To demand justice for the 17 Adivasis killed by the security forces in a fake encounter in 2012, thousands of Adivasis gathered on Monday, June 28, in Sarkeguda, Chhattisgarh at a public meeting called by Moolwasi Bachao Manch (Save Natives Forum).
Adivasis asserted that their movement against the oppression of security forces was not going to end.
The meeting was a part of the protests happening against the police firing on villagers in Silger on May 17 that took four lives, three being shot dead instantly and a three-month pregnant woman who got severely injured in the stampede caused by the firing and died four days later.
During the gathering, people remembered 17 Adivasis that were killed nine years ago on the same date and four Adivasis that were killed about a month ago. They also reiterated their demand for an inquiry of the Silger firing by a judicial commission. In the 2012 fake encounter case, “we demand that action be taken on the guilty security forces people immediately,” said Unga Musaki, a 19-year-old villager from SIlger.
“The inquiry report said that it was not a Maoist encounter, that was firing on innocent people.
Even after the report came in 2019, no action has been taken till 2021. Not even an FIR has been registered against the security forces,” said Alok Shukla, the convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, an organisation working for Adivasi rights in the state.
In a statement released by the Moolwasi Bachao Manch, Adivasis demanded the removal of all the security forces’ camps that have been established in the region. They also demanded an end to the police violence against the Adivasis.
“The government kills Adivasis and traps them in fake cases. Why are they killing Adivasis and terming them as Naxalites?” Musaki said. He added, “we are students, who are at the front of the movement.”
Adivasis in Silger have been protesting against a newly established CRPF camp since May 13, when they got to know that a camp was established in their village at 3 am in the night. The villagers claimed that the camp was established without the approval of Gram Sabha(village council), a local governing body that draws its powers from the fifth schedule of the Indian constitution. Without the approval of a Gram Sabha, no land can be acquired in any scheduled area such as Silger. However, the police claimed that the land was owned by the government, to which villagers said that the land was on government lease held by local farmers.
When the protest grew and the forces could not disperse the crowd, they fired bullets on May 17, 2021, killing a total of four Adivasis and injuring more than 18 people.
After the firing, the police claimed that those shot were Maoists. The police’s claim was countered by Adivasis and social activists. People went to the local police station in Basaguda to register an FIR against the security personnel who fired bullets, but they were sent back by the police after letting them submit a written complaint. Following the complaint, the Sukma collector ordered a magisterial probe which is ongoing. The Chief Minister of the Congress-led Chhattisgarh government, Bhupesh Baghel also set up a nine-member committee of Congress MLAs to investigate the matter.
“We are not going to step back. This struggle is not going to step back. Magistrates will come here on the 10th (of July) to investigate Silger firing. We have given them time till the 11th (of July). Depending on what the result of the investigation is, we can protest in each district in the whole Bastar region,” Musaki added.
Sunita, a 19-year-old villager who was a part of the group that met with Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel over video conferencing on June 12, said, “When we talked to the Chief Minister, he told us that the result of the inquiry will soon come out. But even till now, we haven’t got a result yet. They haven’t given us justice,”
Musaki Added, “Government kills innocent people and then says we will conduct enquiries and their enquiries go on forever.”
Adivasis are demanding an enquiry by a judicial commission with two retired judges as members. However, the enquiry of a judicial commission that found the 2012 encounter to be fake did not lead to action against the involved security forces.
The Fake Encounter
On the night that set in Bastar on June 28, 2012, security forces — Chhattisgarh State Police and Central Reserve Police Force — gunned down 17 villagers, seven of whom were minors. The forces claimed that they had only fired in self-defence after Naxalites, who were meeting in a dense forest and when suddenly faced by police, started firing. Police’s claim was proven to be false in an official investigation conducted by a retired Madhya Pradesh High Court judge justice V.K. Agarwal, who was appointed the head of a single-member inquiry commission by then Raman Singh-led Chhattisgarh government.
The report, which came in November 2019, clearly mentioned that there was no satisfactory evidence to the police’s claim that the killed villagers were Naxals, and there was no firing from the villagers’ side. The report said that the security forces’ version did “not stand the test of scrutiny.” According to the report, the leaders of the operation, DIG S. Elango and Deputy Commander Manish Bamola did not fire a single bullet, which indicates that no firing was being done from the villagers.
However, the judicial commission did not recommend strong actions against the involved security officers. The recommendations were focused on better training and improved technology for intelligence inputs.
Demands of the Adivasis
Other than immediate legal action against culprits in various cases of security forces’ violence against Adivasis, Adivasi’s list of 12 demands includes the release of Hidme Markam, a local Adivasi rights activist, who was arrested by the police in March this year, in a case relating to an armed robbery in 2016, which the villagers claim is false.
They also demand an immediate release of all the innocent Adivasis booked in false cases, a move that was promised by the current CM Bhupesh Baghel before he came to power. However, a report by the Wire mentions that other than a few releases of Adivasis arrested under excise laws, little work has been done in two years.
Villagers also demand that instead of security camps in every village, they want schools and Anganbadis.