Image credits: Livemint
In the last three years of political governance in the State of Kerala, the LDF government has killed 7 alleged Maoists having had no regard for law and Constitutional mandates. As per police records 2 alleged Maoists, including a woman, were killed on 24th November 2016 at Nilambur in an “encounter”. One man was killed on 7th March 2019 at Vythiri in Wayanad District by the Thunderbolt commandos and police justifying the act as “Maoist encounter”. Lastly on 28th and 29th October 2019 four persons, including a woman, were brutally killed in close range while they were having lunch and had no intention of attacking the police. Why is the Government of Kerala resorting to illegal, unethical and devastating strategies to people in conflict with the political governance?
Regional Centre for Victims of Torture (RCVT), a collective of human right defenders, eminent jurists, retired judges, lawyers, academics and writers a wing under an NGO called Jananeethi foundation published an independent enquiry report titled “Killing of four “Maoists” including a woman in an allegedly “encounter” with Thunderbolt commandos in forests at Attappady in Kerala”. The report reads “ We learn from the media that the Central Government allots huge funds for fighting terrorism in the country. Insiders report that most sophisticated equipment’s, vehicles and also overseas trips and training were possible in the name of fighting terrorism. It is most convenient and easily selling to present all those who oppose the government as “terrorists” and therefore a threat to the nation. It is really sad and heartbreaking that it is done by a democratically elected communist government.”
According to the police, the thunderbolt commandos had information about the presence of Maoists in the Manjakandi forests under the Puthoor forest station. They were having close vigil on the reported area for the last many weeks and they had information regarding the presence of Maoists in the forests bordering the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet. On 28th October 2019, at around 11 am they had a fierce fight with the Maoists exchanging bullet shots. The firing started first from the Maoists, and the police only returned firing for their physical safety. Three Maoists including a woman were shot dead and heavy arms were recovered from them. On the next day, the 29th Tuesday, while the inquest proceedings were going, there was another exchange of fires between Maoists and Thunderbolt Commandos for about 2 hours at the end of which they killed one Maoist, called Manivasakam. No Thunderbolt personnel had any injury. One AK 47 rifle was recovered from the slain Manivasakam. Three Maoists escaped from the scene of the battle.
The Kerala High Court Order dated 22 May 2015 in the case of Shyam Balakrishnan states, “Being a Maoist is not a crime, though the political ideology of the Maoist will not synchronise with our Constitutional polity. The police cannot detain a person merely because he/she is a Maoist unless the police form a reasonable opinion that his/her activities are unlawful” said Kerala HC. The honourable High Court also said, “Encounter killings are killings by law enforcement officers and such killings are extrajudicial killings”. The investigative team of Regional centre for Victims of Torture consisting of Advocate George Pulikuthiyil (Director of Regional Centre for Victims of Torture), Mr Ajil Chacko (Program Officer of the RCVT) and Fr Mani Parambet (social and human rights activist) Interviewed and Gathered information from 14 named sources and few more local leaders of the tribal community whom doesn’t wished to be named because of the fear of being implicated in police cases. After RCVT’s visit to the area, some of them had been threatened of facing criminal charges for their independent views on the matter.
According to the data gathered from the people. The presence of the so-called Maoists was there for the last many months. The women of the tribal hamlet, Mele Manjakandi, told RCVT that they (Maoists) used to come to the community for buying provisions. Sometimes they had taken meals with them. Those people were extremely nice and humane. They never misbehaved with them. The girls who used to go to the forests for fuel and cattle fodder used to see them but they never had any harassment or ill-treatment from them (Maoists). They used to visit the tribal hamlets in order to sensitize the community members with respect to their legal and Constitutional rights and privileges. Whenever they (Maoists) visited the tribal villages, they never had guns or electric equipment like laptops with them. Some of the tribal elders said that they did not believe that those people were really Maoists. Because they never had any intention of killing the police. A few weeks ago, they (Maoists) had observed Thunderbolt commandos searching for Maoists in the forests, but did not try to attack them. The villagers believe that those people might be the disciples of Veerappan, the slain forest kingpin by the Karnataka police, a few years ago. And they (Maoists) were making some in-roads to mainstream society to “surrender” before police authorities in the hope of living in a society without fear of life. The villagers also remembered that during the period of 2014-15 there were around 30 “Maoists” often visiting the villages and some of them had laptops and mobile phones with them. This, they said, was very much known to the police.
