February 19; Timla, Jharkhand
In June 2010, Mahadeo Munda was sitting under Mahua tree when police officers approached him and started asking questions. “After that they put me in a vehicle. I don’t know where they went,” he told Community Correspondent Amita Tuti later. Mahadeo is a farmer in Tilma district of Jharkhand, and when the police took him, he couldn’t think of any reason behind his predicament. After some time, the policemen asked Mahadeo to get down and fill their bottles with water. They stopped at Koronjotola, a town few miles away from Tilma, where Mahadeo lived. As he got down, a man started thrashing him with a bamboo stick. “They tied my hands behind me with my own towel,” he recalled. “Then they took me back to the vehicle and started to torture me. Three men sat on my chest and tried to break my fingers.” He pleaded his innocence but nobody listened. “The pain was unbearable. I was crying loudly.” Mahadeo was kept blindfolded for about a week. “When the Police In charge removed my blindfold, I realised I was in Bundu (a town in the district of Ranchi).”
Mahadeo’s ordeal was a mistake. The men who abducted Mahadeo were from the Central Reserve Police Force. The CRPF is deployed in Jharkhand to fight armed Maoist rebels. “The police In charge started scolding them. ‘You CRPF people do not have any brains,’” Mahadeo remembered the inspector saying. Mahadeo was taken to be a Maoist. Tribals of Jharkhand are often mistaken to be Maoists, for no good reason. The state is fighting an enemy it doesn’t recognise; the Maoists hide in the midst of tribal communities; and civilians like Mahadeo face the brunt of this conflict. No one denies it is important to curb an insurgency that has a stated purpose of overthrowing a democratically elected government; but no one endorses the use of torture and brute force as a method either.
At the inspector’s instructions, Mahadeo was untied. The police was looking for him all this while. He was taken to another police station in jailed. Why, you ask? You see, it is easier for the state to jail a tribal than to admit it is abducting civilians and may have even committed human rights violations during interrogations. Mahadeo paid an advocate INR 12000, a substantial sum for a tribal farmer, and finished the invented case. “If I were to miss even a single date of my hearings while out on bail, they could throw be back inside a cell. So I figured it would be better to finish the case by paying money.” Mahadeo’s fears weren’t for no reason: Jharkand has recorded maximum over crowding of its jails in the country. This is because of the predominant percentage of under-trials prisoners there, counted above 70 per cent.
Government proceedings are a scary proposition for most tribals even when they are fighting a just cause. That’s what Mahadeo did. And that’s what most of those who get entangled in cases like these do. “So many people who are caught in false cases end up destroying their lives,” CC Amita says. The insurgency doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon, but the state needs to fine-tune its strategy. The use of torture must be condemned. “What made the CRPF people think that he was a Maoist?” CC Amita asked during a conversation later. I couldn’t think of anything.
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