Updated: November 7, 2021 7:34:38 am
A black patch just below Channu Karam’s left shoulder marks the spot where a CRPF bullet struck him in 2013. Its fragments are still inside, stunting his arm movement, he says.
Karam, now in his early 60s, was one of the 30-odd people who had gathered at Edesmetta village in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district to celebrate the annual Beej Pandum festival on the night of May 17-18, eight years ago. The celebration ended tragically when security personnel shot down eight people, including four minors, and injured five, including Karam. Two of those five have since died.
The details of the night — also set down in a judicial inquiry report that lays the blame on “panicked” CRPF personnel — are embedded in the collective memory of the village. Residents say it has created an insurmountable divide between them and the State.
Back then, Somlu Punem, now 23, had accompanied his father and brother to the festival, where people worship new life in the form of seeds during the night. With the rituals completed, he, along with his brother Lakkhu and his cousins Sonu and Sukku, went to a nearby well. They did not know it then, but in the empty field surrounded by forested hills, more than a 1000 security personnel had gathered, waiting to destroy a “Maoist camp”.
“While we were returning, we were apprehended by some security personnel, who were speaking in Hindi. We didn’t understand what they were saying so we started running,” Punem said. “That’s when the shooting started.”
According to the report by Justice V K Agarwal, a retired judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, the tribals killed were unarmed and died in gunfire of 44 rounds, 18 of which were fired by a single constable of the CoBRA unit of the CRPF.
Punem was shot in the armpit. He lost his brother that night. “His body was dismembered. We had to collect the body parts in a gamcha,” he said.
The village priest, or Gayta, Pandu Karam, who was leading the rituals, stepped forward in an attempt to stop the firing. He, too, was gunned down, along with his 10-year-old son, Guddu.
The tribal residents of Edesmetta are demanding compensation and action against those responsible, as they have done all these years.
Moolwasi Bachao Manch, a group led by adivasis from Bijapur, organised a two-day event in Edesmetta in the first week of October to commemorate the deceased of Edesmetta and Sarkeguda, where a similar incident took place during the same festival in 2012.
The CBI is conducting its own inquiry into the Edesmetta incident following a Supreme Court order in May 2019.
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