Inhuman Torture by Chandrapur Forest Department leads to Death and Injuries
Mayabai Kishore Thakur whose husband was brutalised by the forest department
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who is also Maharahstra’s Forest Minister should take serious cognizance of the Goonda elements inside Chandrapur district’s forest department. In the last two months two separate incidents have occurred involving inhuman torture on common people by the forest department. The incidents have left one man dead and several injured. There is growing anger and distrust in the public against the forest department which the Chief Minister should not ignore. Till date neither the Guardian Minsiter Vijay Wadettiwar, nor the M.P Balu Dhanorkar, nor any of the ruling party or opposition MLAs has taken a public stand against the brutalities. Apathy and negligence towards the blatant injustice committed on the poor and weak only foments hatred towards the system.
Vidarbha Gazette brings the ground report on both incidents based on visits and meetings on 28th and 29th November 2021.
We visited the home of Surendra Devadkar, aged around 45 years, belonging to the OBC (Kunbi) community who died of the injuries sustained due to the torture of forest personnel.
Surendra Narayan Dewadkar, tortured by the forest department, died on 1st October, 2021
Surendra Devadkar’s widow Savita lives with her two sons in a tiny two-roomed hut made of mud and wood in Babupeth ward of Chandrapur city. She and her husband used to run a hand cart selling samosas which closed down during the lockdown leaving the family hand to mouth. The family could not pay the electricity bill of Rs.5000 because of which the line was cut. Even after the lockdown was lifted the family was struggling to get back on its feet. Surendra started going for wage labour apart from working on the hand cart. The hut in which they live needed repairs and on the fateful day Surendra Devadkar along with four others went to the nearby Junona forest to fetch bamboo for the repairs.
On 27th September 2021, at around 7.30 a.m. the five men entered the Junona Babupeth forest on bicycles and cut bamboo. At around 10:00 a.m. when they were loading the bamboos on the cycles, the beat guard of the area (which falls under the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra) Balaji Rathod came with three other men. He stopped the group and started abusing them for cutting the bamboo. Then he took a bamboo and started beating up the men. Two of the men ran away into the forest, but three namely Surendra Dewadkar, Kishore Thakur and Vilas Mutthawar were badly beaten up. All the men left the bamboos and their cycles in the forest and managed to come away.
According to Surendra’s son, he did not return home that and hid outside in the fear that the forest department people will come home and torture him and his family. On the 30th September Surendra Dewadkar was admitted in the government hospital for consuming poison and after treatment he returned home late at night. The next day i.e. on 1st September Surendra died at around 6.30 a.m.
As the news of his death spread Kishore Thakur who had also been beaten went to Ramnagar police station and filed an FIR. Savita brought out the copy of the FIR and post-mortem report from a plastic bag. The FIR numbered at 984/21 was registered under Section 302, 324 and 323 IPC. The post-mortem conducted by the Government Hospital showed several injuries on various parts of the body including lungs, thighs, and back which, according to the doctor, were sufficient individually and collectively to have caused the death of Surendra Devadkar.
Savita with her younger son Laksh outside their hut
Although there was a lot of pressure from the forest department and some local politicians to ‘settle’ the matter, Savita and her elder son Nikhil refused to compromise. Some ‘well meaning’ people told her that once the trial starts, they will tire of going to the courts, but Savita and her son are prepared for that ordeal also.
The entire family is going through immense mental trauma and financial stress. Surendra was a poor man but he wanted his sons to study for which he also took loans. The elder son is studying in the final year of civil engineering. After his father’s deat, Nikhil was forced to take up the work as ward boy in the private hospital for which he is given around Rs.4000. The younger boy Laksh is around eight years old and refuses to stay home alone. Savita is suffering great mental and emotional distress and is unable to go for wage labour.
This family which lost its primary breadwinner has not received a single paisa in compensation from the forest department for the death of her husband. The local MLA Kishore Jorgewar, in an act of magnanimity, ensured that the electricity connection is restored – at least for the time being.
