It was 8.30 am on July 31 that 26-year-old Hari Babu received a call from his uncle about his father Linganna. Hari was at Warangal, and his uncle told him that a “firing incident” had taken place involving the police and his father. "By the time I reached the Rollagadda forest area, it was 1 pm,” Hari tells TNM, “Around 200 people were gathered at the spot near the hill. Even the media was there." But none of them were being allowed to proceed further by the police, Hari says.
"The constables told me nothing had happened. Later, we all forcefully went up. There was nothing there except for a makeshift shelter. The people around me started searching, and that’s when they found the bloodstains,” says Linganna’s son, “As we followed the stains, we saw the police moving along with two men who were holding either end of a stick. A body was tied to the stick, and the men placed the body down when they saw us. I asked one of the villagers who the dead person tied to the rope was. and was told that it was my father.”
For the Telangana government and its police, Linganna was the area commander of the armed resistance wing of the CPI(ML) New Democracy – known as dalam – that works closely with banned Maoist organisations. But Hari, the CPI(ML) New Democracy and several other human rights organisations say, Linganna was a committed activist who fought for people’s issues – including the podu land agitation that is currently flaring up in Telangana.
Over 200 police officers, including some from Greyhounds – the anti-insurgency wing of the Telangana police to tackle Maoists – had shot and killed Linganna near the Rollagadda forest area of the Bhadradri-Kothagudem district on July 31. According to the police, Linganna and seven others – who they claim were Maoists – were surrounded by the police in the forest bordering Chhattisgarh, when the men allegedly opened fire when the police asked them to surrender. However, human rights organisations say that there are clear signs that Linganna was tortured before he was killed, and say that this was a fake encounter. The police have denied these allegations. The matter is presently being heard in the Telangana High Court.
When Hari saw his father’s body from up close, the sight devastated him. "It was pretty evident that my father was tortured, he was beaten, even his skin was peeled. His body had three bullets; in the thigh, heart and head. His face had severe injuries, his skin was peeled and it appeared like his hands were pinned and crushed with stones," he says.
The state in which Linganna’s body was found angered the villagers who started sloganeering and arguing with the police demanding the release of the two men carrying the body – who reportedly belong to the same area. Hari says in the melee that ensued, his grandmother and uncle, who were with him, were beaten up. The villagers gathered then started pelting stones at the 200-odd policemen who carried out the operation. The police then fired in the air to disperse the crowd.
According to the police, two Maoist insurgents escaped when villagers started pelting stones. The video does show people throwing stones and giving blows to an officer who manages a quick escape pic.twitter.com/hTbamdAfvD— Mithun MK (@KalkiSpeaks) August 1, 2019
In the chaos, the two men who were carrying Linganna’s body, who the police claim are members of the Dalam and Maoists, escaped.
The police were initially taking Linganna's body to Gundala but instead went to Kothagudem. "Without informing us, they conducted the post mortem. I even refused to take the body as they conducted a postmortem without informing us," Hari says.
The Civil Liberties Committee, a Hyderabad based Human Rights group, along with Hari approached the Telangana High Court seeking a second post-mortem of Linganna’s body the same day. The body was shifted to Gandhi hospital in Hyderabad the same night. The second post-mortem was conducted on August 3.
"In the morning when we reached Gandhi hospital the police officials didn't let us into the mortuary. Even the second post-mortem was done in police presence. They have done it by not letting us inside, they shut the main gate of the hospital. They didn't even allow me inside despite being his son," says Hari.
Many of the CPI(ML) New Democracy members were taken into preventive custody as they protested before various police stations that day. CPI(ML) New Democracy is a faction that broke away in 1988 from the CPI(ML) and has two factions within itself; one that takes part in democratic elections and another armed group or ‘dalam’ that operates like the CPI (Maoists), who are commonly referred to as Naxalites or Maoists.
The last time Hari met and spoke to his father was in June: “My father was in exile and his movement is mostly unknown. One year back he was arrested, then released and stayed at home for two months. But two months back he left again. I never expected that such a thing would happen. My father was a committed activist who fought for people’s issues like podu lands, he fought against proposals of Singareni colony mines privatisation. He fought and worked for the people, he used to love as much as he should he can." The youth who is en route to becoming a teacher was at a loss for words.
The details of the second postmortem report were submitted to the Telangana High Court on Tuesday in a sealed cover.