27th October 2019 was Deepavali that was celebrated by the people in the tribal (Uru) community of Mele Manjakandi in Attappady. Four young people of Mele Manjakandi who do not want to disclose their identity for obvious reasons told RCVT that six members of the Maoist group, including a woman and her child, had visited their colony on the 27th and had joined them in celebrating Deepavali firing crackers and had taken meals with them. They also had taken provisions from the tribal community. The slain Maoist, Manivasakam, was not among the six. Those who visited the village had told the villagers that Manivasakam was very much sickly and was not able to walk 2.5 km to the village through the forest. The villagers remember Manivasakam walking with the support of a stick and with much difficulty. The police had shown to the villagers a photo of Manivasakam taken from CCTV, and in that photo, Manivasakam’s body was supported by a stick in his hands.
On 28th of October 2019, more than 50 strong-armed Thunderbolt commandos, including women commandos, marched to the forest, NOT through the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet, but they deliberately and thoughtfully had taken another route along Paloor road; after Oottikali Junction they had entered the forest. (The tribal elders presume that this might be because the police must have thought that there were informers of Maoists among the villagers and therefore must have decided to choose another route for sake of confidentiality. Also, after the killing of the Maoists, no one from the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet was taken to identify the dead bodies. The police had taken nine nontribal and one tribal (called Nanchan) from distant places of Tamil origin to be witnesses in the inquest procedure).
On 28th October 2019, from 11.30 am the villagers heard sounds of firing from the forest on the periphery of which they live. In less than an hour, dozens of police vehicles came and halted on the road of the colony. No vehicle can go to the forest as the road ends in the tribal colony. There is almost a distance of 2.5 km from the colony to the place of the occurrence of the firing. No one except the police was allowed to enter the forest. Only by late evening of the day, the villagers came to know from visual media that three Maoists were killed in the police firing. The news was carried in all the printed newspapers the next day.
The news spread by the police was that there was fierce and prolonged cross-firing between Maoists and the Thunderbolt on the 28th, Monday. On the next day, the 29th Tuesday, the police collected ten people from different colonies, but not from the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet, to identify the dead as part of the inquest procedures. There were police personnel, three sets of videographers along with those gathered by the police as witnesses of the body examination. As they reached the spot, they found a tent made of plastic sheet tied up to the trees as a roof. Under the plastic roof, there were three dead bodies including one woman. All three persons had bullet injuries on their back. The corpse seemed to be decaying as there were flies and worms moving on their swollen faces. All three bodies were under the plastic roof, and there was a temporary oven made of stones and fuel collected from the forest. Cooked food (rice and curries) along with some uncooked meat were found near the oven. While they were staring at those dead corpses, they heard sounds of fierce firing. The top police officials who were present in the tent shouted at them to lie on the ground, face down. All of them including the police who had accompanied them to the forest fell on the ground as they were ordered. Nevertheless, the videographers were recording the entire scene. The police who were with the witnesses appeared to have had no idea of what was going. They were blindsided. The witnesses were shocked with fear of life and dismay and they remained lying on the ground with faces close to the ground. That posture continued for nearly two hours. During this time there was intermittent firing very close to the place they were lying. After almost two hours, the top police officials told them that they could get up on foot but cautioned them that there would be random firing thereafter again, but need not be worried of them as those firing would be by the Thunderbolt, not by the Maoists. Later, the witnesses were told that there was one more Maoist killed in the firing they had heard. And they were taken to the fourth dead body. It was the body of Manivasakam. He was killed a few minutes ago. He was lying in a pool of blood, his back on the ground; fresh blood was oozing from his forehead. He had two bullet shots, one on his forehead and another on his right side just below his right arm and above his right hip. Both of his legs had serious wounds, both legs below the knees and above the angles. His legs looked to have had oedema. An AK47 revolver was seen near his body that had only one bullet left, according to the police. Body of Manivasakam was found at only less than 50-60 meters from the plastic roofed tent, between two bushes of bamboo. Since the witnesses were stricken with fear of life, they could not look for more details, they wished to reach back home as early as possible.
