As reported in the April 16-30, 2015 issue of MEL, 20 poor woodcutters were shot dead by the Andhra Pradesh police in the Seshachalam forests in Chittoor district in early April in what the police claimed was an “encounter”.
As more and more facts come to light, it is increasingly becoming very clear that the killings were an organised fake encounter, as has become common practice with the police and security forces in many parts of the country. The mourning relatives of the dead workers as well as activists of several organisations, working to unravel the truth behind these killings, have claimed that they saw burn marks and other signs of torture on the dead bodies, hands were missing, toes were cut, noses chopped and teeth broken, suggesting that the victims were probably caught and tortured before being killed.
An eight member fact-finding team led by former judge of Bombay High Court, Justice Hosbet Suresh, has called it an act of 'police terrorism' and concluded that the men were killed elsewhere and their bodies were taken to the forest to stage an encounter drama. The forensic expert of the team has also suggested that the bodies appear to have been left exposed to the sunlight for many hours to destroy evidence of the tortures inflicted on them. Citing Hyderabad High Court’s direction to register a case against the police under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC, Justice Suresh insisted that 20 cases of murder should be filed against the police involved.
Terming the ‘encounter’ cold blooded and pre-meditated murder, one of the members of the eight member fact-finding team and former member of NHRC, Satyabrata Pal, said that he has seen hundreds of cases while serving as a member in the NHRC for five years but rarely had he come across as brutal and as inhuman an act as these killings.
He wondered how in an encounter there were no woodcutters who sustained injuries and lived, which is highly unusual. In this ‘encounter’, 20 men were killed, not one woodcutter was injured and lives to tell the tale.
Justice Hosbet Suresh said “Thirteen women, all aged between 20 and 30, are now widows. What is the future for these young widows with small children and elderly parents?”.
Advocate B S Ajeetha declared that some of the victims’ skins were darker than usual and some of the victims’ bodies were even skinless as if they had been burnt, while MLA (Ramanathapuram) M H Jawahirullah said that the AP police’s actions are far worse than those committed by ISIS.
The cold blooded murder of these 20 labourers by the Andhra Police, as well as the brutal killings in custody of 5 muslim youth by the Telengana Police, has led to a storm of protests all across the country. Political parties, as well as human rights organisations have organised these protests and demanded end to state terrorism and punishment for the killers in uniform.