Kishore Thakur in his hut, left foot after debridement surgery
Meanwhile Kishore Thakur (aged 40 years belonging to Rajput caste) who had accompanied Surendra to the forest and who is the complainant in the present case developed necrosis in the left leg and was admitted for eight days in government hospital for debridement. Even today his left leg is in bandages and he is on crutches. When we went to meet the family, Kishore was sleeping and unable to get up from his place. He cannot go to work because of the severe pain. His wife Maya is left to fend for the family by taking up wage labour work. They have three young daughters, all of whom go to school. The family lives in a tiny rented room in Ambedkar Nagar, Babupeth. Maya is unable to make ends meet as her earnings are meagre, much of which goes towards medicines for her husband.
On 24th November 2021 at around 2:00 p.m. the RFO Rahul Karekar of Chandrapur Range Office (Regional) along with a team of beat guards and round officers went to the field of Hanuman Asutkar (45, belongign to SC community) in village Chincholi, Taluka Chandrapur and accused him of poaching a Chittal. When he vehemently denied the allegation, they asked him to sit in the vehicle and come with them for recording statement. Accordingly, Hanuman Asutkar sat in the vehicle and was taken to the Forest Department Rest House at Rambaug. There the forest department officials started beating him and demanded that he should confess to the killing. The forest department had also asked Sandip Asutkar (38, belonging to SC community) also a resident of Chincholi and Ishwar Ramteke (49, belonging to SC community) a resident of the nearby village Payli.
All three of them were badly beaten with rods. Two round officers namely Madhukar Tawade and Rajesh Patade beat them on their feet, ankles and soles while the two beat guards namely Gulab Yadav and Vijay Bhimanwar stood on their thighs or backs. Then the forest personnel took electric current rods meant for wild animals and applied electricity on various parts of their bodies. After beating them, they told the villagers to go back to the village. Not a single statement was recorded from either of the three persons.
Foreground From Left: Akash Chandekar, Sandip Nehare, Mangesh Asutkar (in red checked shirt), Ishwar Ramteke and Hanuman Asutkar (white shirt, folded hands)
The next day i.e. on 25th November the forest department sent information to Mangesh Asutkar (30 belongng to SC community), Sandip Nehare (25, belonging to Gowari community) and Akash Chandekar (23, belonging to SC community) all residents of Chincholi to remain present in the Rambaug office. They also called Hanuman, Sandip Asutkar and Ishwar. This time they physically tortured them all six of them. They forced Akash Chandekar to completely remove his clothes and when he was naked, they applied shocks to his private parts. Meanwhile, the forest department called yet another person from the same village called Rakesh Sao for recording statement. All the seven persons were in separate rooms and beaten one after the other. At around 4.30 p.m. the forest department asked the villagers to go back to the village. When the villagers came back, the entire village gathered at the main chowk.
Around 6 p.m. the forest department personnel came to Chincholi looking for Yogesh Sao, Uttam Gedam and Kishore Gedam but this time the villagers surrounded them and asked why the people should go with them. For two days the forest department had tortured the villagers without recording a single statement or registering any offence against them, and the villagers were extremely angry. On receiving information about the people gathering at the chowk, at around 7.30 p.m. P.I Swapnil Dhule and a team of police officers from Durgapur police station. It was only after Inspector Dhule promised to take the injured persons to the hospital and take action against the erring forest department that the villagers dispersed.
The police took the injured persons immediately to the civil hospital and the doctors conducted medical examination till almost midnight. In all the six medical reports the doctors noted injuries on legs, thighs, ankles, soles, upper arms and the lumbar region (lower back) inflicted by ‘blunt and heavy object’. There were swellings and abrasions on various parts of the bodies. Next day i.e. on 26th November an Fir was registered based on the statement given by Akash Chandekar numbered 284/21 under sections 324, 348, 323, 34 IPC against Bhimanwwar and Yadav.