When Manivasakam was shot down, there were more than 100 thunderbolt commandos including nearly 30 women in uniform. They all had guns with them. But Manivasakam had only two bullet injuries, one on his forehead and another on his side. According to the police, there was cross-firing for more than 2 hours. Not even one thunderbolt personnel had any injury and damage caused to them. The witnesses have reason to believe that the two legs of Manivasakam had been broken a day before while the other three were shot dead. Since his legs were fractured, he was not able to move. He was deliberately spared for the next day to stage a big drama of cross-firing and killing of a ‘terrorist’. Experts say that oedema on Manivasakam’s legs was due to the fracture caused a day earlier. If Manivasakam had used AK 47 for nearly two hours, why no commandos standing around him in the range of 50 meters did not get an injury, at least? How come a sickly man of chronic diabetics with two legs fractured fought with AK 47 against more than 100 highly experienced thunderbolt commandos for nearly two hours and did not have a casualty from the commandos?
Not even a single civil society member, not even a local tribal, was allowed to enter the forest from the date of 28th October till date. However, on 31 st of October 2019, Mr V.K. Sreekandan, the Parliament Member from Palakkad constituency and DCC President of the Congress (I) party together with several media persons visited the spot and had a detailed examination of the surrounding places looking for evidence of cross-firing between the Maoists and the Thunderbolt commandos. Sadly, they could not find not even one evidence of such cross-firing. The Parliament Member conducted a press conference that afternoon and told the media that there was apparently no evidence of a cross-firing. Surprisingly, on the next day, a team of CPI party members visited the place despite strong resistance and objections from the police. They could see several bullet marks on trees and bushes. It is evident that the police had artificially created those bullet marks to substantiate their claim that there was heavy cross firing on the 29th October 2019.
The post mortem report of the deceased makes clear and vindicates the apprehensions of the local tribal people. As per the post mortem report, there was undigested food in the stomach of the persons who died on the 28th. All those three victims had bullet injuries on their back. Food was scattered at the place, eaten and half-eaten meals. It was clear that there was no cross-firing or gun battle. In the case of Manivasakam who was shot dead on the 29th, was already in the custody of the Thunderbolt and his both legs were fractured by the Thunderbolt commandos even on the 28th. His killing was delayed for a day as was master-minded by the top officials of the Thunderbolt. The presence of the said, “Maoists” were leaked to the Thunderbolt by their informers in the tribal hamlet as early on the 27th October. Hence the Thunderbolt had enough time to orchestrate the operations. The second day firing in the presence of the witnesses was also a premeditated drama master-minded by the police intelligentsia.Mr. K.A. Ramu, 45, who is a Muduga tribe and convenor of a Thambu, an NGO for the welfare of the tribal communities, was contacted a few weeks ago from the Agali police station. The police officer who introduced himself as was delegated by the Superintendent of Police of the District told Ramu that the State Government was only happy and ready to help if the Maoists wished to surrender to the authorities. According to the officer, there was information in the police department that the Maoists had expressed their willingness to patch up with the Government. Ramu replied that he would revert after studying the matter. On his inquiry, the slain Manivasakam, Karthi, Anand and a woman with a child had approached Mr.Panaly, a friend of Ramu, a week ago and had expressed their willingness to surrender to the Government and had sought his support and mediation for reconciliation. One of the compelling reasons for their surrender was that Manivasakam was very sickly and needed immediate medical care. In the given situation they were apprehending police action if they came out for treatment. Mr Panaly, in fact, had conveyed this to the then ASP of the District, Mr. Navaneet Sharma who had promised all help and assistance in the matter. Unfortunately, Mr Sharma was transferred soon after and Ms Hemalatha had taken charge as the ASP. Mr Panaly said that he had informed her about the talks he had with Mr Sharma regarding the wishes of the Maoists. Ms Hemalatha had told Me Ps Panaly that she would do the needful. Ms Shivani, another tribal activist and a public figure among the tribal, said that she too was aware of the willingness of Manivasakam and his group to surrender before the authorities. Manivasakam used to visit the tribal hamlet with this agenda. Mr Panaly himself had met Manivasakam two times in two weeks at a place called Anchakakombe in the tribal hamlet.
