Looking Back

The Matgarha ‘Encounter’

Hemendra Narayan

The Gaya administration’s glory over the horror story did not last even the next morning's newspaper. The follow-up reports left them thoroughly exposed of the cold blooded murder of eleven men on April 12,1994. Six years later the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directed to the state government to pay a compensation of Rs one lakh each to the family members of the 11 persons killed near Matgarha village under Mohanpur block, not far from the Gautam Buddha wild life sanctuary further putting them in the dock.

In fact the FIR filed by the Deputy Superintendent of Police Baban Prasad Yadav involved in the operations, which he had considered to be clever craftsmanship, had stripped them of concocted claim that the dead were "kukhyat agyat ugrawadi" (unknown notorious extremists). Notoriety and anonymity cannot go together. He further said as he and others lighted torches during the encounter and the faces of those extremists who escaped were visible. The police officer went on to claim that those who escaped could be recognised by him. In the next sentence, he said that the encounter started at 20:30 hours. By all reckoning, the police officer must be having a fantastic eyesight and memory. This was in spite of the fact the continuous and indiscriminate firing by the extremists numbered one hundred to one hundred twenty five. The police officer in the FIR then described as to how the bodies, firearms and some documents from the dead were recovered from the site of encounter by the side of the jungle road. The officer in his report mentioned that six policemen including another DSP Jagdish Chouhdry had "kuch chotein" (slightly hurt). The police cremated the eleven without identifying them. Mark it the FIR described them as "notorious"! After post mortem, the police who had earlier planned to keep the bodies for a longer period changed their mind and thereby destroying the evidence.

The FIR filed by the officer with the Barachatti police station mentioned that following the order of the DIG issued a day earlier the police party had moved into the area for intensive raid, arrest of the extremists and to set up a camp and were told by two villagers that the extremists were holding a meeting. The police party was split into two groups and after some distance, one could hear people talking. After being asked to identify the extremists fired which was returned. The encounter continued for nearly an hour. The police fired 54 rounds in all during the period, the FIR said.

Intriguingly within hours of the incident, a senior police officer in the state headquarters volunteered information regarding the killings to local newspapers late in the night as a great success story. Action and press publicity were well synchronized. The Magadh zone Deputy Inspector General of Police, Balbir Chand, said: "Never before have so many extremists been killed by the police in an encounter." After the Lai killings, local people said that the police were forced into the brutal action only because the [Maoist Communist Centre] MCC had been gunning for an influential leader of the area, Deonandan Yadav. The MCC had attacked Deonandan Yadav several times and had killed four of his men, including a close relative. In fact, it went round in the political circles that Chief Minister Laloo Yadav wanted the MCC be taught a lesson. He had however reacted angrily to the scale of killings at Matgarha.

Even as the brutal massacre was being celebrated in Patna and Gaya both by police and civil officials, the press, civil rights groups as well as the extreme left groups and their associates were punching holes in the encounter theory. It was so unremitting and convincing that the police claims just collapsed. The biggest flaw was the police had failed to name the eleven and identify the "notorious" though they came out with superfluous and con-cocted sequence of events.

The next day question marks were raised over the encounter leading to death of eleven Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) men. The Gaya district administration had failed to identify the eleven dead in what they claimed to be a chance encounter near Matgarha village under Mohanpur block, which was a stronghold of the extreme left group operating in the district for years. Jan Suraksha Manch, which had fraternal ties with the MCC debunked the encounter theory to allege that the eleven were killed in cold blood by the police. Vijay Kumar Arya, convenor of the Manch had asserted that the men had been rounded up earlier in the day and were later shot dead in the jungle. He admitted that of the eleven, three of them were their supporters and another three were hardcore members of the MCC but MCC had nothing to do with the other five. He had declared that the theory of the administration that the police movement in the night was to set up a police camp in the village was not plausible.

Apart from the major faux pas made by the police was that the dead men were called agyat kukhyat ugravadi (notorious and unknown extremists) in the FIR. Moreover, the blood stains found near the trees on the place of the occurrence and lack of any noticeable injury except marks resembling mosquito bite on the hand of one of the DSP who claimed to have led the police side during the 'encounter', gave credence to the general belief that the encounter was fake. And the men alleged to be MCC activists were picked up from village Lai, brought to a secluded place near village Matgarha, tied to trees and gunned down from point blank range. Bullet marks only on the upper part of the dead bodies further put a question mark on the police version. Totally one sided casualty in a late evening encounter, lack of any survivors, absence of stray bullet marks anywhere in the area where hundreds of rounds were said to have been exchanged by the two sides, and absence of any local witness to testify the police claim, were the several pertinent questions left unanswered.

