Saturday, June 22, 2024

‘They were villagers who went to pick Tendu leaves, not Maoists’: In Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur, families question “encounter that killed 12 Maoists”

On 10 May, the Police Superintendent of Bijapur, Jitendra Kumar Yadav, claimed to have killed 12 Maoists, most of whom carried a collective prize money of 41 lakhs. Two days later, villagers and activists from the region alleged that it was a fake encounter and the people killed were not Naxals but merely villagers from Pedia village who had gone to the forest to pick Tendu leaves.

The police have refuted these claims as baseless, while the villagers and activists argue that these people were killed and then branded by the police as Maoists.

Jitendra Kumar Yadav, SP, Bijapur said: “The deceased were identified as Budhu Oyam and Kallu Punem, both members of military company no. 2 who were carrying a reward of ₹8 lakh each on their heads, Gangaloor area committee member Lakhe Kunjam and member of military platoon number 12 Bhima Karam, who were carrying a reward of ₹5 lakh each on their heads. The other deceased, militia platoon commander Sannu Lakom and vice head of Janata Sarkar (people’s government) Avlam were carrying a bounty of ₹2 lakh each, the SP said. The six others were lower-run members of the CPI (Maoist).”

Opposition has called for judicial intervention in the matter. Bhupesh Bhagel, Former CM and leader of the Congress Party tweeted that even though it is necessary to solve the “Naxal menace” but an unexpected political pressure on security forces should not be such that their actions are questioned.

He held the ruling BJP government responsible, further saying that the BJP must not repeat its past of torturing the tribals in the name of ending Naxalism. 

Congress has also formed a fact finding committee comprising of tribal leader and former deputy speaker of Chhattisgarh legislative assembly Santram Netam and includes Indra Shah Mandavi, Vikram Mandavi, Janak Ram Dhruv, Savitri Mandavi, Devti Karma, Rajnu Netam and Shankar Kudiam.

Deepak Baij, State President of the Congress has urged the committee to submit the report at the earliest. 

State BJP leaders on the other hand have warned Congress to exercise caution before questioning the encounters as it affects the morale of the security forces. 

Several villagers have talked to local media about the incident. Rakesh Alvam, in conversation with Bastar Talkies, said that the police encircled Pedia village and one other village, Itaavar. All those killed in the encounter were villagers not Maoists and they were picked up from these two villages and killed. 

Alvam’s brother, Moto Alvam was also shot thrice in his legs. “My brother was in the jungle plucking Tendu leaves and was hit by a bullet of the police force.” Moto Alvam is currently in Pedia village. The villagers are skeptical of taking him to the hospital for the fear that he would be branded as a Naxalite too and killed. 

Ehtemam, FACAM member (Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization) told Maktoob: “It is necessary to understand that this is not an isolated incident; this is a pattern that has been unfolding in this area for the past five months since the BJP government came to power, and it has intensified on a large scale. Within these four months, the state claims to have killed around 104 Maoists, but more than 50 of them were ordinary tribal villagers who were unarmed. Among these, in the span of four months, the state has killed 5-6 minors ranging from a 6-month-old child to 16-17-year-olds.”

He went on to say: “So, such incidents are creating a repetitive pattern here. The type of massacre that was happening during the Salwa Judum against the tribals is now happening on a much larger and intensified scale, and the state is hailing and applauding this.”

“In a sense, it’s a massacre of the tribals that the state is openly applauding. Unlike during the Salwa Judum, when the state kept silent about the massacres, this time the state is killing and claiming they have killed Naxalites, and they are openly applauding these actions. Thus, these encounters are happening, but they are more dangerous in the sense that the state is not trying to hide them; instead, it is openly applauding them,” Ehtemam told Maktoob.

Soni Sori, an activist protesting with the villagers outside the District Collectorate alleged, “Those killed include villagers who were plucking Tendu leaves in the jungle. They started running when they saw the police and the jawans shot them. I talked to some family members of the deceased, and they told me that some of the villagers were also picked up from their houses and killed in the jungle,” reports Hindustan Times.

“We are going to approach the high court because the police have killed innocent villagers”, said Sori. 

Conversely, there has been a surge in civilian casualties attributed to the insurgents, with 22 fatalities recorded in the first four months of 2024, contrasting the overall 2023 figure of 41. Notably, among the victims this year were at least three politicians affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Raghu, President of Moolvasi Bachao Manch (MBM), an umbrella body leading all the mass movements in Bastar, told Maktoob: “Near Pedia village, the police claim that 1200 personnel were out on a combing operation and surrounded an area where a major Maoist meeting was taking place. According to the police, the Maoists changed their uniforms and tried to escape by mixing with the villagers and Adivasis, and that’s when they were killed. The police are claiming they killed 13 people. However, reports from the ground indicate that among those killed were a 5th-grade student named Sethu Kunjam and another boy with an unsound mind named Channu Avlam.”

He added: “The police are alleging that Sethu Kunjam, a 5th-grade student, was a Maoist with a reward of 5 lakh rupees on his head. But all these people were villagers who were collecting tendu leaves, which is an important source of economic sustenance for the Adivasis in Bastar, especially during this season. They were out collecting tendu leaves when they were attacked by the police at 6 in the morning.”

“The situation in Bastar is such that people cannot move freely from one place to another. There is no freedom of movement, and paramilitary camps are set up everywhere. The police conduct night raids like hunters and assault villagers. Since the BJP government came to power in Chhattisgarh, such attacks have increased. There is a lot of violence in Bastar, even more than in Manipur. Ordinary Adivasis are being taken away in truckloads, charged as Maoists, and later weapons and guns are planted on them. Women in Bastar face rape frequently,” he said to Maktoob.

Raghu asks “We want to say that not everyone can be a Naxalite, right? The reason behind all this is that the government wants to corporatize the area, which is why they want to eliminate the Adivasis and erase their identity so they can take their land. Earlier, they did not use bombs or drones, but since 2024, these attacks have increased significantly.”

In 2024, a total of 104 Maoists have been reported killed, a stark increase compared to the figures of 22 and 30 in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Chhattisgarh saw a change in government last year in December 2023 when incumbent Congress Party was ousted and BJP was brought in.

“To promote corporate plunder in this area, as this is a mineral-rich region with iron mining, gold, and many other precious and rare earth metals, large mining corporations are intervening here. To pave the way for these mining corporations, both foreign and domestic, there is an effort to eliminate the existence of the tribals. The state wants to eliminate the resistance of the tribals, whether it is armed or unarmed. For this purpose, the state is conducting genocidal operations such as Operation Samadhan Prahar and schemes like Surajkund, which involve killing people,” noted Ehtemam.

Ehtemam says: “On one hand, they are attacking the armed Maoists, as stated by the state in previous reports and statements by ministers, like Chidambaram, who mentioned that removing Maoists is essential for the development of this area. However, they are also attacking the peaceful democratic protests of the common people. For instance, similar to what we saw in Shaheen Bagh and the farmers’ protest, where people conducted sit-in protests for one to one and a half years, in this area, the Silger movement, which started first, will complete three years on May 17. Such protests are also being attacked, and their leaders are being arrested. Across Bastar, the main leaders of the anti-camp struggles and protest sites have been arrested. The state does not want to spare non-violent protest sites and resistance either. Along with violent, armed resistance, they want to eliminate unarmed resistance too. The sole purpose of this is to remove the tribals from their lands, seize their land, loot the resources, and sell them to foreign corporations. This is an important aspect, and the underlying factor behind all these actions in this area.”


Don't Miss

Related Articles