Civil rights group Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha on Wednesday found that a 24-year-old villager was shot dead by security forces on suspicion of being a Maoist operative in Piri village of Latehar district on June 12.

Villagers told a fact-finding team, comprising representatives of various organisations, journalists, lawyers and social workers, that they had gone to a nearby forest on a traditional hunting ritual, when security forces opened fire at them without any warning or provocation.

The police have also filed a first information report at the local Garu police station booking six villagers under various charges, including the Arms Act, for keeping weapons and firing at security forces. Brahmadev Singh, the man killed in the incident, is also among those who have been named in the FIR. The villagers told the fact-finding team that they were made to sign on several sheets of paper, including on blank pages, without informing them about the contents of the document.

In the FIR filed on June 13, the police said that they spotted few men armed with guns and asked them to surrender. However, the men opened fire, the FIR alleged, prompting the security forces to shoot in retaliation. The FIR does not mention the villagers’ claim that Singh was killed in police firing. Instead, it states that his body was found at the edge of the forest.

On Wednesday, the group formed by the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha met the deputy commissioner of Latehar district and senior police officers about the firing incident. They demanded that the FIR should be quashed and that Singh’s wife should get compensation. They also sought an inquiry by a judicial commission into the incident.

What the villagers told the group

On June 12, a group of six locals, including Brahmadev Singh had gone for a hunt, which is a ritual related to the Sarhul festival. Each of them were carrying Bhartua guns – a single shot firearm used to hunt small animals and birds.

“We had entered the forest to hunt for pigs when we saw security force personnel,” Sukuldev Singh, one of the men in the group said. “On seeing them we assembled next to a tree and pleaded not to fire as we are locals. But by then, the security forces started firing incessantly.”

Sukuldev Singh, who has also been named in the FIR, said the villagers had not fired a single shot.

Rajeshwar Singh, another person named in the police complaint, said one of the bullets hit a villager, Dinanath Singh on his hand, while another one hit Brahmadev Singh. Five of then fled from the spot, but the police caught Brahmadev Singh. They took him to the edge of the forest and fired three shots at him, Rajeshwar Singh said.

He added that the security forces raided their homes and strip searched them. “They left us only after we showed them our Aadhaar cards,” Rajeshwar Singh said.

The villagers also told the fact-finding team that six of them were not associated with the Maoist organisation.