Further information has been forthcoming from Mr John P Abraham, who, despite threats to his life, continues to campaign for the rights of the indigenous adivasi tribals in India. A judicial enquiry into the police firing of 2001 has begun. A full background to events is below:
On 19 June 2001 a congress leader molested a tribal girl and beat up an adivasi youth and threatened the others with sharp weapon if they made a complaint. The girl’s father made a complaint at the Puntamba police station but rather than taking action against the culprit, the police asked the parents to take the girl away to some other place.
The next day, when the parents and relatives approached Reena John to help them to make a complaint at the Rahata Police station, the brother and father of the accused threatened them that there would be dire consequences if they did anything. After the complaint was made on 19 June, the accused was arrested immediately. The next day, about 15 adivasi took refuge in Reena’s house because further threats were made by the parents of the accused. The matter was immediately communicated to the Puntamba police station, the Rahata Police Station, DSP Ahmednagar, IG of police at Nashik, who were asked to provide protection, but for five hours the police took no action. One constable came home and assured the adivasis that nothing would happen to them, and after an hour, two police came and said that Reena’s husband was causing tension in the hamlet. Despite all the complaints, no protection or security was provided. Within a day, the accused was released on bail and the adivasis were petrified. It was later discovered that the accused had influenced the police, and so formal procedures were not followed by the police in presenting the case at the court. Because of this, the judge released him on bail, despite the fact that the girl was a minor and the Atrocities Act applied.
There was another aspect to the incident. The accused in the molestation case was associated with Bhumi Hukka Andolan. He belonged to the maratha community. He proved to be a serious worker in the initial stages and formed an impeccable pair with Pradeep Dushing. Even though the Samitee took major decisions, both Pradeep and the accused managed the day-to-day affairs of the movement. However, the accused began to extort money from the tribals and fraudulently collected money on behalf of the andolan, but in fact, kept the money himself. He even pilfered receipt books and distributed them surreptitiously to some tribal hamlets. The adivasis had also complained that he had been harassing some of the women. Because of all of this, the Bhumi Hukka Andolan Samitee disassociated itself from the accused. Meanwhile, many tribals were threatened with eviction if they did not pay him whenever he demanded money from them. These pent-up emotions kept surfacing in many of the Samitee meetings.
It was within this background that Pradeep Dushing was informed that he would be arrested for his involvement in the land movement. This irritated the adivasis further. On 24 June, they decided to hold a demonstration, and formed a rally which went to the Puntamba police station in, and presented a memorandum. The main demands were that the adivasis need protection, that the accused should be punished, and the land which they have occupied should be given to them.
Puntamba is the heartland of landlords who demand the MSFC land and some slogans were against the atrocities of these landlords. The adivasis used drums, shouted slogans carried sticks and reached the police station. Reena, seeing the fury of the adivasis, had warned the police station to provide additional police. She had never attended a morcha of the adivasis before. In a short time, about 15 police came from the nearby police station. It appeared to her that the police had already been informed of the need of more police.
There were approximately 300 women at the rally, with a few men at the tail end. As soon as they reached the police station, Indubai Manjre told the police that they should be allowed to enter the station campus. Before she could negotiate, the police started beating them up. Women were mercilessly beaten up by male police and the crowd was dispersed. Without any warning at all – without tear gas, without firing in the air – the police started firing indiscriminately at the crowd. Reena was watching the incident inside the police station and she was protected by one of the police officer who, fortunately, did not know who she was.
When Pradeep and Indubai fled the scene and took shelter in a school about 200 metres away, two constables went behind them. Pradeep was hidden by his wife and two other women. The police pulled him out, and fired at his lower abdomen at close range, within a distance of not more than four feet. Indubai was also similarly shot at pointblank range. Pradeep’s wife was dragged away and was not allowed to go to her dying husband. Reena rushed to see Pradeep and Pradeep’s last words were, allegedly, ‘Satpute called me by name and killed me’. Satpute is a constable posted at the Puntamba police outpost. She also allegedly heard the constables saying that ‘two are gone and only John is remaining’. Even in the van, the police repeated that the ‘next one in the list is John’. Both Pradeep and Indubhai died on the spot. Ten tribals were admitted with severe injuries. Some of them ran away with bullet injuries.
