Tribal villagers in Latehar district’s Garu block have alleged that they were used as human shields by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel returning from poll duty on November 26 during the first phase of Assembly elections in the State.

They alleged that after the rebels fired at CRPF personnel and set fire to eights tractors loaded with the force’s rations and ammunition in Lai village, CRPF personnel threatened and beat up the villagers and made them walk with the security personnel when the firing went on.

Sixteen-year old Ankita Devi and Manti Devi, 18, alleged the security personnel had threatened to disrobe them before physically assaulting them. However, police officials denied the allegation and said the Maoists had beaten the villagers for voting in large numbers the previous day.

“The CRPF party was returning from Kotam village’s booth number 141 on November 26 when the Maoists opened fire at them near Lai village at 9 am. The CRPF took shelter in Lai village and more CRPF personnel reached Lai. As Maoists started taking away the CRPF men’s luggage loaded in eight tractors and [were] setting fire to them, the CRPF started hitting the villagers and made them walk in front of them to shield themselves from Maoists’ firing,” Ram Sundar Oraon, who has since left the village told The Hindu on the phone.

Speaking in the local Khadiya dialect, Koleshwar Parhaiya (51) and Surendar Parhaiya (22) said the CRPF men beat them with rifles and showed the fresh scars on their backs.

Sushil Oraon, Jagdish Parahiya, Amit Parhaiya, Subedar Oraon, Ravi Oraon said 50 villagers were taken by the CRPF to its camp in Saryu village 12 km away where they were tied and beaten. Eight villagers were held back in the CRPF’s 512 Battalion camp at Saryu village and allowed to go after two days, alleged the villagers.

Jagdish Parhaiya said the CRPF beat him after they found three guns in his house which the villagers traditionally use to chase away elephants with noise. He was presented in Latehar district court on November 28 before he was set free by the district judge.

But senior police officials denied the allegation. “The villagers have voted in large numbers, in higher numbers than before. The Maoists are angry at this and also because they are losing cadres in large numbers. They beat the villagers and forced them to make these statements,” said Latehar Superintendent of Police Michael S Raj.