowd.

Any excess of force used puts the police officer outside the pale of protection of the law. This aspect has been emphasised in the police standing orders. The death by firing of over 60 persons in a police firing itself speaks of the use of excessive force.

The Committee recommended the suspension of those officials present and the setting up of a judicial inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. The Indervelli incident illustrates the indiscriminate and irresponsible action of the police. From the initial indifference, in extensively conveying the imposition of authority. Any attempt by repressed individuals at organising themselves to secure their rights is seen as an offence. And a collective assertion becomes a conspiracy in the eyes of the State which has increasingly resorted to tackling socio-economic problems as law and order ones.

The newspapers reported that police fired inside Samastipur Jail on January 14, 1981 killing 11 prisoners and injuring 57 persons. This was a sequel to three days of confrontation between prisoners on the one hand, and the jail staff and police on the other. Undertrials were reported to have stoned the jail staff-a sub-inspector of police sustained serious injuries in the confrontation. The District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police entered the jail premises on 14th January but were greeted with a barrage of stone; that injured policemen. Police fired 35 teargas shells and then resorted to firing.

Arun Sinha of Express News Service who investigated this firing reported that people felt that "the grievances of the agitating prisoners were legitimate, and the policemen, including senior officers, 'planned the massacre' after S.S. Prasad, officer-in-charge of the town police station, was hit by a brickbat in the jail, two days before the incident. What appears to have inflamed public feelings is. ..that thousands...watched all the happenings for over two hours from the over bridge overlooking the jail. After the firing, over 1000 people organised a sit-in outside the jail (but).. .were dispersed after a lathi charge and some arrests". The stir, which had been going on for nine days, was for four demands: full rations, three blankets each according to rules, adequate medical care and an end to the illegal fee charged to visitors. Not all the undertrials died from police firing. Some were allegedly lynched and thrown from the roof by policemen. The administration's version that the undertrials first started firing has been disproved by the evidence found.

On Monday, September 8, 1980, eight tribals were gunned down by the Bihar Military Police in a hospital compound in the south Bihar mining town of Gua. The incident was bizarre-and not unjustifiably likened to the Jallianwala massacre-for obvious reasons. The police fired without provocation and without authority; they fired on unarmed and wounded adivasis who were awaiting medical attention inside a hospital; and what is even worse, senior doctors present at the time did nothing to stop them.

This dastardly act was a sequel to a police firing in the township on a peaceful crowd of 3000 adivasis gathered to protest against police harassment. According to official figures, three adivasis died there. Of course, a large number were injured; the wounded were not brought for medical aid for reasons that are too obvious to state. However, a visit to just five villages neighbouring Gua in December last year revealed that 14 people were still missing. Local people put the figure of adivasis killed at around 100.

For months prior to the protest meeting, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had been spearheading the much misunderstood "jungle kato" movement in Singhbhum district. Contrary to the official propaganda mounted against it, its aim was not the destruction of forests. The adivasis wanted to reclaim their lands lost to the British during the rebellions of the last hundred years. All that has remained to mark their lost habitations are "sarangs", or memorial stones in the forests, indicating the burial grounds of their ancestors. Increasingly denied access to forest produce in recent years, faced with continued exploitation from moneylenders, contractors and the local officials, the adivasis had no choice but to try and reclaim their lost lands or face starvation.

The growth of the tribal movement in Singhbhum invoked the wrath of the State apparatus which represents the interests of the local power groups. A large contingent of the Bihar Military Police was posted in the area. In a style characteristic of the paramilitary forces, they exercised their punitive authority over the tribals. The policemen would lift fowl and vegetables from the villages without payment and indiscriminately arrest people.

To protest against this behaviour of the BMP, the adivasis organised a protest meeting at Qua aerodrome on the afternoon of September 8 under the aegis of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. A contingent of the BMP arrived on the scene-along with two magistrates-and encircled the crowd. The magistrates sought to pacify the police who insisted that the tribals stop their march through the town towards the office of the Block Development Officer to whom they proposed to present their memorandum. The adivasis agreed to cancel their march. They insisted, however, on holding their meeting in the local market square as planned, after which they promised to disperse. They handed over their memorandum to the magistrate present. The police left.

At the meeting, as soon as the first speaker started addressing the crowd the police force returned. They surrounded the gathering with upraised rifles; they forcibly dragged away the speaker to their waiting jeep and arrested other adivasi leaders. The adivasis were incensed. There was an altercation-and a clash. The police fired 37 rounds; the adivasis retaliated with their bows and arrows which they customarily carry with them. Three adivasis and four policemen died on the spot.
The police then transported their injured to the Gua Mines Hospital, half a kilometre away from the bazar The tribals too carried their wounded there. They were made to deposit their bows and arrows at the gate; they were asked to lay the injured under the tree in the hospital compound to await the doctors. Before they knew what was happening, the BMP officials had opened fire again on these helpless adivasis. All eight died on the spot.