Pradeep’s wife and Reena disclosed that when first-aid was being given by the nurses from the primary health center, Pradeep was left lying in his own blood, and was not treated. In fact, he died due to medical neglect.
Reena was arrested and put in the lock up. Through the window, she saw what the police did. The police went inside the police station, brought old knives, kerosene and an axe, and collected stones and sticks. Some women from the police quarters were told to tie clothes on the sticks to make them into torches. They also discussed the kinds of guns used in the firing. The police inspector said that a third kind of gun should not be mentioned lest they get into trouble.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
19 June 2001 – Sangeeta Mali filed a complaint against Baba Saheb Chav for attempted rape, in the Rahta Police station. The police arrested him. The relatives of Baba Saheb threatened Sangeeta Mali’s relatives.
20 June 2001 – John Abraham complained to various police officials. Demand for protection to Sangeeta and her relatives. Demand for strict action against Chavan. “Uttar Maharashtra Lokvikas Manch”, a network of NGOs wrote to the Director General of Police demanding action against Chavan.
21June 2001 – Babasaheb Chavan is freed on bail from the Kopargaon Judicial Magistrate.
22 – 24 June 2001 – Threats received by Sangeeta and her relatives increased.
25 June 2001 – Adivasis took a protest march to Punatamba police outpost. Police fired on the march. Two workers died and 10 were injured. In the alleged attack by the adivasis, 17 police were injured. Fifteen (15) protestors, including 3 women, were arrested. They were charged under sections 143, 147, 148, 353, 427, 354, 117, 07, 333, 149 of the IPC, Sections 37(1) (3), 135, of the Bombay Police Act, Section 3(25) of the Arms Act and 3 (5) of the Public Property Act. John Abraham, despite being out of town on the day of the march, was charged under the above sections.
POLICE FIRING: POLICE VERSION
On 25 June 2001 at 11am the protesters gathered near the Punatamba Police outpost and the march started. They were carrying kerosene drums and knives. They had a meeting in front of the “Talathi’s” office. The police were ready to talk, but the protestors were unheeding. They started throwing stones and even a lathi-charge did not stop them. At around 1:15pm, the adivasi protestors attacked the police outpost with stones, sticks and axes. The adivasis numbered around 250-300. They poured kerosene on the Assistant Police Sub-Inspector, Gopal Mali, and tried to set him ablaze, but the other policemen saved him. The adivasis attacked Mr. Mali with sharp weapons on his head and injured him. Inspector Prabhakar Jadhav and Assistant Police Inspector Nandakumar Pawar of Rahta police station were also injured. The other policemen injured were Gopal Mali, D. M. Bable, A. A. Sekh, A. R. Dakhne, B. B. Dagalmugal, R. M. Bansod, K. H. Nikam, T. V. Satpute, M. D. Ahol, P. P. Sadgir, R. H. Pathan, B. B. Shinde, G. R. Gadekar, R. V. More, and R. V. Ladhave. The Tehsildar S. H. Mauchi gave the order for firing. Mr. Mauchi was also injured.
Pradeep Dushing of Adivasi Bhumi Hakk Parishad was more active in the act of pouring kerosene on Gopal Mali. Pradeep Dushing and Indubai Manjre died in the police firing. Even though John Abraham was out of town during the incident, it was alleged that he had conspired to attack the police. The police claimed that the conspiracy took place in the Adivasi Bhumi Hakk Parishad office in Pradeep Dushing’s village, Shingve, which is close to Punatamba. John Abraham’s wife, Reena John, was also involved in instigating the adivasis and hence she has been mentioned in the list of accused people.
