A special court in Chhattisgarh acquitted 121 tribals booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by the state police in connection with the 2017 Burkapal Maoist killings in Sukma, citing a lack of evidence against them.
The National Investigation Agency court pronounced the judgment on Friday and said that the prosecution could not prove that the accused tribals, who remained behind bars for five years, were either on the spot or in possession of any arms or even members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
“Thus it is clear that the prosecution has failed to prove its case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt,” the court of Justice Dipak Kumar Deshlahare said while acquitting all the accused.
Bela Bhatia, one of the human-rights activists and lawyers fighting the cases of the accused tribals said that the investigation, which took five years to get completed, was poor and there was not enough evidence against the accused tribals.
A recent study suggests that 27% of Adivasis harbour fears of being falsely implicated in anti-state Maoist activities as well as petty crimes
“They rounded up people, especially young men in their 20s and 30s in and around villages in Burkapal. People I spoke to literally told me that they were sleeping peacefully in their homes when they were picked up,” Bhatia told Maktoob.
On the evening of April 24, 2017, the 74th battalion of the Central Police Reserve Force (CRPF) came under heavy firing from Maoists, 100 meters from Burkapal village, killing 25 personnel including an inspector-rank officer.
While the 121 tribals have been released after five years of punishment, no compensation is being granted to them for losing five important years of their lives.
“According to surveys by several organisations, most people eventually get acquitted, and a very small percentage are convicted but there is no compensation for the damage done to them,” Bhatia added. “It is now a routine.”
Almost all the tribals arrested in the case were small-scale farmers who grow rice in their fields once a year and earn their livelihood through labour work for the rest of the year, said Bhatia.
“Most of these men had wives and young children. Their wives had to single-handedly take care of everything for these years,” Bhatia said.
“Also, they don’t even live in properly constructed houses, just houses made with bamboo and mud requiring repairment at least once a year, so you can imagine what the women would have to go through in these years,” she said.
In May-June 2017, the Chhattisgarh Police first arrested some half a dozen tribals in connection with the case. Based on their statements, it claimed to have made recoveries of some arms and explosives from other tribals—including a bow and an arrow, a meter of codex wire, a non-electric detonator, a crude bomb, etc.
Bhatia said that mass attacks mainly take place in jungles where the Maoists hide. “Due to the presence of no eyewitnesses, the state catch hold of literally anyone they can,” she added.
“These are fabricated charges against these people and the arrests are arbitrary. People may say that they are innocent but nobody listens to them.”