PUCL Bulletin, January 2004
Encounter deaths of two PWG activists at Edu village, Karkala
A PUCL-Karnataka fact-finding investigation report
– By Prof. Ramadas Rao, Dr. V. Laxminarayana, General Secretaries, PUCL Karnataka, 30-11-03
Newspapers in Karnataka on 17.11.03 carried a report of the deaths of Parvathi and Hajima, two activists of People’s War Group, in an encounter with the police at Edu village in Karkala, Udupi district, Karnataka. Another activist Yashoda was injured in the shooting, and was hospitalized, while Anand and Vishnu, two male members of the PWG, escaped. This team had been staying in a house in Edu village that the police raided on the night of 16.11.03, which resulted in this encounter.
In connection with this encounter incident, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Karnataka) held a press conference at Hotel Woodlands on November 20, at 5:30 p.m., which was attended by several intellectuals, eminent citizens and social activists. It was decided in this meeting that a fact-finding mission led by PUCL-Karnataka would visit Edu village of Udupi district. Accordingly, a team was formed comprising Dr. Laxminarayana, PUCL State Secretary at Mysore, Shri Ramdas Rao - PUCL Secretary at Bangalore, Shri. Maxwell Kumar - PUCL State Secretary and Secretary of Dakshina Kannada District, Shri. Maridanadaiah, member of PUCL Mysore, and Shri Lolaksha, leader of SC/ST Federation in Mangalore, comprised the fact-finding team of PUCL along with a number of lawyers and social activists in this area. The team reached Edu village at 8 a.m. on 23.11.2003.
Edu village in Karkala taluk of Udupi district is a forest area very near to Naravi between Moodubidhre and Karkalla. It is close to the Kudremukh National Park region which has witnessed in recent years a widespread agitation against the state government’s decision to establish a National Park by evicting all adivasis and other cultivators of the land from the Kudremukh forest.
Our team talked to 25-30 people in Naravi, which is close to Edu village, about the police action and the events leading up to it. They told us that in the last two years, teams of the People’s War Group (PWG) had been visiting and meeting adivasis and other people in the area who would provide food and shelter to them. They used to come at night and hold meetings with the people regarding the issue of evictions of adivasis in the Kudremukh National Park. While many of the PWG activists were armed, they did not threaten villagers or cause any disturbance in the area. This was contrary to police reports about the PWG activists harassing and terrorizing the villagers. We found general support for the PWG’s political aims, especially about their involvement in the mobilization of the adivasis in their anti-National Park struggle. The people we talked to were of the unanimous opinion that unless the government stops its policy of evicting the tribals in the National Park, the PWG will continue to draw support and sustenance from adivasis in this area.
However, many of the people we talked to were concerned about the impact of the PWG’s policy of armed incursions into the villages, especially since the police have stepped up their surveillance and combing operations in the last two months, and often harass innocent villagers and force them to turn informers against the PWG dalams. In a press statement (released to the press on 20.11.03), the PWG has vowed to retaliate the killing of its activists by the police and to punish the informers. It has identified the slain PWG activists as members of the Netravathi dalam, which had been assigned the task of mobilizing support for an armed struggle against state repression. In this statement, the PWG has asked people to support its campaign of armed struggle.
The events of 16-17 November 2003
Next, we visited the house in Edu village, which was the scene of the shooting incident that took place on 16-17 Nov. 2003. The occupants were at first reluctant to talk to us due to the intimidating presence of the police outside the house, but after we reassured them that we had come on an independent fact-finding investigation, they helped us to reconstruct the events that took place on the night of 16 Nov. 2003. Subsequently, we met the Police Superintendent of Udupi district and obtained additional information.
Getting information about the PWG activists staying in the house at Edu, Shri Murugan, the SP of Udupi district, led a small police force of ten policemen who reached the house on the night of 16.11.03, and hid themselves in the cowshed facing the house. With the exception of Parvathi, who was keeping vigil outside, the other PWG members, namely Ananda, Vishnu, Yashoda, and Hajima were sleeping inside when the police surrounded the house and started firing from the cowshed. As Parvathi ran inside, she was shot at and collapsed in the main hall of the house. While Ananda and Vishnu managed to escape from the house, Hajima and Yashoda (who were both unarmed) ran into one of the smaller rooms where the police chased them. The police shot Hajima in the stomach, and she died instantaneously. Yashoda tried to escape into a loft in the room, but she was brought down by the police and shot at and injured. She was taken away in a van to the hospital at Manipal. The police claim to have recovered from the house a number of small weapons, including 3 shotguns and a rifle belonging to the PWG team.