Official sources admitted the "deterrent action" was a result of the decision arrived at on August 30 at Patna at a high-level meeting of officials attended by the Forest Minister The Minister is believed to have said : "We have to stop this at all costs".

In the months that-followed this incident, police jeeps would raid the villages in the area, in search of supporters of the 3MM which is leading a movement for a separate Jharkhand state. They broke into huts at night, beat up the residents, stole the belongings of the adivasis, molested and, in a number of cases, raped women. Terror stalked the Singhbhum countryside for months afterwards. The moment a jeep arrives in a village, the inhabitants, particularly the women, disappear into the surrounding Saranda forest.

The firing in Nipani over a large crowd of tobacco growers, agitating for remunerative prices for their tobacco and an end to the system of middlemen for over three weeks, at once exposed the brutality with which the state reacts to any demand for improving their economic status by the weaker sections, and its complicity in letting the process of exploitation continue unabated.
The police started firing after the tobacco growers in about 200 villages around Nipani, about 550 kms from Bangalore and close to Koihapur in Maharashtra, success-fully continued the "rasta-roko" (road blocking) on the Bangalore-Pune national highway for about 24 days. Blocking- the way meant a 100 km diversion for vehicular traffic between Bangalore and Pune.

Before opening fire the police arrested 2000 of the agitators squatting on a six km stretch of the highway in Nipani in an early dawn swoop. This angered the agitators who complained that the government was not prepared to even listen to their just demands on the pretext that the issue concerned the Tobacco Board and the central government. Instead it had arrested those who were demanding justice.

The agitation was directed against the commission agents, tobacco traders and bidi firm owners of Nipani who have accumulated enormous economic power in their hands. The richest in the trade are engaged in all three activities. This economic power is used by the rich trader-manu-facturers by exploiting traditional local institutions including that of panchayats. Trade is mainly in the hands of commission agents who normally depute locally influential people such as the sarpanch of the village panchayat as their agents who can goad the tobacco farmers in selling tobacco to only these traders from Nipani. It is they who decide the market price of tobacco.

For the past many years the price of tobacco has been falling. The reasons offered by the commission agents have ranged from famine to war. Consequently the price of tobacco over the past three decades came down from Rs 25 a kg to Rs 171 Rs 18 per kg. In 1976 it had in fact dipped to Rs 4 per kg with many growers getting only Rs 2 per kg, which did not even cover the cost of pesticides and other inputs.

Besides there are the other ways of keeping the effective price low. In a trade such as this involving crores of rupees there is no standardised weighing system as yet. A maund could be that of 28 kgs in certain places while at some other places only 17 kgs make a maund, leaving enough flexibility for the traders to dupe illiterate growers. Then the traders normally seek concession from the growers on various counts which often comes to 15 kgs for every quintal resulting in a straight cut of 15 per cent in the growers' income.

The tobacco growers had been protesting against this system and wanted the government to intervene. But after watching the agitation for 23 days, the government arrested over 2000 farmers at which the agitated farmers tried to resist. In the process the police opened firing shooting down dozens of people and leaving hundreds of them injured. UNI reports put the number of injured over 600.

On September 27, 1980, four jawans of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) attempted to rape 15-year-old Dulesharbai who was collecting firewood from the forest adjoining the iron are hills of Dalli-Rajahara. Her screams attracted the attention of miners at work on a neighbouring site. They caught hold of the jawans and proceeded to march them in a procession to the police station in the mining township.

Enroute they were accosted at Lal Maidan by another group of CISF jawans who had got wind of the incident. They failed to persuade the adivasis to release their colleagues. The workers took the jawans to the police station. But near its entrance, they were attacked by a group of 70 CISF jawans armed with iron rods and lathis who managed to free their compatriots.

By now a large crowd had gathered outside the police station. The police officials requested the CISF commandant to hand over the guilty jawans to them and let the law take its course. He refused to comply. The crowd then walked to the CLSF barracks, accompanied by a few policemen.
They demanded the jawans be handed over. Hot words were exchanged. The workers started pclting stones. The CISF jawans opened fire on the crowd. Thirty-year-old Asharam Lakarhara died on the spot. Four others received bullet injuries while 44 had been hurt earlier outside the CJSF olhcials dismissed the matter lightly : "Such things have been happening for a long time now. What you call rape may possibly be an agreement... everything would have been running smoothly here but for hooligan workers who have broken the peace and harmony of Dalli-Rajahara".

