Telangana forest officer C Anita, who was assaulted by the local leader of the ruling party when she went to plant trees at a depleted forest area in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district, today broke down while recounting the attack. She was released today from the hospital where she had been admitted after sustaining severe injuries in the attack.
Cellphone videos from the area showed the officer being accosted by a mob as she stood on a tractor, trying to pacify the mob. Even as she stood there, men armed with huge wooden sticks surround her and land blows on her and the tractor that she is standing on.
"I came all this way through my sheer hard work, studied in a government school and had the intention to do something good for the society. I have respect for my uniform. All the respect was to do something for people by wearing the uniform. And I was assaulted. I strongly condemn this," she told the reporters, breaking down.
"Even animals are not thrashed this way," Anitha was quoted by Press Trust of Indian as saying at the hospital after the incident.
The officer has identified Koneru Krishna, the vice chairman of the Zila Parishad, who is also the brother of the local legislator Koneru Konappa.
Koneru Krishna stepped down from the post yesterday, but it was not an act of regret or remorse. He said he was protesting against the "injustice to farmers''.
Today a huge protest rally of forest officers in Kagazhnagar demanded protection for forest officers. The IFS association has also condemned the incident. The National Commission for Women too has sought a report from the the state police chief in the matter.
The land, where the afforestation programme was being held, was being illegally cultivated by some tribals. But as part of the prestigious Kaleshwaram project, the government had reclaimed it and marked it for compensatory afforestation -- mandatory after such infrastructure projects.
The area has been tense over the acquisition and anticipating trouble, the officer had gone with 30 policemen and 30 forest guards. Asked why they were unable to protect her, district police chief Malla Reddy said "We will have to inquire. But firing in such circumstances may have been disproportionate".
The state police chief ordered suspension of the DSP and Circle Inspector of the area for alleged inaction.
Sixteen people, including Koneru Krishna, have been arrested and more are likely to be taken into custody, Mr Reddy told NDTV. A case of attempt to murder and obstructing forest officer from performing duty has been filed.
KT Rama Rao, state minister and son of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao tweeted: "I strongly condemn the atrocious behaviour of Koneru Krishna who attacked a forest officer who was doing her job. He has been arrested & a case booked already; no one is above law of the land".
Meanwhile, another video on social media showed the legislator Koneru Konappa, talking to some tribals and instructing them to tell the media that they were being harassed by the police for the last few days and had sought Koneru Krishna's help.
In another video, another woman officer who was part of Chole Anitha's team is seen saying that even after the attack, they were threatened by the legislator and his men in presence of the district police, to leave the place ``without creating trouble''.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said the Centre taken the assault seriously and made it clear that such incidents "cannot be tolerated". "We are taking it very seriously because it cannot be tolerated. We as regulators will do whatever is possible," he told the Rajya Sabha today.