These killings stand as a violation of the Supreme Court of India’s 16 Guidelines issued in 2014 under the then Chief justice R.M. Lodha and Justice Rohinton Nariman to be followed in the matters of investigating police encounters in the cases of death as the standard procedure for a” thorough, effective and independent investigation”. The No. 1 of the 16 Guidelines reads as follows: “Tip-offs about criminal activities must be recorded either in writing or electronic form”. There was nothing as such in police custody. After 12 days of encounter killing, the police have now released some video clippings of Maoist training in handling pistols. Again, the police now say that there was a laptop left under the plastic roofed tent. There was absolutely nothing like a laptop in the tent when the witnesses of the dead corpses visited the tent on the 29th October 2019. These are fabricated evidence cooked up by the police to defraud investigation and to defeat ends of justice. No. 2 of the Guidelines speak of FIR pursuant to a tip-off. The police do not reveal till the date anything about the FIR. Nobody knows if there is at all an FIR registered. No. 3 of the Guidelines reads as “investigation into such death will be done by an Independent CID team which has to fulfil eight minimum investigation requirements”. What is being done today is contradictory to the Guidelines. Till today the investigation is being done by the Crime Branch of Kerala Police. No agency in Kerala under the present DGP Lokanath Behera IPS and the Home Minister (also the CM) Shri Pinarayi Vijayan is independent for that matter.No. 4 of the Guideline speaks of “mandatory magisterial enquiry” into cases of encounter death. A magisterial enquiry means an enquiry by a special executive magistrate (Tehsildar or Deputy Tehsildar) and the report has to be submitted to the Government. This being the practice and the law, the Chief Secretary of the State, Mr Tom Jose IAS, has published an article in Times of India on 5th November 2019 with a title “It is like War: Kill or be Killed”. In the article, the Chief Secretary in an unusual gesture has justified the killing of “Maoists” in Attappady forests and has categorically stated that the Maoists have no human rights. One has to remember that the Chief Secretary for all practical reasons is the State. The report of the mandatory magisterial investigation has to be submitted to him. Now the Chief Secretary has already given his judgment in the matter that has sabotaged any further investigation in the matter. Whether the police have complied with the remaining part of the 16 Guidelines is not known to us, it has to be verified. But we have reasons to believe that the police have been doing everything possible to distort the matter to misguide any independent investigation into the “encounter” killing.
According to the official reports, the Crime Branch investigations will be coordinated by its SP Mr K.V. Santhosh. Dy SP Mr Firoz M Shafeeq will investigate into the firing dated 28th October 2019 and Dy SP Mr V A Ullas is in charge of the investigation into the firing of 29th October 2019. As per the information provided by the RCVT, the Dy SP Firoz M Shafeeq was among the police officers who monitored firing on the 29th October. We are yet to ascertain the depth of his involvement on the 29th, but he was having an important role on the day Manivasakam was brutally assassinated. One may have serious apprehensions about the independence and fairness of an investigation by the same officer into a subject where he himself had a major role in the calamity.
