On 29th July 2015, Dantewada police claimed a major success in gunning down a dangerous Naxalite commander, identified as Hemla Podiya, in a fierce encounter in the jungles of Nahadi in Dantewada district. Next day, a few people including Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi, Bela Bhatia visited the incident site, met with the villagers there and uncovered that this was not an encounter between the police and Naxalites at all, but a cold-blooded murder of an unarmed villager in broad daylight in front of his house. In a press conference in the Jagdalpur press club on 31st July 2015, Soni Sori and two young girls from Nahadi village, Hemla Hira and Hemla Bhime, recounted the following:
On the night of 28th July 2015, a contingent of joint security forces comprising of more than 500 officers, along with a few surrendered Naxals (one of whom, Badru, is now a constable, the others being Kiran and Hurra), went on a combing operation towards Nahadi. The forces halted in Gonderas, where, as is common in this area, they beat up women and men, looted their possessions, burnt their belongings, killed and ate dozens of chicken, before finally reaching Village Nahadi on the morning of the 29th at around 10 am. Upon reaching Nahadi, the forces rounded up the entire village and started going from house to house beating everyone they found there, including pregnant women.
A little while later, around 11am, hearing this commotion, Hemla Podiya emerged from his house to see what was happening. He was only a 100 feet from his hut when a single shot rang out and he was killed. Eye-witnesses among the villagers identified the shooter as Badru, a surrendered Naxalite who used to be active in the area.
When the family of Podiya and other villagers heard a gunshot they all came rushing to the spot. But the security forces didn’t allow anyone to come near the body and hurriedly took it away instead. Podiya’s mother and wife were beaten up, and the sister was threatened that she would be put in the hut and burnt. All traces of the killing were removed, as the blood-soaked mud from the spot where Podiya Hemla had fallen was dug up by the police and disposed of by throwing it away into a nearby stream.
Podiya Hemla was a young man; he lived with his parents, young sister, wife and two young kids. His brother, the villagers claim, was also killed earlier by the police in a similar encounter.
On the same day, a group of 20-29 youth and children from nearby villages who are part of a cultural group were also severely beaten up and detained by the police for a day. They were released only after stern warnings not to protest the killing of Hemla Podiya in any manner, else they would be re-arrested. Reports of beatings by the police in the nearby villages of Kakadi and Karkapara have also emerged.
The story narrated by the villagers is in stark contrast with the narrative of the police. The villagers are insistent, there was no encounter, no heavy firing – only a single shot was fired by Badru, which killed an unarmed villager in an act of unprovoked assault. It was cold blooded murder. Podiya was shot from the back and at a short distance. This did nottake place in a dense forested patch, but in the open ground of the village. Eighteen dangerous Naxalites were not arrested – only some young people belonging to a cultural group were detained, and they too were let off within a day. On one count, all sides agree – most of the violence that day was done by the three surrendered Naxalites, whom the villagers recognized. While the police showered them with praises, the anguished villagers are asking, “If Naxalites are criminals, then why are the police recruiting these criminals, arming them again with guns, and letting them loose to kill us?”
Villagers from surrounding villages met again yesterday (Aug 1st) at the ground where Podiya Hemla was killed. They are demanding a judicial inquiry into the matter. Villagers fear further police repression, but want to fight for justice. We will keep you informed with more updates.
Here are two articles in the local press reporting on the Press Conference yesterday:
Photos are by Lingaram Kodopi.