Updated: May 19, 2021 7:17:47 am
On the road leading out of a newly established CRPF security camp near Silger village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district are signs of Monday’s clash: strewn stones, charred tree trunks, embers, and the dented windshield of a bulletproof anti-landmine vehicle.
On Monday, three people were killed here and several injured as police opened fire on a group of tribals protesting against the CRPF camp that came up on May 12.
Over the last four days, tribals from over 30 villages of Sukma and Bijapur have been protesting outside the camp. “We had been camping here for four days and were running out of ration. So we thought we would hand over a memorandum against the camp, and maybe return a few days later if they still don’t remove the camp,” said Korsa Somaru, 65, one of the protesters. But now, with three of their own dead and many others injured, he said, they have decided to stay put.
While the tribals say security forces opened fire to bring an end their protest, the latter alleged that Naxal cadres, in the garb of protesting villagers, were among those who attacked the Silger camp with stones and gun shots, forcing them to retaliate.\
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“Our men returned the fire and managed to bring the situation under control,” said Bastar IG P Sundarraj.
Police detained five people, including a woman, and have not handed over the bodies of the three people killed, claiming they have not yet been identified.
Villagers, however, identified the dead as “protesters” Kawasi Wagha, 37, from Chutwai; Korsa Bhima, 32, from Gundam; and Uika Murali, 22, from Timmapuram.
On Tuesday, as The Indian Express reached the spot, several tribals filed out of the forests, where they had hidden fearing police retribution, and gathered at Silger village.
“On Monday, we were beaten up by the security forces when we went to submit our demands. They beat us earlier too. We also got angry and some of our people pelted stones at their vehicles and at the camp. First, the security personnel threw tear gas bombs, and then opened fire,” said Krishna Kadti, 18, a Class 12 student from Jagargunda, adding, “The people in the front fell, some of them died. When we tried to go get their bodies, we were laathi-charged again. That led to a stampede and several people fell over each other.”
Eighteen people were injured in the incident. While 11 people are admitted at the Sukma field hospital, seven were taken to the Bijapur district hospital late Monday night.
Silger village, in Konta block of Sukma district, was once a bustling market for chironji seeds until, 20 years ago, Maoists demolished bridges and cut off road access up to Jagargunda, another key marketplace. During the days of Salwa Judum, Maoists retreated to this zone, with their presence here second only to Abujhmad in Narayanpur district, sources said.
The camp, the first such outpost between Silger and Jagargunda, has been in the pipeline for years. When it was finally set up on May 12, it sparked off protests from tribals of over 30 villages. Police, however, say the villagers were provoked by Naxals.
The protest started small, with only the residents of Silger claiming the camp to be an illegal occupation of their land. But soon, it spread to nearby villages.
Sunil Korsa, who is part of a 35-member family that claims to own over six of the 10-acre land on which the camp stands, says, “We would have willingly given our land for a hospital or school. We don’t mind security deployed for road construction either. But we don’t want a camp. Once it is established, everything from our movements to our customs will be scrutinised. We don’t want to live in fear of both the Naxals and the police.”
On Monday, as tribals gathered at a community space in Silger, under the shade of mango and tamarind trees, the family members of the three dead tribals sat in the centre. They had rushed to Silger with their belongings — some utensils and ration, swaddled in clothes — on hearing about the death of their kin.
Kawasi Wagha’s four children — Bhime (19), Nandu (15), Lalu (13) and Somaru (12) — have accompanied their grandfather Mangdu (55) from their village Chutwai, 25 km away. They had walked that distance overnight to Silger to take Wagha’s body back home.
“Our youngest brother is only four years old; our mother has been sick for months. Father had asked me to take care of the family, saying he would be back in 2-3 days,” Nandu said in Hindi. “We don’t know how we will manage. I can’t work on the fields anymore, so the children will have to work,” Mangdu said.
Waiting for Korsa Bhima’s body are his wife Nande, 32, 17-year-old daughter Jogi and 3-year-old son Mahesh. “My husband didn’t tell us where he was going. Now he is gone forever. I have a daughter to marry off and a son to raise,” Nande sobbed.
The third deceased, Uike Murali, was to return home on Monday, said his niece Basanti. “My uncle was like an elder brother to me. I just want to take his body home now,” she said. Murali’s elder brother Bheema said, “They killed him for protesting, for asserting his rights to his jal-jungle-jameen, exactly how it was like during the Salwa Judum years.”
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