Security forces running riot in Dantewada?

DANTEWADA: Nearly a year after Tadmetla in Dantewada hit national headlines with the massacre of 76 CRPF jawans, grief-stricken villagers in Dantewada alleged that security forces burnt down more than two hundred homes, sexually assaulted a woman and took away two men on March 16. Tadmetla has been scorched and reduced to rubble by the police, they said.

In detailed and gruesome accounts given to journalists, the tribals alleged that five days ago, 37 homes were torched and two women allegedly raped in Morepalli village, 20 km away from Tadmetla.

In a third village, Teemapur, more than 50 families are living in the open after losing all their belongings in a blaze.

Unconfirmed reports of three villages being ravaged by special police officers circulated last week, in the aftermath of a police-Maoist encounter in the area left three policemen dead on March 14.

Then, the police had claimed it had staged a week-long special operation to bust a Maoist camp in an area. But testimonies gathered by journalists now reveal a more complicated pattern of indiscriminate targetting of villages, with arson and assault lasting five days and coinciding with the movement of the police contingent.

District collector R Prasanna has constituted a four-member committee to assess the extent of damage and initiate a process for relief and compensation.

However, director general of police Vishwa Ranjan said, “The local police is denying the charges. I am waiting for the collector’s report.”

But any independent report stands curtailed by severe clampdown imposed by the local police. Ever since the allegations surfaced, the police has mounted intense efforts to keep journalists out — as experienced first-hand by this correspondent.

After being trailed by the police, this correspondent abandoned a hired taxi and climbed on a ration truck, only to be detained at a check post and sent back.

“We cannot let you go further since there is a security operation in the area and it is unsafe,” said the head constable of Chintagufa thana, even as he allowed other motorcyclists and passenger jeeps to drive past.

Asked if their lives were not at risk, he said, “They are local people. You are an outsider. We have strict instructions from the SP’s office to not let outsiders through.”

Meanwhile, the taxi driver was flagged down, taken to the police thana and was interrogated for an hour. “They said she is a journalist, we cannot let her reach the villages and report what will be damaging to our image.”

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