Further, the eleven were cremated under heavy police bandobast without being identified. The Chokidars pressed into service by the police for doing the identification failed in their job. After firing around sixty rounds police had killed eleven when earlier times it had never proved to be such a good shot that too in the night time. Though the police had earlier said that seven of their men were injured, it was later confirmed that they did not even go in for first aid treatment. Also after the police firing none of the MCC men caught in wounded condition.

The Matgarha killing of eleven Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) supporters by the Gaya police in April was described as "cold blooded murder" by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The PUCL described the occurrence as "fake". The PUCL report says "it is crystal clear that the victims were entirely at the mercy of the police when they were killed". The PUCL relying on talking to villagers and others however missed very glaring loopholes in the police FIR. It however said that families of those killed were not contacted by the police. It also pointed out that no forensic tests were carried out on the bodies before they disposed off after the post mortem on April 13. No attempt was made to ascertain the distance from which the shots were fired. No judicial enquiry was conducted. The SP had maintained such esquires are conducted into unnatural deaths of which the encounter was not a part, the PUCL said. The PUCL however missed out on crucial point of the FIR in which those killed were "unknown but notorious" had been mentioned.

The CPI(ML) Liberation's fact finding team report supported the PUCL. The assertion by the Liberation was significant in the sense that the two left groups were involved in a bitter feud and killing each other. It had identified all the eleven belonging to backward community or harijans who were picked up from village Lai about 26 krn from the encounter spot. ‘The armed squad of the MCC was overpowered from the house of Ramchaiter Mistry on afternoon after it was encircled by the police party led by two Deputy Police Superintendents. The squad was left with no choice but surrender', the Liberation had said quoting their sources. Liberation also raised a pertinent point as why none of the killed belonged to the nearby village when such meetings were invariably organised with the help of local men. Apart from demanding a judicial enquiry into the incident Liberation demanded action against the officials involved in this conspiracy. Liberation state Secretary Pawan Sharam had said, "though we were opposing the MCC fake encounters could not be tolerated".

Eight months after the killings on January 17, a senior Bihar Police Officer had said with regret that the last year April's massacre at Matgarha in Gaya district in which eleven persons were gunned down by police was a "mistake". He did not want to commit himself beyond that and to an extent defended those involved in the operation as it was done at the instance of the political bosses. In this context it was significant that Director General of Police V F Jain at a meet the press programme organised by a local English newspaper had earlier declined to answer questions on the massacre.'' You can ask me everything but nothing relating to Matgarha", Jain had said.

The relentless follow-up of the brutal killings showed its result. It was particularly satisfying that the NHRC took suo-motu cognizance of this writer's article in The Statesman to issue notice to the Bihar government. The Commission on perusal of the article regarding the killing of 11 persons by Gaya Police in April, 1994 that appeared in The Statesman dated 19 May 1994. It also took notice of the report of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. The findings in the report were that this was a case of 'cold-blooded murder' of 11 persons by the police and that the story of an "encounter" was concocted to cover up their crime and to lend a facade of legal justification to an otherwise cold-blooded murder committed on 12 April 1994.

The Commission issued notices to the Chief Secretary and DGP of Bihar. It was not convinced of the report received from the Assistant Inspector General of Police which had stated that members of the MCC (Maoist Communist Centre) had planned to commit offences on the date of the encounter. The report of the AIG was in fact of basically a repetition of what the government asserted after the killings.

The AIG's report said : "That the police having come to know that 11 persons who were hiding were asked to surrender to the police. However, instead of surrendering they opened fire at the police whereupon the police fired at the hiding miscreants. After several rounds of firing from both sides there was a lull. When the police went inside they found the dead bodies of the 11 persons and some firearms and explosives.

It also claimed that a sum of Rs 8798 in addition to arms and ammunition and some literature in which a call was given to the farmers to fight against feudalism were recovered. The others had fled away. The villagers were called to get the bodies of the 11 persons identified but nobody recognised them".

On examination of the AIG's report, the Commission felt that unless a senior judicial officer inquired into the matter, the explanation of the police could not be accepted. With the permission of the High Court, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Gaya was accordingly entrusted with the inquiry.

Six years after the brutal killing the NHRC had ordered for payment of compensation to the next of the kin. However, it must be said that the mastermind and those involved in the massacre got away. The police officers had been promoted and typically, the District Magistate Rajbala Verma was today a senior Secretary in Jharkhand.

[source : mass media, July 2015]

Vol. 48, No. 5, Aug 9 - 15, 2015