These "upstarts" are adivasis of the Chhatisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, who have decided that they are going to resist oppression and exploitation that has been their lot for centuries.

The riots in Moradabad, which claimed about 150 lives as per official records, were not entirely rooted in communal antipathy, although once they began they rapidly acquired this hue. The story is far more basic. It is one of worsening police-citizen relationship, of economic exploitation, mounting disillusionment and despair.

Looking back at the incident it appears that a pig was let loose during the Id prayer at the Idgah allegedly by the police. But why should the police have done so? Why should the anger of the devotees have turned on those who are normally supposed to be their protectors? And finally, even if it is true that some Muslim miscreants came armed to prayer, what was the provocation for them that made it such a widespread upheaval which left over a few hundred dead in Moradabad alone, with many more in other towns of the state as a follow-up.

Then, how did the trouble start? Moradabad is basically a working people's town. All unventilated dwellings serve as "karkhanas" where beautiful enamelware objects are created at the cost of the worker's lungs. Not to speak of the horrors of child labour. Unemployment forces a number of them to spend the whole day rummaging around in sewage to salvage little bits of metal for resmelting. Even then, they are deprived of their profits by a cartel of wholesalers who control the price.
Often the workers are also the debtors of their whole-salers. The wholesalers happen to be Hindus, and as the craft is hereditary, the majority of workers are Muslims. This may be a cause of communal mobilisation, but it can hardly be seen to be the cause of the last year's riots.

The immediate cause of the riot, as far as could be ascertained from various reports on the riots, was an intense and growing animosity between Muslim craftsmen and the police. The artisans are hemmed in by an archaic set of rules framed for conditions quite different from those obtaining in India. As a result they are a constant prey to a thousand pinpricks of the rules book.

The time-honoured way of circumventing rules has been a weekly rake-off for the local police. Since handicrafts are a family industry it is relatively difficult for the craftsmen to organise themselves to resist these demands. The regular harassment of these craftsmen by the police therefore is a commonplace. This was also brought to the notice of the authorities by the Bartan Mazdoor Sabha, the brassware worker's organisation. But slowly the artisans were beginning to resist such pressures. In the process they antagonised the policemen. What happened later on the Id day was the culmination of this increasing tension between the two.

What happened at Baghpat last June was an unparalleled abuse of police power. Three men were shot dead and a woman stripped naked in public and subjected to inhuman torture. The police claimed that those shot dead were notorious dacoits and were killed in an encounter. But the facts brought out by a government-appointed commission reveals an ugly story. A commentary on the P.N. Roy Commission report was published in the last issue of the Bulletin.

The Commission in what it called "the truth" says that on June 16, 1980, Ishwar Tyagi, along with his wife Maya and two friends, Surendra and R.D. Gaur, was going to participate in the marriage of his brother-in-law Kamal Singh's daughter. The front tyre of the car got punctured as they were heading towards Sankalpaty, and they had to suddenly stop at Baghpat. Since the punctured tire had to be repaired, the car was parked in front of Man Singh's garage. Tyagi and his two friends got out of the car.

Maya Tyagi was left alone in the car, when Narendra Kumar Singh sub-inspector and Kashi Ram head-constable reached the spot in plain clothes. It was 12.30 p.m. Finding a lonely girl in the car, they started teasing her. Maya was a simple village girl. She became furious and rebuked them. This attracted her husband's attention. In the altercation that followed, Narendra Kumar Singh fell on the ground and Ishwar Tyagi attacked him. Tyagi was unaware that he was beating up policemen. Narendra Kumar Singh, humiliated and insulted in front of the people of Baghpat, decided to retaliate. He ordered the head constable, Kashi Ram, to call more members of the police force. But by that time the car travellers had realised that they had quarreled with a sub-inspector. They tried to move but the car engine would not start. They tried to push, the car, but by that time the police force had arrived on the scene. Narendra Kumar Singh was given a rifle and together they fired a number of rounds, leading to the death of three persons. What happened to Maya Tyagi thereafter, we discussed in the previous issue.

But what does the Commission say about the culprits? It blames Narendra Kumar Singh entirely for the whole episode and acquits the rest of the six policemen who fired, including two other sub-inspectors who the Commission thinks participated in the shooting under orders from Narendra Kumar Singh. Since he had already been killed by the time the Commission began its investigations, it acquitted the other 10 policemen who were present at the time of the incident. What is worse, the Commission thought that there was 'no need to recommend policy measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

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