A joint fact-finding team visited Gumudumaha village in Paranpanga panchayat in Kandhamal district of Odisha to investigate the killing of five civilians in firing by security forces. The security forces claimed that the civilians including a 2-month-old baby were killed mistakenly in ‘cross firing’ with ‘Maoists’.
The team comprised Narendra Mohanty, State Convener, Campaign Against Fabricated Cases (CAFC) and Indian Social Action Forum(INSAF); Bhalachandra Sarangi, State Spokesperson of CPI (ML)- New Democracy; Mahendra Parida of All India Peoples Forum (AIPF) and Tapan Mishra, Former President of Ravenshaw College.
The victims– of the adivasi Kandh and the Dalit Pano communities - were residents of Gumudumaha village of Paranpanga panchayat, Tumdibandha block Block, Kandhamal and were working under Mahatama Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) as labourers. These men and women were on their way back to home after collecting their wage money from Balliguda Bank. They had taken an autorickshaw at Balliguda on the evening of July 8 to return to their village.
When the auto neared their village, the driver asked the passengers to alight because there was a steep stretch of road. So, the women labourers (two of them were carrying babies) walked ahead while the men pushed the auto up the road as the driver steered.
When the auto reached the top, the women were just getting into the auto when there was sudden firing with absolutely no warning. It later emerged that the Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel had been hiding in the bushes close to the village and fired with no provocation whatsoever.
Five people – including three women Timiri Mallick, Bringuli Mallick, and Midiali Mallick, former sarpanch Kukal Digal and a two-year-old baby boy Jehesh Digal – were killed on the spot, while seven others were wounded. The wounded include Luka and Sunita Digal, the father and mother of the dead baby, Banamali Mallick (very seriously injured), Tembu Mallick, Gidisi Digal, as well as Sahalu Mallick and Kajanti Mallick who were lucky to escape with slight injuries.
The explanation given by the Government and Police is that these people were accidentally killed during exchange of firing between police and Maoists. The team found strong evidence to disprove this claim.
All eyewitness-survivors said that the firing had only come from the left side of the road, and there was no cross firing. Moreover, the headlights of the auto were switched on, and the SOG could clearly have seen that this was a group of villagers including women and children, who were not being stealthy in any way.
Moreover, the senseless murder was compounded by deliberate harassment. The villagers had taken the injured survivors to the village – the SOG made no attempt to take these to a hospital for treatment. The next morning, they prevented villagers from taking the injured – five of whom were severely injured - to hospital for treatment, and did not even allow them to move the dead bodies.
It was only after protests by local organizations that the villagers were allowed to carry the five severely injured people on foot to the road point – along a 15 kilometre stretch of kutcha road – with no help from the administration.
The team demanded
1) An Special Investigation Team monitored by the Court to probe the killings
2) Suspension of the Superintendent of Police, Kandhamal and all police officials involved in this and other fake encounter cases
3) File cases under section 302 as well as SC/ST Act against SOG personnel involved in the incident
4) Rs 50 lakh compensation to each affected family
5) Withdrawal of all paramilitary and security forces who are terrorizing common people in the name of ant-Maoist operations
The team stressed that the Gumudumaha killings are part of a spate of similar fake encounters in the area. In July last year in the same Kandhamal district, a couple - Dhubeswar Nayak (50) and his wife Bubhudi Nayak (45) – were shot dead by CRPF personnel on a hilltop near their village, where they had gone to get a better phone signal in order to call their sons, as was common practice among villagers. The CRPF of course claimed they had killed Maoists. Following protests, compensation was paid to the family of this couple – but no action was taken against the armed personnel who committed the murder. Similarly in February 2016, Manda Kadraka of Rangamati village in Parsali panchayat, Kalyansingpur block, Rayagada district, was shot dead by SOG. There is a climate of absolute impunity for the armed forces in the area, who are killing adivasis and Dalits in the area in the name of counter-insurgency.
On 13th June, the CPI(ML) Liberation held a protest in Bhubaneshwar, demanding a Court-monitored SIT Enquiry into the Gumudumaha massacre, arrest and prosecution of the killers; compensation for the victims’ families and proper medical care for the injured. The party rejected the SIT constituted by the State Government headed by the DGP to be eyewash. The protest was addressed by Yudhistir Mahapatra, Radhakanta Sethi, Sanjukta Panigrahi of AIPWA, Satyabadi Behera of AIARLA and Mahendra Parida.