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Monday, June 21, 2021

Chhattisgarh: Tribals protest killing of 3 in firing; were Maoists, say cops

According to the press note, the crowd of villagers who were protesting since April 14 had left when a crowd of more than 3,000 suddenly approached the camp on April 17, destroying its fences and attacking police personnel.

Written by Gargi Verma | Silger |
Updated: May 20, 2021 7:03:24 am
The protest outside Silger camp on Wednesday. (Express photo by Gargi Verma)

Two days after three men were killed while protesting against Silger security camp in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, over a thousand people from tribal communities gathered near the camp on Wednesday in a fresh bout of protest against the camp and demanding release of six people arrested on Monday.

“We are going to keep protesting until they remove the camp. Now we are also protesting for our brethren who have been wrongfully arrested,” Ayte Korsa (32) said.

A resident of Silger village, Korsa came to the protest site with her three children, the youngest barely a year old. “The security personnel call us all Maoists, or Maoist supporters. How will they ever provide us any security? They have killed innocent men,” she said.

On Wednesday, nearly a no-man’s-land was created amid two rows of spiked concertina wires in Silger — on one side is the newly established camp, flanked by several hundred security personnel, and across the barbed wire stood a thousand tribal men, women and children, holding signs that read their fresh demands.

The three deceased, who Korsa called “innocent men”, were Maoists, according to a press statement issued by the police on Wednesday. It stated, “The deceased couldn’t be immediately identified, as they were not from Silger or nearby villages. They have been identified as Uika Pandu (Bhumkal Commander from Timmapur), Kowasi Bhima (DAKMS member from Chutwahi) and Kursam Bhima (Militia secretary from Gundem).”

The police also released names of eight others who were arrested on Monday. While two people from that list were released on Tuesday night, the other six are in police custody.

According to the press note, the crowd of villagers who were protesting since April 14 had left when a crowd of more than 3,000 suddenly approached the camp on April 17, destroying its fences and attacking police personnel. It said 19 police personnel suffered injuries in the attack.\

“Amidst the crowd of tribals were Maoists, who then started firing indiscriminately, which led to a stampede-like situation. The Maoists didn’t heed to warnings of the assembled officials, and thus, our personnel had to fire back. The exchange of fire went on for more than 30 minutes, during which a safe corridor was provided for the villagers to escape,” the statement read.

“Currently, there are five men admitted at Bijapur district hospital; they suffered injuries on Monday,.” it added.

On Wednesday, families of the five injured and the three deceased were brought to the district headquarters, where they met the Collector and other officials in a closed-door meeting that lasted four hours. The bodies of the deceased were subsequently handed over to the families.

“We asked them about the arrested people, and were told that only after the protest stops will they be released,” said Bhima, brother of Uika Murali — identified by police as Uika Pandu.

Senior district officials denied this.

Bijapur Collector Ritesh Agarwal said, “The decision to grant them bail rests with the executive magistrate. All these persons have been arrested under minor Sections (of law) to defuse the situation. What the villagers are misconstruing is our request to stop taking law and order in their hands. We are here to listen to their grievances, if they so wish, but not by violating law and order situation and Covid-19 protocol.”

He confirmed that three bodies were handed over to the families.

‘His Aadhaar card is our proof — that he was an ordinary man, not a Maoist’

A few kilometres from Basaguda, in Bijapur, a tractor full of people waited, as a small pick-up truck carrying a body chugged up the road. The tribal people shifted Murali’s body, wrapped in a white plastic body bag, from the pick-up truck to the tractor. Murali’s niece, Basanti, ran up to the police personnel accompanying the pick-up truck. “Uska Aadhaar card de do, paise jaane do (give me his Aadhaar card, never mind the money)” she told them, even as other members of the family tried shush her.

She told The Indian Express, “He had a brown wallet, in which he had Rs 800 and his Aadhaar card. I just want the Aadhaar card back.”

Basanti said she was asked to come on a different day to take back Murali’s belongings. “How can I travel so far another day?” she sobbed “The Aadhaar card is our proof — that he was an ordinary man and not a Maoist, like the police claim.”

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