Freedom Under Fire: Doubts Over ‘Encounter’ That Killed Naxal; India Ranked 133 in World Press Freedom Index

A round-up of news, both bad and good, on the rights front from India.

Baster IG SRP Kalluri (centre). Credit: PTI

Baster IG SRP Kalluri (centre). Credit: PTI

Doubts over ‘encounter’ that killed a Naxal

Though labelled an “encounter” killing by the local police, a report from The Indian Express questions the death of former CPI (Maoist) deputy commander Zareena.

Zareena was in the Malangir Area Committee of the CPI (Maoist), and in love with her commander, Kiran. They wanted to get married but were told to wait. In May 2015, Kiran surrendered, disenchanted with Maoist ideology, on the condition that the police would try to get Zareena out too. Six months after Kiran had surrendered, Zareena was killed in an alleged fake encounter.

On January 20, announcing Zareena’s death, Bastar IG SRP Kalluri talked about how Kiran wanted police help in getting Zareena to surrender as well, but that she had died because “cowardly Maoist leaders from outside Chhattisgarh use Adivasi women as… security cover”.

However, people from Zareena’s village tell a different story. Her village, Tumirgunda, is located deep inside Bijapur’s forests. A new metalled road goes only till Kuttru, 20 km away. The closest road ends 20 km away.

Only 17 families live in Tumirgunda. While they all agree that Zareena was a Naxal, they go on to unanimously state that she had been sent home as she was ill, and that when the police came on January 19, there was no encounter. An unarmed Zareena was picked up in her nightgown and taken away alive.

Naresh Vakko, Zareena’s brother, spoke to The Indian Express about the day the police came to get his sister. There were at least a hundred policemen, according to him. “They didn’t say anything, they came straight to our hut, outside which Zareena was cooking, and took her away. We couldn’t say anything because of the number of men around. Besides, we cannot deny that she was with the sangathan. We thought she was being taken to the Bedre police station.”

DM Awasthi, Special DG of Anti-Naxal Operations, who took charge on January 30, says he doesn’t have all the details since the incident happened before he joined. “But if the villagers have all this evidence, they should give it to the magisterial inquiry that is on.”

While some police officials who lead the operation have stuck to the ‘encounter’ claim, others disagree. At least five officers at different levels, in either the range police or who are part of anti-Naxal operations, confirmed to The Indian Express that there was “no shootout”. According to one officer, “Zareena was involved in a Maoist attack where four policemen were killed in the same area. That is one possible reason (for the killing), but it is largely guesswork. People know it wasn’t an encounter, but no questions have been asked.”

India ranked 133 in World Press Freedom Index

According to a Hindustan Times report, India has came in at 133 out of 180 in the annual World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematised by various religious groups that are quick to take offense,” the report said. At the same time, it is hard for journalists to cover regions such as Kashmir that are regarded as sensitive by the government. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists,” the report alleged. “Instead, in a desire to increase control of media coverage, Modi envisages opening a journalism university run by former propaganda ministry officials.”

The report says that there has been a disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.

Handwara rejoices as Army bunkers are dismantled

Kashmir’s Handwara town, the location of fresh unrest in the Valley, on Tuesday saw heavy machines dismantling four concrete Army bunkers at the town square, after more than two decades, The Hindu reported. Unrest began after the alleged rape of a school girl by an army man and security force firing that killed five civilians in the protests that followed in Handwara and surrounding areas.

Curfew was lifted in Handwara, after assurances to remove Army bunkers and act against those behind civilian killings. Locals unfurled a huge banner naming the town square as ‘Shaheed Nayeem Chowk.’ Cricketer Nayeem Qadir Bhat was among the civilians killed. A huge crowd watched as the bunkers were removed.

Armed men allegedly attack Chhattisgarh church, try to set it on fire

Two unidentified men armed with sharp-edged weapons barged into a church in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district and allegedly tried to set the place on fire, an NDTV report says. They also allegedly beat up the pastor and his pregnant wife, police said.

The incident took place on Sunday evening at Karanji Matagudi Para village. After entering the premises, they launched an attack on the pastor and tried to destroy the Holy Bible, furniture and other religious material kept inside. They even tried to set the place on fire, according to the pastor’s complaint.

A case under sections 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship), 392 (robbery), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC has been registered against unidentified persons.

Man barred from last rites of kin by caste panchayat

According to a report in Hindustan Times, a 55-year-old man was allegedly barred from attending the last rites of a family by a caste panchayat in Pune, because his son had married out of the community, police said on Monday.

Shankar Dangi, who belongs to the Goud-Brahmin community, on Sunday registered a case against six members of the community about this, an official attached to the Sahakar Nagar police station said. “When I questioned [those stopping me], they told me that since my son has married to a girl from different community, we have been boycotted by the community and (the members) also demanded one lakh rupees to regain the position in society,” Dangi said.

‘Objectionable’ songs sparked Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh clashes, despite police warnings

On Sunday, Hazaribagh had witnessed its first major clash between members of two communities since 1989. The alleged trigger was an “objectionable” song played during a Ram Navami procession, The Indian Express reported.

Police officials said that puja samitis are told every year to avoid playing songs that with hyper-nationalistic emotions. “All these check-lists are given to them every year. They agree to them too. But every time, they try to circumvent it by using one excuse or the other,” said a police official.

“The song that is said to have led to the violence was virtually nothing. I remember last year, the lyrics were much harsher, talking about tearing off the neighbouring country. They are not community-specific, though,” said a police official in Rewali village, which has been placed under curfew.

Police sources also said that the tendency of processions to stop a little while longer while passing through areas of the other community was another potential flashpoint.

JNU student claims degree blocked due to Afzal Guru row

A PhD scholar at JNU on Monday alleged that the university refused to give her MPhil degree in connection with a controversial event during which “anti-national slogans” were allegedly raised, News18 reported.

University officials said that certain protocols are to be followed when any matter is being investigated but maintained that they need to check details of the particular case.

Chintu Kumari, former JNU students’ union general secretary who is pursuing PhD in Political Science, was found “guilty” of violating disciplinary norms by the JNU probe panel investigating the February 9 event. “Today I went to collect my MPhil marksheet and I was informed by the administration that my degree and mark-sheets have been blocked by the Chief Proctor’s Office in connection with the February 9 incident,” Chintu alleged.

Two students Shweta Raj and Rama Naga, who were among those previously suspended for their alleged association with the event, had last week said that the university had “denied” their fellowships. The university had termed this a “technical error” and said their grants will be disbursed.

Do you know of any other incident we should highlight in this column? Write to me at [email protected].

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