According to the above-mentioned facts, we can assess that the killing of four allegedly “Maoists” on the 28th and 29th of October 2019 in the forests of Attappady near the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet was not an encounter killing. It was a well-orchestrated, meticulously designed attack on the deceased while they were taking noon meals under a plastic sheet roof. It was a clear case of extra-judicial killing, for sure. The deceased had not attempted for self-defence. Manivasakam who was killed on the 29th was in the custody of the commandos from the 28th and was shot dead in police custody on the 29th. His both legs were fractured and hence both legs had oedema. He was totally unable to move. He was 65 years and was a chronic diabetic patient and had several health issues. A week ago he had come out and requested help for surrendering to the police mainly because he was badly in need of medical attention. From the given circumstances, it is evident that both legs were broken by the Thunderbolt commandos so that he should not escape.
The so-called “cross-firing” and the subsequent killing of Manivasakam on the 29th was only a melodrama staged by the Thunderbolt commandos as was well designed much earlier by the top brass of the police. Along with ten witnesses, gathered from distant places avoiding people of the nearby tribal hamlet, and a Deputy Tehsildar there were three sets of videographers and low-rank police personnel taken to the forest where the 3 dead bodies were guarded by the commandos. Suddenly “cross-firing” started and the witnesses, the Deputy Tehsildar and the police personnel were asked to lie down, facing the ground. They were not allowed to raise their heads for nearly two hours. At the same time, the videographers were doing their work without any interruption. After two hours the witnesses and the Deputy Tehsildar were asked to get up from the ground and were told that there would be intermittent firing but they need not be worried of that as it would be done by the police force only. Later they were taken to the place where Manivasakam was found dead, blood profusely oozing from his forehead. The corpse was found at only less than 50-60 meters away from where they were lying on the ground while the firing was going on. The post mortem report also said that Manivasakam was shot dead from close range. There was no other injury on his body other than the bullet shots and the fracture on his legs.
The second shooting was on the 29th of October. The next two days (30th and 31st) the forest was completely under the control of the commandos and police. On the 31 st of October 2019 the local Member of Parliament, Mr V.K. Sreekandan who is also the President of the DCC (I) Palakkad together with several media persons visited the forest and the site of the police firing. He later in the day said in a press meet that there was absolutely no sign of firing anywhere in the forest. The media persons who had accompanied him to the venue and belonged to different political perspectives endorsed his views in this matter. However, on the next day, 1st of November, the members of the CPI, part of the ruling coalition in Kerala visited the place under the leadership of the Joint Secretary of the party, Mr Prakash Babu. They later told the press meet that they had seen several marks of firing on the trees and bushes. One has to presume that the police had artificially created the bullet marks on the trees and bushes to prove their claim that there was fierce cross-firing on the 29th.
Mr Panaly, Mr Ramu and Ms Shivani assert that they had met Manivasakam and his group earlier and that they had expressed their willingness to surrender before officials. This was already communicated to the former ASP Mr Navaneet Sharma and later Ms Hemalatha, the present ASP. The villagers of the Mele Manjakandi tribal hamlet say that the deceased had no plan to attack the police. They also say that the deceased had observed the commandos searching in the forest sometime ago, but they did not attack the commandos as killing the police was not their intention. The villagers also think that the deceased were not Maoists at all, but should be stranded members of erstwhile Veerappan’s force who wished to return to the social mainstream.
The police claim that there were seven people in the group, four of them were killed and three escaped from the scene. The logic is simple. On 27th October 2019 six “Maoists” including a woman with a child had visited the Mele Manjakandicolony to join the villagers in the Deepavali celebrations. Manivasakam was not in the group. So, including Manivasakam there should be seven members in the group. Police must have this information through their intelligence network in the tribal hamlet. Therefore, it is simple arithmetic of the police that three of them had escaped from the shooting site.
Midhun Mohan (Guest Writer)
Midhun Mohan is a Journalist currently working in Gourilankeshnews and also a Former editorial intern at @thecaravanindia. He is a masters student at the University of Hyderabad.