"Neither my daughter was a Maoist nor did she surrender. The police detained her from home and tortured her to surrender," alleged Somdi, mother of a 20-year-old suspected Maoist who reportedly killed herself on Tuesday, 23 February, in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district inside the police line four days after the surrender.
"Gaon me Naxaliyon ka aana jana laga rahta hai aur jab bhi Naxali gaon walo ko bulate hai humein majburan jana padta hai, iska matlab ye nahi ke hum ya meri beti Kawasi Pandey naxali the ( Naxals visited the village often, and whenever they called upon the villagers, we were forced to go. However, this didn't mean that either me or my daughter Kawasi Pandey were naxalites)," said Somdi while talking to The Quint over phone.
She is a resident of Gudse village, which falls under Katekalyan police station of Dantewada, 60 km away from the district headquarter.
Dantewada is one of the worst Maoist-affected areas of Chhattisgarh, with Gudse village – located inside the forest – seeing frequent Maoist movement.
"She wanted to study, she was forced to quit education after Class 5 because the school was far away and the Maoist movement has always been a looming threat to all of us. But, she wanted to educate her younger brother," said her mother with a heavy voice over the phone. "Now, who will look after us and who will teach my son?" she added.
However, as per the Dantewada police's official communique, Pandey was a part of Chetna Natya Mandali, a cultural outfit of the banned CPI (Maoist) and she surrendered on her own accord with five other Maoists on 19 February. Except for Pandey, five of them were carrying a combined bounty of Rs 15 lakh.
But, four days after the alleged 'surrender', Pandey killed herself on 23 February while she was being kept at the Karli Police line. As per the police, she had surrendered to the police under the Lon-Varratu scheme, which appeals to the Maoists to leave the arms and return to normal life.
In local Gondi language, Lon-Varratu literally translates to 'return home'. A flagship scheme for Maoists by the state government, it was launched by the Dantewada police in June last year, under which the police department released a list of 1,600 suspected Maoists or those associated with them.
According to police, the scheme got an overwhelming response till 19 February. 82 Maoists, carrying a bounty on their heads have surrendered, along with 234 others who were associated with Maoist activities. Many have returned to normal life, police said.
“Pandey was a member of Chetna Natya Mandali, a cultural outfit of the CPI (Maoist), and she came to us on 18 February, along with five others, including a senior Maoist cadre 35-year-old Kumari Jogi working for the Katekalyan Area Committee, to surrender of their own accord,” said Abhishek Pallav, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada to The Quint.
Kumari and Pandey were the residents of same village.
As per the Lon-Varratu scheme, after the surrender, they (Maoists) are kept in the police line and undergo counseling for days. Once they return to normal life, police release them on family's accord or help them to get jobs to sustain their livelihood.
Spelling the reason behind her death, Dantewada SP Pallav said, “I used to talk to her regularly. She was under constant pressure from the family to return home, fearing the Maoist may attack the family after her surrender. She was very young and couldn’t take this pressure, which led to her killing herself.”
Nevertheless, the Sarpanch of Gudse village Hemwata Kawasi also backed Pandey's mother's claim saying that neither was she a Maoist nor was she associated to them.
‘Forced To Surrender’
Talking to The Quint, the Sarpanch Hemwata claimed, "The girl was detained from her home by the District Reserve Guards (local force of trained guards of Chhattisgarh Police) along with Kumari on 18 February. Both Kumari and Pandey were taken to the nearby jungle by police personnel, where they were tied to the trees, and were forced to surrender under the Lon-Varratu by the police."
"“Pandey wasn’t a member of any Naxal-outfit. Her name was also not in the list of 1,600 people issued by the Dantewada police under Lon-Varratu. Her death is on the police force who had pressurised her to surrender as a Naxal and kept her away from her family.”" - Sarpanch Hemwata
The unprecedented death of Pandey irked the tribal, social outfits and a political party of the state.
A day after she was found dead, a tribal outfit, Chhattisgarh Sarv Aadiwasi Samaj, met the Dantewada collector and sought an explanation for her death.
"She was taken away from her home in the afternoon of 18 February, along with Kumari and both were taken to the nearby Jungle where the personals of District Reserve Guards threatened to encounter if they didn't surrender,” the letter writes. The outfit demanded a re-postmortem of the body by a team of expert doctors as it had been done without the family's consent.
Probe Committee Formed
Seeing backlash over the death, Dantewada collector Deepak Soni ordered a magisterial inquiry headed by SDM Dantewada, which will likely submit its report in a week.
"A probe committee has been formed to look into the matter," said Deepak Soni, Collector Dantewada. "As far as the demand of re-postmortem is concerned, the report of the first one is awaited and decision on re-postmortem will only be taken based on the findings of the report."
While Soni Sori, a tribal rights activist working in South Bastar, claimed, “A day after the alleged surrender, when her mother went to meet her at Police line, Pandey claimed that she was being tortured and wanted to return home. On 23 February, when her mother went to see her again, police denied meeting under the pretense of ongoing interrogation. But, by the end of the day, police informed them that she killed herself. Hence police’s claim of Pandey killing herself seems suspicious.”
“Police and DRG personals in Dantewada have been running a hoax in the name of Lon-Varratu. Hundreds of surrenders are dubious and need to be investigated. People do not come forward out of fear of the police. The young girl who died was subject to the same fear and pressure,” she added.
In addition to that, the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh party, headed by former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi's son Amit Jogi constituted a three-membered (Navneet Chand, Sujeet Karma, and Jamuna Chandraya) investigation committee to probe into the death of surrendered woman Maoist. The team will give its report in three days.
Replying to the allegations of pressurised surrender and alleged murder, SP Abhishek said, “They were not pressurised, the deceased, in fact, nobody has been forced to surrender. They willfully came to us for surrendering and we followed the process." “It is a futile attempt of the Maoists to defame the Lon-Varratu campaign, that has weakened their cadres and put them on the back foot,” he added.
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