The police account of the encounter
After the investigation at the site of the encounter, we went to Udupi and met the S.P. of Udupi district, Sri Murugan and recorded his statement:
“Our police department has been for some time keeping a track of all Naxalite activities in the area. We received authentic information about a group of Naxalites staying in a house at Edu village, so we quickly organized a small force of 10 policemen (due to logistical reasons) and went to the house. I accompanied the team because I felt it was proper for me to lead my men from the front. We waited in the cowshed and emerged outside. We found Parvathi standing guard armed outside and we asked her to surrender. She fired at us and we had to return the fire. She rushed into the house. Then the Naxalites started firing at the police in the cowshed, and 2 policemen were injured. Two men among the Naxalites escaped in 2 different directions and have not been captured yet; they are not in our custody. We then entered the house and found the dead body of Parvathi in the main hall. We went to a small room and found a woman (Hajima) who was seriously injured and later succumbed to her injuries. We found another woman (Yashoda) hiding in the loft who was also injured and we took her to the hospital. She has a flesh wound but no serious injuries. No firing took place once we entered the house.
We could not make the Naxalites surrender because: 1. we were a small force of 10 policemen and 2. they were firing at us constantly. They were using lethal weapons (with “soft-nosed bullets” used to kill elephants), and fired 10-12 rounds at us from shot-guns and 2 rounds from a rifle. We fired 16 rounds in the exchange of fire.”
Our findings about the shooting
When we examined the house and its surroundings, we found a number of bullet marks on the front wall and left side wall of the house as well as in the main hall, indicating that the police had fired continuously at the house from the cowshed and from one side of the house. In the small room where Yashoda and Hajima were shot, there were blood marks on the walls that were smudged with cow dung in an attempt to erase them. When we examined the shed in front of the house, we did not find any bullet marks anywhere, in other words, no evidence of firing from the inside of the house.
- On the basis of a careful examination of the site of the shooting and other circumstances, the police action of shooting down three naxalites, killing two women and injuring another, appears to be unwarranted and completely out of proportion to the nature of provocation/resistance offered. There was no evidence of any firing from the Naxalites’ side, and hence there was every possibility of avoiding firing and securing the capture of Naxalites. The fact that the police did not make any serious attempt to capture the naxalites shows that the police action was a premeditated and extra-judicial killing, in other words, a fake encounter.
- The police claim to have been shot at, but it is not clear what kind of injuries were sustained by the police, whether from an air gun (as is reported in the newspapers) or some other lethal weapon. The injured policemen were discharged shortly after the action.
- In order to establish that it was a lawful encounter, the police should have immediately filed an FIR, which did not happen till about a week after the incident.
- No charges were filed against Yashoda, the injured PWG activist, for a week. She was kept in illegal detention by the police till she filed a complaint on 21.11.03. She was produced before the magistrate at Karkala on 22.11.03, and remanded to the police custody. Yashoda is in a considerable state of distress after the incident, and wants to be produced before the court immediately.
- It is clear that the PWG strategy of armed struggle has led to police repression in the area, with the supporters of the PWG having to bear the brunt of the police’s counterattack. This has every possibility of leading to a competitive cycle of violence and counter-violence by the police and the PWG militants in the area. This situation, if allowed to continue, can only displace attention on the broader issue of the people’s struggle against the Kudremukh National Park.
Demands of the fact-finding team
- A judicial enquiry by a sitting judge of the Karnataka high Court has to be done regarding the encounter.
- The team of police led by Shri Murugan must be treated as accused in a murder case and legal proceedings be initiated against them.
- There should be no eviction of adivasis from the Kudremukh National Park.
- The package of measures recently announced by the state government should be used for improving the life of the adivasis, without evicting them.
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