FINDINGS OF AN INDEPENDENT FACT-FINDING COMMITTEE:
The committee first visited the Punatamba police outpost, the spot of the incident. A historical wall encloses Punatamba and the outpost is outside the enclosure. An empty room in a chawl has been converted into a police outpost, while families of the policemen occupy the rest of the rooms. The room can barely seat 3-4 policemen. Beside the outpost there is a chawl with a narrow road in between which connects the outpost to the main road, where Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar ‘s statue is located. Next to the statue facing the outpost, there are two shops. Beside these, there is a Zilla Parishad primary school, which is guarded by a huge concrete wall. When collecting information from the villagers of Punatamba, many said that they were out of the village at the time of the incident. The shopkeepers in front of the outpost said that their shops were closed during the incident. The day of the incident was a day when the weekly market is held. The wall is about 300 ft away from the police outpost. The school building is another 50 ft away from the concrete wall surrounding it. In this building next to the Head Master’s office there are two bullet marks. These marks had been encircled with chalk as is usually done at the time of Police Panchanama. However there was no reliable information about whether the panchanama of this place was actually done.
STATEMENT FROM SANGEETA PRADEEP DUSHING:
Sangeeta is the wife of Pradeep Dushing who died in the police firing. She was with him throughout the march and the firing incident. She says, “The Adivasi-Dalit workers arrived at 11.00 am, near the statue of Dr. Ambedkar, in two tractor-trolleys. A list of the names of adivasis participating in the march was prepared according to the instructions of the leaders. There were 125 women, 75 men and 50 children.
At 11:30 am, the march went towards the police station from the Grampanchayat with loud slogans. The slogans were demanding their right to live as adivasis and action against the exploitation of adivasi woman. At 1:30 pm, the march went to the police station. When Pradeep Dushing and other workers went to the Assistant police sub-inspector, Gopal Mali with a written request, he took hold of Pradeep Dushing by his collar and verbally abused him. The other policemen began to hit him with sticks. Indubai Manjre and other women intervened to rescue him. The police also beat them and after this they opened fire. 6-7 policemen armed with rifles did the firing. The Tehsildar was present when the firing began. The protestors dispersed, seeking refuge as the firing began. Pradeep, Indubai, angeeta, nd Baby Tupe, hikubai Dethe, and Madhukar Lasure ran towards the Marathi school. They sought refuge in the porch of the school. The police followed them there. We all stood in one corner of the porch. Asst. police sub-inspector Gopal Mali and T. V. Satpute told the other policemen, ‘Fire on Pradeep, first finish this b****** ‘. The other policemen immediately followed the order and fired on Pradeep. He fell down and then they fired on Indubai. Following this they fired indiscriminately on Baby Tupe, Bhikubai Dethe and Madhukar Lasure. After everybody had fallen down, I sat down and the police thought that a bullet too had hit me. However one policeman hit me on the head with his rifle.
Once the police had left, I got up. I asked Pradeep where he was shot. He said that, “I am shot in my waist. But you don’t see it. You remain down other wise police will shoot you as well.” After this the police came and they said, “Get up you have not got hurt”. Baby TupeBhikubai Dethe, Madhukar Lasure, and I were put in the vehicle and taken to the police outpost. The doctors were called at the police outpost. The doctor did the dressing there itself. Indubai Manjre was kept in the vehicle for a long time and later on she was brought to the police outpost. I gave her water to drink. Four police personnel carried Pradeep to the outpost. The doctor examined Pradeep and asked to put him in Indubai’s vehicle. At that time I was giving her (Indubai) water to drink. The Sub Inspector Pawar realised that I was Pradeep’s wife and he asked me to proceed with Pradeep to the hospital. But Mali and Satpute opposed him (the Sub Inspector). I was kept in the police outpost and Pradeep and Indubai were taken to the hospital in the police vehicle. Along with me there were Suman Barde, Popat Mali’s wife and other 34 children who were holding banners at the police outpost. TV Satpute bought kerosene and made ‘tembe’ (night lamps) with it. From the other room Mr. Satpute got knives, sticks, axes, catapults etc and arranged them in the front room. Later Medha Kadam, a policewoman, came and searched me. We were taken to the Kopargaon dispensary and then left. There I met my nephew, Rajendra, and he informed me that Pradeep was dead.
