The Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) of Andhra Pradesh Police today claimed to kill 20 red sandalwood smugglers during its encounters with a team of woodcutters.
Reportedly, a team of sandalwood smugglers had sneaked from the Tamil Nadu districts, Tiruvannamalai and Salem, to the Seshachalam forests of Andhra Pradesh in Chittoor district surrounding the Tirupati City and the police team acted on the tip-off.
In the encounters that lasted for hours and took place deep in the forest, reportedly 10 Kms from human habitation, left 20 smugglers dead but only few of the police party got injured and they, too, were out of danger. Some reports also said that none of the ‘officials and policemen were injured in the incident’.
The police party was fully equipped and was with sophisticated weapons while the so-called smugglers were with stones, rods, sickles, and axes.
Now, the whole stuff is a copybook police encounter where police pick up some (but not many, ideally one or two) notorious gangsters and show them killed in an encounter when the reality is that the police group shoots them in cold blood. The whole encounter is stage-managed.
In case of disturbed areas with elements like terrorism, naxalism and other forms of internal insurgency, the notorious gangsters are sometimes replaced with harmless poor people whose relatives cannot prove anything on their own.
In case of Chittoor encounter, in its Seshachalam forests, the toll is 20, a significantly higher number by standards of even the Indian Army in such cases. Also, the victim bodies lying here and there were not of notorious gangsters as the initial reports suggested. Instead, they were of ordinary, poor men as the photographs of encounter suggested.
Also, Chittoor is a drought affected district facing a prolonged drought. Governments come and go but the problems remain the same.
It is not just India media, but the global media will pick this story and some which are adept in follow-ups and some which are having some socialist or anti-capitalist leanings will make war-cry about it.
The story, by its death toll and its location is expected to make big headlines and news content tomorrow onwards. Already, a magisterial enquiry by the government has been ordered into it.
The interstate tension between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu will see an element to spark the fires. Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerelvam has written to his Andhra Pradesh counterpart for a 'credible probe' into the issue as all the slain are from Tamil Nadu.
Whether to term it a genuine encounter or stage-managed massacre is going to be question doing the rounds.
'The decomposed bodies and logs there with white paint and code-words' is a big story for national and international media, the political groups in Tamil Nadu, the opposition political groups in Andhra Pradesh, the political groups elsewhere and national and international rights groups.