The registering of an FIR against DU professor Nandini Sundar and others over the murder of a tribal in Chhattisgarh is the culmination of a series of events in a tug-of-war between activists and the Bastar police.
Activists have often accused the administration of hounding out anybody including journalists who have questioned the police narrative in Bastar, and who have taken up issues of alleged fake encounters, arson, and questionable surrenders, often in courts.
It was based on a petition filed by Sundar, who has worked in the area since 1990, that the Supreme Court ordered the disbanding of Salwa Judum that had inducted locals as special police officers to combat Maoism. During the years of Judum, there were allegations of villages being burnt, murder and rape.
Earlier this year, Chhattisgarh police came under fire for allegedly harassing members of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, who have since left Jagdaplur. Members of the Samajik Ekta Manch, a social organisation considered close to the police, were accused of targeting journalists Malini Subramaniam and activists such as Nandini Sundar and Bela Bhatia.
Last October, the CBI submitted a chargesheet on burning of homes in Tadmetla and Timmapuram, following a petition by Sundar in the Supreme Court. The CBI chargesheeted seven SPOs and held 323 security personnel responsible for the mass burning of homes in Tadmetla village.
Inspector general of police S R P Kalluri, then the SSP of Dantewada, held a press conference to say that “whatever happened, happened under his directions”, and that the forces had entered the villages as they had been mandated to inquire into allegations by the National Human Rights Commission. The police’s own FIR, filed by then DSP Sukma D S Maravi, says “Naxals burnt the villages”. Kalluri said the villages had been burnt because of “firing” and “bombing” that happened in the “heat”, in an operation in March.
In the days that followed, there were unprecedented scenes of effigies of activists being burnt by sahayak arakshaks, or auxiliary constables, all at the same time, across Bastar.
T S Singhdeo, Leader of the Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, told The Indian Express: “For the police to book someone for murder, who has been away abroad, and was in Delhi at the time of the murder is terrible. This is clearly just to take revenge on social activism in the area…”