Maoist Conflict

‘Like a drum, we’re beaten on both sides’: Chhattisgarh ex-sarpanch accused of role in Maoist attack

Podium Panda went missing on May 3. While the police claim that he confessed to involvement in the Sukma attack, his wife says he was detained illegally.

On April 24, Maoists attacked Central Reserve Police Force troops in Sukma district in south Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, killing 25 jawans and leaving six others injured. This attack was touted as one of the most lethal in the state in half a decade.

Less than two weeks later, on May 3, Communist Party of India leader and the former sarpanch of Sukma’s Chintagufa village, Podium Panda went missing. On May 12, his wife, Podiyami Muiye approached the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur, filing a habeas corpus petition, a recourse in law under which a person can report an unlawful detention.

Five days later, on May 17, the police produced Panda before the media in Jagdalpur, declaring he had voluntarily surrendered and confessed to having been actively involved with the April 24 attack. In the court, the police challenged Muiye’s petition, claiming that Panda had surrendered to the police on May 9. Its affidavit stated that 45-year-old Panda was the deputy commander (militia) of Duled Janatana Sarkar of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had surrendered to the police “without any arms and ammunition”. It further said Panda would be granted all the benefits as per the government’s rehabilitation policy for surrendered Maoists.

On May 18, the High Court ordered for Panda to be produced before it on Monday.

Before the hearing, Panda’s wife Muiye told Scroll.in: “If the police has not fully broken his spirit, he [Panda] will stand by the truth – that he is not and has never been a Naxalite. I am only hoping his spirit is stronger than the police baton.”

On Monday, however, when the police presented Panda before the court around 10.30 in the morning, he told the magistrate he had surrendered voluntarily. He denied that he had beaten by the police. When asked by the judge whether he wanted to stay with the police or go with his family, he said he wanted to go back with the police.

On the intervention of the petitioner’s counsel, Panda was allowed to speak to his wife briefly in the court itself. Later, at a press meeting, Muiye said she is convinced her husband has been tortured. She said he was shivering and appeared to be under tremendous pressure.

‘White-collared Naxals’

The case is specifically important because in January the Chhattisgarh police claimed that it would take actions to stop “white-collared Naxals” from creating hurdles to Bastar’s development. They were referring to activists and others who have criticised human rights violations by security forces in the region.

According to the police, Panda has admitted to having been a vital link between Maoist leaders and human rights activists like Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and Bela Bhatia. The affidavit stated that as the undisputed sarpanch of Chintagufa village for 10 years, Panda gained access to many Maoist leaders, which enhanced his social status as many social workers like Sundar and Bhatia would approach him to take them to Maoist leaders.

DM Awasthi, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Naxal Operations, said Panda “was the link between the gun-wielding Maoists and those that support them from outside”.

Sundar was one of the key petitioners in the Supreme Court against the Salwa Judum, a state-backed civil vigilante group accused of widespread human rights violations in Chhattisgarh. Many Judum members were later absorbed in the state police, and regularised. In 2011, the Supreme Court deemed the group unconstitutional and held the state responsible for the atrocities its members have been accused of.

Bhatia was instrumental in bringing to light the sexual assault of Adivasi women by security personnel in the past year. The National Human Rights Commission investigated the cases and found prima facie evidence of serious human rights violations.

Responding to the police claims of Panda’s statement, Bhatia said: “Statements can be easily misinterpreted by the police. I met him [Panda] once in 2008. And he was a CPI leader then. There is nothing illegal about that.”

In an article in the news website The Wire, Sundar recounted what she wrote about Panda in her recently-published book: that he “is someone who commands instant respect from everyone who knows him – Maoists, police and villagers alike”. She told Scroll.in that she has known Panda for 15-odd years. “I can only speculate that the police needed to show that they were taking some action after Burkapal [the Sukma attack] and therefore they picked him up,” she added.

On Monday, after Panda made his statement to the court, Sundar pointed out in a press statement that the Supreme Court had in the past held that “a person should not be taken straight from long duration police custody to give a statement, without a cooling off period where they are not in police custody”. Sundar questioned why the High Court had not asked the police to explain the gap between when Panda went missing and when he was shown to have surrendered. “Why did the Court not order a medical examination despite his family’s claim that he was being tortured?” she asked.

Human rights defender or Maoist?

