Acting on a complaint from a tribal woman whose husband was killed by Maoists last week, police in Chhattisgarh have registered a case of murder and other sections of the law against Delhi University professor and activist Nandini Sundar, JNU professor Archana Prasad, CPM leader Sanjay Parate and 17 others named by the complainant.
The complainant, Vinita Baghel, alleged that a fact-finding team that included Sundar and Parate had earlier warned her husband, Samnath Baghel, not to oppose the Maoists.
Sundar and Prasad rejected the allegation, saying the case against them was “absurd” and “fabricated”.
Samnath Baghel was killed by Maoists on the night of November 4 in Nama village of Sukma district. He was dragged out of his house while Vinita, who was with their four-day-old son, watched.
The FIR identifies 20 accused in the case, including 14 Maoists. It names Sundar, Prasad, Parate, Vinit Tiwari, Mangu Kawasi and Mangalram Karma, members of the fact-finding team, as “Naxal samarthak” (Naxal supporters).
In her complaint to police, Vinita said that the Maoists, before killing her husband, declared he had opposed a visit by the fact-finding team to their village in May. She also said that the Maoists warned others in the village not to work for police.
Sukma Superintendent of Police I K Elsela told The Indian Express: “We have received a complaint from the victim’s wife as well as other villagers that he had been killed because he filed a complaint with the authorities against Nandini Sundar and others.”
“The villagers had formed a Tangiya group against the Maoists and he (Baghel) was one of them. A case has been registered under sections of murder, criminal conspiracy, sections of the Arms Act and rioting. Arrests will take place after an investigation is complete. This is just a First Information Report,” he said.
Police said Baghel was a leader of the Tangiya group, comprising men from the villages of Nama and Sautenar. Armed with bows, arrows and axes (called Tangiyas), the group had taken up the responsibility of protecting their villages from Maoists.
Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) S R P Kalluri told NDTV: “We are quite convinced that a very grievous offence has taken place… We will put up all the facts and evidences before the court of law. I don’t believe in parallel investigations and media trials.”
“Nandini Sundar, according to us, is a suspect. Her behaviour has been suspicious right from the beginning… I don’t want to go by what Nandini Sundar says… She is a common suspect and she will be treated accordingly,” Kalluri said.
Sundar and Prasad hit back at the Chhattisgarh police, saying the murder case against them was a way of “fixing” them for their report in May which stated that villagers in the area were victims of fake encounters and rapes by police as well as violence and killing of “informers” by Maoists.
“The charges are absurd. We last visited the area in May, almost six months ago. So to charge us with murder, rioting and the Arms Act in the murder of a villager is complete misuse of the law,” Sundar said.
She claimed the FIR was “directly related to the CBI chargesheet indicting former SPOs turned police constables for arson in three villages in 2011.” She also said that the constables recently burnt effigies of several activists “in complete violation of police rules”.
“I don’t know him (Baghel). But I feel sorry for his family, both for losing him and for being made pawns of the police. Baghel’s wife is being used by police. I feel sorry for her. She doesn’t even know us,” she said.
Sundar, who was present in Delhi on November 4 when the murder took place, also wrote in a Facebook post: “First our effigies were burnt by police and now a false FIR is being filed against us. This should also show what kind of false cases have been filed against adivasis all these years — people are routinely charged in cases where they have no involvement at all. That’s why the jails of Chhattisgarh are so over-crowded.”
Archana Prasad also slammed the FIR: “They are trying to hide their own illegal activities by lodging false cases against us. It’s a totally baseless charge. They have been trying to fix us for the last six months but haven’t found a stitch of evidence. Why are they going after political activists? We are political party people, not Maoists. Our report clearly states that we are holding both sides responsible for the mess. They are attacking democratic political parties for raising voices.”
Prasad too was in Delhi until the morning of November 4 before leaving for Pune and returning on November 6. “They are getting back at us for bringing atrocities to justice. We are following the law, they are not following the law. They are fabricating cases,” she said.