Over a month later, Basava remains in hospital. Despite his allegations of the forest officials falsely framing him, an FIR has been registered against him and not them.

Basava at the hospital surrounded be several people
news Human rights Tuesday, January 04, 2022 - 13:41

Basava, a member of the Jenu Kuruba tribal community living in Periyapatna in Karnataka’s Mysuru district, was attending a self-help group meeting with other members of his community on December 1, 2021. Following this, he went to his field to relieve himself when he heard some people shouting “tiger!” nearby. He says that he rushed towards the road out of fear and just as he was crossing it, heard a loud bang and fainted. Basava had been shot.

When the 38-year-old regained consciousness, he says he was being taken to a hospital by forest officials and other local residents from his hamlet. Basava, had sustained injuries on his left buttock and his left hand. Over a month later, Basava remains in hospital and there are fears that he may even have a permanent disability as a result of the incident.

While Basava alleges that the forest officials shot him as they had a grudge against him, forest officials allege that Basava was among a group of people stealing sandalwood, and the shot was fired in self-defence. Despite the conflicting version of events and the fact that Basava has a gunshot wound, an FIR has only been registered against him and not against the forest officials.

Conflicting claims

Speaking to TNM, Basava recounts an incident from November which allegedly led the forest officials to hold a 'grudge' against him. “In November 2021, forest officials had come near my house and had started chopping down a silver oak tree. When my sister had questioned them, the forest officials asked her to go meet a senior official in a nearby field. When she had gone to meet the official, he talked to her in a derogatory manner,” he says. Following this, Basava says that he went to speak to the officials, who threatened that they would “deal with him,” he adds.

However, the forest officials claim that Basava and two others had sandalwood in their possession and the shooting was in self-defence. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered at the Bylakuppe police station, based on the complaint of Manjunatha HK, the forest official who shot Basava. It stated that the officials received a tip off from an informant that three people had been carving sandalwood trees nearby.

X-Ray image of Basava showing pellets from the gunshot.

The FIR further states that there was an altercation between the forest officials and the three accused including Basava. “At 11 am on December 1, an informant told me that three people were illegally carving out pieces from a sandalwood tree. I informed my superiors and took my slide action gun and reached the spot with daily wage workers Sidda, Subramanya, and Maheshwara. When we went to the field, we saw three people with knives carving pieces of sandalwood. When we tried to catch them, they threatened us with knives and an axe they had. When we started chasing them, one of the persons threw a piece of sandalwood at me and the two others slapped me. They also manhandled me, causing me to fall,” Manjunatha HK stated, according to the FIR.

“Subramanya, Sidda and Maheshwar continued to follow them and I continued to follow the person who had thrown the piece of sandalwood. When I was about to catch him, he swung his knife at my neck with the intention of killing me, but I escaped. Then, for my self-defence I shot into the air. When he tried to attack me again, I shot again and he was injured on his left hand and left buttock,” he added.

However, the FIR doesn’t explain how Basava was shot on his buttock if he indeed tried to attack Manjunatha, for which he would have to be facing him. Additionally, there has been no FIR registered against the forest officials even though Basava’s wife Pushpa had also lodged a complaint at the Bylakuppe police station on the same day. 

JD Jayappa, another member of the self-help group that Basava is a part of, said that the forest officials’ narrative was false. He said, “Our meeting got over at around 10.20 am and there are no sandalwood trees within 10 km of where Basava was shot.” He alleged that the forest officials planted the sandalwood in Basava’s field to frame him and that this practice has been followed by the forest officials many times in the past.

No FIR against forest officials

TNM reached out to Circle Inspector Prakash who is investigating the case for a response, but he refused to offer a comment. The Mysuru Superintendent of Police too refused to comment saying that it was an ongoing investigation. However, when asked why an FIR had not been filed against the forest officials, he said that their statement had been recorded and will be considered in the investigation.

A police source stated that among the two others who had been booked along with Basava, one of them had been booked in other cases under the Forest Act before. However, he refused to give further details. The two people besides Basava who were named as accused in the present case are absconding, according to the source.

Jayappa, on the other hand, rubbished the statement and alleged that the two others haven’t even been in the area for a very long time, including on the day of the incident. He told TNM that the two others have been working as daily wage labourers at coffee plantations.

“The police have to file an FIR (based on the complaint by Basava’s wife). The police have been negligent as he is from a Scheduled Tribe community. It is also very evident that because both Forest Department and police are institutions of the state government, they are supporting each other,” said Chowdahally Jawaraiah, an advocate and the Mysuru District Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). He added that the police should have registered a case on the forest officials under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.