A group of activists led by Justice Rajinder Sachar and Swami Agnivesh on Monday demanded a judicial inquiry into the encounter in Chhattisgarh in which 19 suspected Maoists were killed.
In an exclusive interview to IBN18 Network Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, DG CRPF Vijay Kumar said the security forces opened fire after they were fired upon by the Naxals.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Rajdeep Sardesai: "It is the worst massacre since independence," is what some human rights activists like Swami Agnivesh are saying. This is what happened; at least 16 suspected Naxalites including a woman were killed in an overnight encounter in the dense jungle of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh. It left six jawans wounded. The encounter took place in the Naxal hot bed of Jagarduba and Basaduba in Bijapur district of the Bastar region. Joint operation by over 300 CRPF and police personnel. A day after the encounter allegations are being made that innocent villagers have been killed. Ok let's go across straight to DG CRPF to get his views on this burning controversy.
Mr Vijay Kumar, thank you very much for joining us. Were innocent villagers killed as described by human right activists in this encounter? Were innocents there among the 19 killed?
Vijay Kumar: We can look at the context, it was joint forces which were approaching the particular site, Silgar, from three different directions. When they reached this village Sarkaguda they heard some noise and they tried to surround the place and they were fired upon. Once they were fired upon they responded. In the bargain who all were there is a matter of investigation but it is very clear from the outset that there were Naxals there, there were villagers from that village also there.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Mr Vijay Kumar, you are saying there were Naxals there, there were other villagers there. The villagers are saying there were two class nine students and there was a teenage girl called Kumari Kaka among the dead. Who have no relationship with the Naxals. Are you willing to consider some of the innocent villagers could have been killed in the crossfire?
Vijay Kumar: It is a matter of further verification but as already clarified to you that place is called Sangam in the South and Janmalisia in the North of the LW later and there is different types of layers and supporters. You have seen in the incident in Baja last year where the strength was 250, out of 250, 40 were armed carders others were armed with bows and arrows. You must remember context and place, this is a place and liberated area and still there is a liberated base. The place beyond Basaguba, no security force has ventured there. Our target was Silgar and I was wondering whether this incident at Sarkaguda was a diversion to distract us from going to Silgar. At Silgar we did not find much but on the way to Silgar when we approached from Chindalnag there was another encounter in which two people were killed. Now who was where, why were they meeting at that point in time, it was 11 pm… and the people who approached there, were not peregrine or Malaysian. And we are going into an area which is so called liberated.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But my point is, is it possible that in the process innocent villagers were killed as is being alleged by the activists who are saying that the people there had gathered for a villagers meeting. Most of them who have been killed are between the age of 15 and 28.
Vijay Kumar: No, there was one girl who was 15-year-old. One boy Suresh who is around 18 according to one record, but later on they said he is 16 only. Actually in the press release they mixed up two Suresh, the Suresh they have mentioned is a 32-year-old fellow… they are talking about a younger boy and have made much of it. All the allegations are stereotypical. They are talking about the loot; they are talking about the rape, outraging modesty. You spill all this into the public mind create a sense of suspicion and this is not a good thing. Our force is very decent and they conduct with extreme restrain. We never use extreme weapons, in response to firing we fired back.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So you are saying that CRPF, your own men suffered injuries from bullets, am I correct?
Vijay Kumar: Absolutely and some of the bullets which have been fired clearly show they are not the guns which we were carrying. There was a very funny kind of a theory, speculation made that it was a circular firing, meaning when we surrounding, we fired at each other, that was sounding extreme. And forensically what is available, at least some of the boys were injured by country made guns which those guys were carrying.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Vijay Kumar on the other hand the villagers allege there were hacking cuts, possibly made by axes, bodies were brutalised. Do you believe that again is propaganda?
Vijay Kumar: No this is not a part of our DNA at all. If you look at what happened at Chintalnar and many places, they (Naxals) have hacked, bruised and slashed. We don’t indulge in this kind of brutal and primitive kind of torcher.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Mr Vijay Kumar would you say that CRPF was hasty in declaring in day one that they were all Naxals. The Home Minister went public, called it a big success. Should you have waited a little bit?
Vijay Kumar: No, no, no, not at all. You please look at the statement very carefully in the Indian Express. Pankaj Kumar has said part of them are Naxals and part of them are supporters; we are looking at who they are. Now, Home Minister’s statement only identified some of the Naxals declared by the local police and given to us. We were working in conjunction with the local police and whatever they identified we declared. We never used the word biggest operation.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you ready for a full fledged enquiry in this entire operation?
Vijay Kumar: No it is not about being ready. Our force is ready for a full-fledged counter insurgency operation in the interest of the nation. Whether enquiry is to be ordered or not is not within my ambit at all to discuss.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So as far as you are concerned this was an operation which was against Naxals. Your targets were Naxals, there is no question of CRPF opening fire on innocent villagers, am I correct?
Vijay Kumar: Absolutely, unapproved firing we never resort to. The firing was provoked from the other side, we had to protect ourselves. In the process who got injured is a matter of forensic and investigation. But you must also bear in mind one thing, it is not as if we open fire in every instance. Each incident is a stand alone, it is not stereotypical. You look at what happened in Andhra yesterday, in Vizag, they have arrested more than 30 people. The Baliguda remember the name. Seven to eight important people have been arrested including supporters. Was anyone injured there, were we trying to brutalize anybody? So each operation is a stand alone operation. In major operation very recently our people withdraw twice on seeing a human shield. In the interest of that ongoing operation, I would not disclose the name of the place but twice our people retreated seeing women and children in the front, what does it mean.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are saying Naxals are using women and children as human shields.
Vijay Kumar: No not everywhere. I would not generalise it, but in many cases we have come across and we have to use extreme, just withdraw. And in that instant apart from getting injured we have to withdraw. But that is another situation.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Let me then put one question to you. What would you like to tell the likes of Swami Agnivesh, who are alleging that this is one of the worst massacres since independence?
Vijay Kumar: See I have great regard for many of these activists. Many of them mean well but in there enthusiasm there should not be a stock home syndrome kind of a thing. They should not trash the police, they should have symmetric view, when Chintanal happens, Doda happens, when 150 people die somewhere else. Once or twice in an incident I was very happy and surprised that some of the activist came forward and condemned the action. But not always it happens. Security forces they think is a panic in order. That is not a good thing and always to blame security forces and trash them is not a good thing at all. Why should the area be called liberated and called backward?
Rajdeep Sardesai: Point taken, such views coming from you DG CRPF Vijay Kumar, appreciate your joining us and giving clarity and where the CRPF stands.
What is now seen as a controversy was it a successful operation or as some say an operation that ended up targeting innocent villagers.