The police has claimed that Panda was involved in all the major Maoist attacks in the past decade. That claim is completely false, said Manish Kunjam, former MLA of the Communist Party of India and a leader of the Adivasi Mahasabha. Since Panda was a committed CPI worker and a member of the party’s Dantewada district council, the Maoists would never accept him, Kunjam said. The Maoists follow a strict regimen and Panda’s tendency to imbibe alcohol would instantly disqualify him, he added.

Residents of Chintagufa say that Panda had risked his life several times to help the armed forces. According to Sundar, Panda was instrumental in helping set up the CRPF camp in Chintagufa when he was the sarpanch of the village. Villagers told Sundar that he provided food and grains to the forces when they ran out of supplies as would happen often, since the area is far-flung.

However, the incident that has almost become legendary occurred in 2005, when Panda saved the lives of seven CRPF men who had been kidnapped by Maoists. Panda negotiated their safe return. In 2012, he also went on to mediate the release of Alex Paul Menon, the former district collector of Sukma, who was also kidnapped by Maoists.

But Panda would not be mum when it came to human rights violations by the police. He raised his voice against Salwa Judum’s atrocities on Adivasi people, said Kunjam.

In 2010, the Maoist attack near the village of Tadmetla left 76 CRPF men dead. Many local CPI leaders, including Kartam Joga, were arrested. “Panda too was accused in several cases and was advised to lie low till the heat dies down,” said Kunjam. Ever since, for the last seven years, Panda had been underground.

“With the fear of arrest by the police looming large, we built a house in Munda, village Minpa, and he began to live there,” said Muiye, Panda’s wife, who continued living in Chintagufa and has been a sarpanch since 2009.

Panda's wife, Muiye, in a photograph taken at her home in October 2015. (Photo credit: Malini Subramaniam).
Panda's wife, Muiye, in a photograph taken at her home in October 2015. (Photo credit: Malini Subramaniam).

Violence and intimidation

Panda was riding on his bike, going towards a fish pond, when he was picked up by the police on the morning of May 3, eyewitnesses told Muiye. The eyewitnesses also mentioned that along with Panda, four school-going boys – Podiyam Sushil, Podiyami Hurra, Vetti Malla, Hadma – were picked up on the allegation of having Maoist links.

There is little information about them. “When there is evidence that these boys are school-going, then why did the police arrest them?” asked Sundar. While the mothers of these boys accompanied Muiye to Chintagufa, Dornapal and Sukma police stations, they could not make the journey up to Bilaspur to knock on the doors of the High Court.

Back in Sukma, a police officer questioned Panda’s younger brother Podiyami Komal when he went to meet his brother on May 13. “He asked the reason for filing a habeas corpus when Panda was safe with the police,” said Komal, who also said he was beaten by the police. In the meantime, he was allowed to see Panda.

“My brother looked tired and appeared to be in fear,” said Komal. “He was limping and I could see his right heel was dark blue, showing signs of [him] having been beaten up. I felt he tried to say something, but was unable to as so many policemen were surrounding him.”

Muiye was reluctant to go to the police station, for fear of being beaten up or arrested. As the sarpanch of an area where officials of the civil administration are largely missing, she regularly interacted with the police and CRPF who sought her help to distribute supplies in the village as part of their civic action programmes. But she also faced harassment by the same forces, which suspected her family of colluding with Maoists.

As the sarpanch of Chintagufa, Muiye had to attend official events. Here, she is seated next to SRP Kulluri, the former Inspector General of the Bastar police, at a Maoist surrender ceremony in 2015.
As the sarpanch of Chintagufa, Muiye had to attend official events. Here, she is seated next to SRP Kulluri, the former Inspector General of the Bastar police, at a Maoist surrender ceremony in 2015.

In October 2015, when one of us had travelled to Chintagufa, Muiye had alleged that CRPF troops had barged into her house while she was taking a bath. Dragging her by the hair while she was still in a wet saree, they had searched her house, only to find Communist Party of India pamphlets. This incident was corroborated by policemen in a conversation at the police station. On the same trip, we had met Panda who was living the life of a fugitive.

“We are like the dumroo [drum],” he said, with a weak smile.Dono taraf se peete jaate hain. We are beaten on both the sides. Maoists think we are with the police, while the police think we are with the Maoists.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.