On knowing that there was going to be a morcha, I visited the Puntamba village library premises where the morcha was to start. I saw about ten people, including two women. I went back home. After some time, the parents and relatives of the molested girl came and asked me to go with them to give the application to the police station. I went with them to the library. There were about 250 people. Most of them were women and there were also children with them. Sangeetha Pradeep Dushing was taking down the names of the people. The people were carrying small sticks with them. They started shouting slogans like ‘Stop atrocities against adivasis’, ‘let us live like human beings’, ‘Punish the accused Bhumi Hukka Andolan zindabad’, etc. More than eighty percent of them were women and they began to march towards the police station. They were beating drums and they were carrying sticks. It appeared to me that I should inform the police about it because the adivasis were furious. I went to the police station and told them to have more police force.
By the time the morcha reached the Ambedkar statue which is infront of the police station, there were about 17 police men and about eight of them were carrying guns and the rest lathis. Three police jeeps were standing within the police station premise. They were stopped on the road before they could enter the police station premises. Pradeep and Indubai said that ‘we will enter the premise, sit down and we will give the memorandum’. Before he could finish, he was caught by the police but Indubai and other women got him out of the clutches of the police and then the police began the lathi charge. Three policemen caught hold of one of the women, threw her down and began to beat her mercilessly. This made matters worse. The adivasis began to pelt stones to save her. The police retreated a bit and then began the shooting. There was no tear gas, no warning, no firing in the air. When the women began to run away, the police threw the lathis at them and then they had been shot at. They shot indiscriminately and the crowd dispersed. I was standing behind the shops about 30 feet away from the police station, with one of the police officers. He told me to sit down while the firing was taking place. An old lady who was picked up by the police was already in one of the police jeeps. The whole incident was over in a minute.
I saw the police running out of the police campus and went around the Ambedkar statue. I was curious to see where they were running towards. When I came out on the road, I saw the police running into the school campus through the gate which was about 200 feet away from the police station. I went after them. While I was walking towards the school Satpute, Mali and one more policeman were coming out of the school gate. I asked them what had happened. They did not reply. I went inside the campus. I saw Pradeep and Indubai were lying on the verandah of the school and Sangeetha and Baby Thupe were standing there near them. Indubai was crying and Pradeep told me “Madam, Satpute ne marle. I say Pradeep bleeding profusely”. I came out of the campus and rushed to the police station to request to provide medical aid. I told the person sitting at the outpost to provide immediate medical aid. Later on I realized that he was the Tahasildar. The police Inspector asked me for the phone number of the local health center. I kept quiet because I did not know the number.
The Inspector Jadhav ordered that all those who were in the school to be brought to the police station. Sangeetha and Baby Thupe were brought to the police station. While they were being being brought, they were made to sit under the tree in front of the police station. Leelabhai, who was shot on the face, was sitting in the police station premise. Two nurses came to the police station and someone brought water to the police station.
Later on Pradeep was brought in a godadi by two police men and he appeared dead. The nurses were instructed by Jadhav that all the policemen should be treated first. I approached the Tahasildra and told him that the injured should be taken to the hospital. The police told the nurses to make their bandages big. Meanwhile I was distributing water to the injured including the policemen. By this time, the police had brought Indubai in a vehicle and after a while I saw Sangeeta sitting inside the same vehicle. I gave Sangeeta water and she gave water to Indubai. At that time, Indubai said “Mala chhanni kela”. When I went on insisting on the medical treatment, Inspector Jadhav began to speak harshly to me. He told me “You are an accused. Sit quietly on the bench”.
At that time Jadhav asked which types of guns were used.
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission
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