An anti-Maoist operation in Chattisgarh last week that left 17 suspected rebels killed was on Monday defended by the central and the state governments, even as they came under fire from human rights activists who demanded a probe, claiming several innocent villagers were the victims.
First to defend last Thursday's operation was Chattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, who claimed the gun battle, which left six Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers also injured, was genuine.
He blamed the Maoists for any villager getting killed or injured in the gunfight, saying "they (Maoists) often use innocent persons as human shield during gunfights with security forces".
The chief minister also slammed the state Congress unit for "politicising" a security operation.
"Congress should not politicise the matter," Singh said.
Union home secretary RK Singh also backed the Chattisgarh chief minister, saying the bullet injuries suffered by CRPF personnel was ample proof that Maoists were firing at them.
He also ruled out a probe into the gunfight.
Asked about a woman being killed in the incident, the home secretary pointed out that the Maoists also had women cadre.
"Who fired the bullets at the CRPF personnel, where did the bullets come from," he asked to counter arguments that the gunfight was fake.
Union home minister P Chidambaram had, during a press conference on Friday, praised the forces for their courage and skill, and claimed that three important Maoist leaders were killed in the planned operation.
However, contradicting the home minister, Chattisgarh's Congress unit claimed that "the presence of children and women among the dead and the shabby way the state government treated the issue gives rise to suspicion of security forces committing excesses on innocent tribal people and killing them in staged shootouts".
Human rights activists also questioned the government over the operation.
People's Union for Civil Liberties president Prabhakar Sinha told IANS over the phone from Patna that only "an independent probe" into the operation would reveal the truth.
He also wanted the Supreme Court to take up the matter suo motu and order a special investigation team to carry out the independent probe.
"We should not trust the government's story on the encounter (gunfight), as several innocent villagers have been killed. This country's security forces have an history of killing several thousand innocents in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir," he added.
The Left parties too demand a probe. While the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo demanded a time-bound judicial inquiry, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist joined in the demand.
Human rights activist Swami Agnivesh too slammed the security forces and claimed several of the dead were villagers.
However, defending his force, CRPF director general K Vijay Kumar termed the allegations "stereoptypical".
"All the allegations are stereotypical...talking about the loot, rape, outraging modesty. They spill all this into the public mind and create a sense of suspicion. It is not a good thing. Our force is very decent and they conduct themselves with extreme respect," he told a TV channel.
On the victims having been hacked brutally, he said: "This is not part of our DNA at all. If you look at the incidents that have happened in other places, we don't indulge in these kind of brutal, primitive kind of torture."
He also dismissed charges that the CRPF was hasty in carrying out the operation, saying the force worked in conjunction with the local police and had declared whatever they had found at the spot.
"With great regard to the human right activists, many of whom mean well, they should not drag only the security forces in their enthusiasm. They must be symmetric in their view. To always blame the security forces and condemning them is not a good thing at all," he added.