Encounter killing of village headman sparks unrest in Dantewada

A set of well thumbed photographs are being passed around by protestors gathered outside the Sukma post-office in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. The first is passport-sized, of a well-built, thirty year old man called Madkami Massa in a pale blue shirt smiling into the camera, the other grainier image shows Mr. Massa’s contorted corpse on a white slab – his right arm severed at the elbow, his chest pierced by a bullet.

For the past week, Mr. Massa’s violent end has brought residents from his village of Chikpal out onto the streets. On August 6, the Chhattisgarh police claimed to have killed an armed and uniformed Maoist guerilla and recovered his body during an early morning raid in Neelavaram village in Dantewada district. Two CRPF constables were injured during an exchange of fire and were admitted at the government hospital in Sukma. The body of the slain guerilla was kept at the morgue, autopsied and buried. Four days later, the body was identified as Mr. Massa on the basis of police photographs.

Chikpal’s residents insist that Mr. Massa was picked up from his village on August 5, a day prior to the alleged firefight, taken to the Central Reserve Police Force camp at Kerlapal and shot the next day in a staged encounter. Villagers say that Mr. Massa was the ‘mukhiya’ of Chikpal, a hereditary social position like a village headman, and had no connections with the Maoists. While Dantewada’s Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and the CRPF maintain that the operation was genuine, the villagers are supported by statements from local politicians, their Congress MLA, Kowasi Lakma, and former MLA Manish Kunjam.

If the allegations are true, Dantewada’s security forces could be responsible for the illegal detention and summary execution of a young adivasi man.

“CRPF soldiers from Kerlapal came to Chikpal at about 12 o clock on August 5,” said resident Irma Ram Markami in a recent interview, “They gathered everyone and shouted at us for not helping build the new CRPF camp. They warned us not to support the Maoists and then started searching some of the men.”

Irma said that Madkami Massa was singled out because he was a strong, well built young man with knotty muscles along his shoulders and back. “They [CRPF] said he was built like a Maoist and they took him away,” Irma Ram said.

“Villagers from Chikpal called me on the same day [August 5] and said Massa had been picked up by the CRPF,” said Kowasi Lakma, the MLA of Konta. “I called the police and asked them to release him, but they said they didn’t have him. The next morning [August 6] I heard about the encounter and later realized Massa had been killed. This is a completely fake encounter.”

“Apart from Massa, others have been picked up by the forces and held without any charges like Muchaki Hidma from Phoolbagdi and Rava Hadma from Samsetti village,” said Manish Kunjam, Sukma resident and former MLA of Konta, who said that young men were routinely questioned by security forces and detained for long periods without being formally charged.

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