Villagers claim they were forced to become witnesses in Latehar fake encounter case

Fake encounter of a tribal youth: Family accuses forces of lies and intimidation

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Ranchi: On 12 June, at the Ganaikad hamlet of Piri village in Latehar, Jharkhand 24-year-old Brahmadev Singh was shot dead by the Central forces. The 214 Battalion CRPF was in joint action with 03 Cobra and Jharkhand Jaguar. The family of Brahmadev claims he left his home with others to go animal hunting for the Sarhul festival when the forces fired at him.

“He never went to the jungle usually. It was for sarhul he was going hunting with others. He did not even reach the jungle. He was just a few yards away from the home when they fired at him,” tells his uncle Sohrai to eNewsroom. In the firing by the force, Dinanath also got hurt who was accompanying Brahmadev. After the firing, police detained five other men of the village.

Tribals in a group were going for traditional animal hunting to celebrate. They were carrying ‘Bhartua Gun’ which is made locally to scare away animals or hunt small prey. Brahmadev and five others Raghunath Singh (40), Rajeshwar Singh (52), Dinenath Singh (25), Sukhdev Singh (45) and Gobind Singh (35). Brahmadev and Dinenath were ahead when they saw the force and they signaled others to step back. The men behind started running at that moment the force started firing from the other side.

Speaking with eNewsroom, Manoj Dutt, an independent journalist who went to the village said, “Brahmadev and others had raised their hand placing the gun down and shouted they are common people, not Maoists. They requested not to shoot but the firing continued. Brahmadev got a bullet and fell to the ground. The forces then lifted him and took to the other side and shot him again. They also tried to change his clothes.”

On 13 June, villagers including Sohrai Tharwar and Bindeshwar Singh from the Piri village reached the police station for the release of villagers detained after the incident.

Sohrai, a relative of Brahmadev, informed that police have falsely named him and Bindeshwar as eyewitnesses of the incident. “As they had taken five people, we went to Latehar on 13 June for their release. There at the police station, they made us sign the paper and asked if we had come for guns or the people. To which we said we want people. When we requested to know what was written on the paper before signing they refused to let us read it. They also made us sign other plain sheets,” alleged Sohrai.

Both claimed that they were not present at the spot where the incident happened. “We live three kilometers away from the place of the incident. We were not present there when the shooting happened. We got to know of the incident several hours later when the word spread and people started talking about the killing of Brahmadev,” says Bindeshwar. Raising his objection he continued “It is a complete fabrication. So we want our names to be removed. By falsely naming us witnesses they are trying to sell their narrative.”

The fact-finding team of Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha too found that there is a contradiction in the FIR done by police and testimonies of the villagers.

The FIR states that several companies of central forces as well as Cobra and Jharkhand Jaguar went to Kuru-Piri forest on the tip-off of the movement of one CPI Maoist leader Chhotu Kharwar. While returning from the jungle, force personnel saw a dozen armed men and asked them to surrender. According to the FIR, they did not surrender and opened fire. After this, the force retaliated.

Whereas, the villagers claim that the tribal group kept shouting that they are innocent but forces shot. When Brahmadev fell after being hit by the bullet, then forces took his body at the edge of the hill and shot him again.

“Our immediate demand from the state government is to cancel the FIR registered in this case, as then the victims’ families will never get justice. A fresh FIR should get lodged which should include family versions,” said Siraj Dutta, a member of the fact-finding team.

Piri village has a population of around 100 families. The area doesn’t have any proper road connectivity, electricity or mobile network.

Significantly, villagers claim that they have not seen any movement of Maoists in the area in the recent past.

Brahmadev who worked as an auto-driver is now survived by his wife and a one-year-old child. Villagers demand justice for Brahmadev. “They must provide adequate compensation to his family and give a job to his wife,” demanded Bindeshwar.

DIG R K Lakra told eNewsroom that a case has been filed and CID is now investigating the matter.

However, Dutta added, “CID inquiry is not enough. We want from the Hemant Soren government that there should be a judicial probe under a high court judge into the matter.”

In 2017 also, a tribal of Pirtand village Motilal Baske was killed, who was termed a Naxal leader by the forces. The matter was raised by JMM and Giridih MLA Sudivya Kumar also highlighted it then and later when the Mahagathbandhan government got formed, but Baske family is still waiting for justice.

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