With the help of political activist Raju Zode of Ulgulan Sanghatana and Advocate Farhat Baig well-known lawyer and President of Muslim Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation, the villagers of Chincholi handed over a memorandum to the district collector on Constitution Day, 26th November and demanded that case of attempt to murder under section 307 IPC should be registered against the forest department officials.
Although Chincholi village is only around 30 kms, the narrow dust road slows down the vehicle. It is a village of 150 households a majority of whom are Dalits and Adivasis. The Bouddh Vihar is at the main chowk of the village. It is here that we met the villagers. Not only the victims and their families but the entire village was terrorised because of the incident. The victims narrated the ordeal and showed us their injuries. Akash Chandekar was finding it difficult to stand.
Meerabai Nehare with her son Sandip
The women were vehement against the forest department and some were weeping. The mothers of Sandip Nehare and Akash Chandekar were inconsolable. “The boy cannot walk,” Meerabai Nehare kept repeating, “Even now he cannot sit on the floor to eat food. He cannot fold his legs.”
Akash’s mother who has already lost one son in an accident wept inconsolably. “They removed all his clothes and beat him and applied shock on his private parts. He could have died. He could not move. Even now he cannot stand properly.”
“Nobody cares for us. The netas only come here for votes. No Amdar (MLA), Khasdar (M.P) or Mantri (Minister) has come to see our condition. The lives of villagers come cheap,” said a man.
“Our village is next to the forest. We live in constant fear of the wild animals. What has the forest department given us? Have they given us rozgar? The Asutkar family has stopped threshing paddy. Is the forest department going to feed us?”
Meeting Villagers at the Chowk, Chincholi
“The entire village has not eaten properly since last four days. Kunchach ghari chul petat nahiye. (People are not lighting their stoves). Everybody is sad. We can never forget this torture.” Said Mangesh’s mother-in-law who had rushed to Chincholi after hearing of the incident.
The anger against the forest department in the village was palpable. “Let the forest department show us single evidence,” the villagers said repeatedly, “Let them show us one piece of skin, or bones, or blood, or anything before they allege that we have killed deer.”
In a village where the local school is only till Class IV, Ashish Gedam is possibly the only graduate. Just before we left, he said: When the police in America put his foot on the neck of a black man their entire country stood up. In my village six people were tortured by Goondas in uniform. I wish that whole India and the world should know about it and speak about it.
When contacted over phone Rahul Karekar, RFO Chandrapur Range (Regional) agreed that the villagers had been brought to Forest Department offices for enquiry based on information provided by a Mumbai-based NGO. He denied that anyone had been tortured. He agreed that no POR (Primary Offence Report) is registered against the victims.
These two incidents within a few weeks of each other has shaken the confidence of the people in the forest department. The main contention of the people is that the forest department does not have any right to beat up and torture people. If they find any wrongdoing they should register POR, conduct investigation and present the accused before the judiciary for punishment in accordance with the law.
It is to be noted that in both the above cases the POR was not registered and till today offence has not been registered and therefore all the victims of torture are not even accused of any specific crime. In both these cases the forest department has overstepped the legal boundaries and the culprits should be held strictly accountable.
There is a demand from the people that the Chief Minister should take immediate cognizance of these incidents and in order to prevent such incidents in the future, he should issue strict orders that henceforth torture by forest department shall not be tolerated at any cost. The Chief Minister should make the Chief Conservator of Forest and Divisional Forest Officer accountable for any such incidences of beatings and torture within their jurisdiction.
In these two cases the Chief Minister should reassure the people by setting up a judicial enquiry into the entire matters and by announcing substantial compensation to be paid to the families for the physical, mental and financial trauma suffered by them. He should also provide job to the next of kin to Surendra Devadkar.
– Paromita Goswami
P.C. Paromita Goswami, Vijay Sidhawar, Devendra