Three Muslim men Naushad, Shahzad and Chotu Pathan alias Zaheer Khan were killed by the police in encounters on 13, 14 and 17 May in the Guna district of Madhya Pradesh over allegations of poaching blackbucks and peacocks. A fact-finding report by a human rights group has questioned the police claims over the encounters.
Waquar Hasan | TwoCircles.net
NEW DELHI — A fact-finding team of lawyers and activists have raised questions over the killing of three Muslim men in police encounters over the allegations of poaching blackbucks and peacocks in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna districts.
Three men Naushad, Shahzad and Chotu Pathan alias Zaheer Khan were killed by the police in encounters on May 13, 14 and 17 respectively. As per police, on May 14, three policemen were also killed after a group of poachers, most of them hailing from one family, opened fire on them near Saga Barkheda village, some 60 kilometres from the district headquarters.
According to the police, a team of police officials reached the spot after being informed in the wee hours of May 14 that some people were poaching blackbucks and peacocks in the Sagar Bakhera jungle.
“The poachers allegedly opened fire on the team of police in which three police officials were killed. The police also shot at the poachers in which Naushad was killed,” the police said to the media.
Shahzad escaped at that time and was killed in the encounter on the evening of May 14, as per police.
According to a Times of India report, Madhya Pradesh tops the list in poaching cases across India. “Out of 139 poaching cases registered in the country between 2008 and 2018, Madhya Pradesh accounts for 31 cases of blackbuck killings. Bhopal, Guna, Sehore and Raisen are the circles which are endowed with rich wildlife,” the report said.
Fact-finding report terms encounters as ‘fake’
The fact-finding report, a copy of which lies with TwoCircles.net, released by the rights group National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) on May 24, has raised questions over the police version and termed the encounters as fake.
The report said that these encounters were carried out to “take revenge and protect the real culprits of the poaching.”
“In this incident, the deceased policemen are also responsible for the crime as are the poachers. The accused has a relationship with the politicians of the state. Their photos with the politicians have been published in the newspapers. The police are killing people belonging to the minority to protect the high profile criminals,” the report noted.
The team pointed out that if the call details of slain Shahzad were obtained, it would expose many things related to the incident. “But the police are not willing to do this. The government and administration are active to protect the high profile mafia and smugglers while innocent people belonging to minority communities are being killed,” the report said.
The fact-finding team included state president of the NCHRO advocate Aradhana Bhargava, NCHRO’s state general secretary Vasid Khan, senior social activist Rakesh Mishra and NCHRO member, Shrikant Vaishnav. The team visited Viduria village of Guna district on May 20 where the alleged poachers lived. They spoke to family members of the slain accused.
Talking to TwoCircles.net, Vasid Khan, a member of the fact-finding team, said that after killing Naushad, the police killed his brother Shahzad when he came to perform the funeral rites of Naushad at the graveyard. “The police could have nabbed him with ease as Shahzad was alone at that time. But they didn’t arrest him but rather killed him after laying siege,” he said.
A similar thing happened with Chotu Pathan also.
In the case of Chhotu Pathan, the police are saying that he was fleeing while his family members said that he was taken by the police from his home, per the report.
According to Khan, the two brothers Naushad and Shahzad were regularly in contact with the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and had friendly relations with the local police.
According to a report in Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, Naushad and Shahzad had done poaching two days before the encounter. ASI Rajkumar Jatav was given a tip-off about poaching. Jatav had warned them not to poach again. But they had told Jatav to allow them to poach five blackbucks on the occasion of their niece’s marriage and offered bribes to him. Jatav had rejected the bribes.
Talking about the incident, 55-year-old Haseen Bano, mother of Naushad and Shazad, told the fact-finding team that on May 14, his son Siraj’s daughter was set to get married. “A day before, they were celebrating rituals of Mehendi at night when Gagan sarpanch and Kalla sarpanch came to our home with arms to take Naushad and Shahzad to the jungle for poaching. Later at night, both Sarpanches brought Naushad unconscious and laid his body on the ground. Then, the police came and took away his body,” she said.
She alleged that the police also beat up her 77-year-old husband Nisar and his son Siraj. “They were beaten up even in the jail. The police also plucked all the nails of Nisar and demolished houses belonging to her three sons and other villagers.”
“The police could have taken my sons Naushad and Shahzad into custody and given them a punishment of 10 years in jail. They should have allowed my sons to live,” she said.
TwoCircles.net contacted a few police officials to comment on the findings of the fact-finding team but they avoided answering our questions. Dr Srinivas Verma, who was posted as Additional Director General of Gwalior range by the government after removing Anil Sharma as IG of Gwalior range over the Guna incident, told TwoCircles.net that he will respond later as he was busy. When contacted again, he did not respond to calls.
Station House Officer (SHO) of Aron Police Station, where the encounters were carried out, said that he will not make any comments on the issue and asked this reporter to contact Guna SP. However, Guna SP did not respond to repeated calls.
Fact-finding member Khan said that when they approached the police with their findings, the police dismissed their findings and said that “what we (police) have said is the truth.”
Waquar Hasan is a journalist based in Delhi. He covers human rights abuses and hate crimes. He tweets at @WaqarHasan1231