Updated: May 18, 2022 10:21:02 am
Uike Bheema (33) has been waiting for his brother Uike Pandu’s Aadhaar card, watch and other belongings, which he claimed were with the police, since the 22-year-old died in the firing by security forces on protesting tribals in Chhattisgarh’s Mokur near Silger on May 17, 2021.
Government’s outreach initiatives since the bloody confrontation, including paved road, a ration shop, a health centre, and a community hall, have only added to the simmering resentment among the tribals who say their main demands of removal of the camp and compensation were unmet.
Three tribals had died of bullet wounds on May 17 last year when they were part of a mob protesting against a new CRPF camp at Mokur. Police say those killed were maoists, a claim vehemently denied by the tribals and the affected families.
Even as a sit-in under the banner of Moolwasi Bachao Manch has been on since the Mokur firing, hundreds of tribals from over 30 villages of three districts — Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma — gathered at Silger village, 108 km from Sukma and 70 km from the Bijapur district headquarters, on the first anniversary.
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Across the Mokur camp, a green memorial bears five names — Kowasi Wagah, Ursa Bheema and Uika Pandu who died in the firing on May 17 last year, and Punem Somali and Midiyam Masa. Somali, a pregnant woman who had participated in the protest got injured in the stampede after the firing and later succumbed to her injuries. Masa of Tolavarti in Sukma was detained and allegedly killed by security personnel on May 22 last year.
The state government has been trying to placate the tribals without success. Between the camp and the memorial is a ration shop started by the Sukma district administration as part of its outreach programme. Aadhaar and ration cards were also made at special camps, besides a primary health centre at Tarrem, 6 km from Silger, was made operational.
Sunil Korsa (28) of Silger village claimed that he owned 6 acres of the 10 acres that house the Mokur camp. “I had met CM Bhupesh Baghel, who promised compensation. However, I have not received a penny,” he said, adding, “I have lost trust in the government. I will not vote for either parties in the next election.”
Those who took part in the firing anniversary protest rally on Tuesday were critical of the central as well as state governments, which was evident from the slogans they were raising.
Ursa Bheema’s daughter Paike said in Gondi, “After my father’s death, my brothers had to drop out of school to work. We have only faced hardships in the last one year.” Uike Bheema recounted how his younger brother who had gone to take part in the protest, never came back. “He had just started his life. He was not related to maoists. We didn’t even get his clothes, his Aadhaar card and other belongings,” he said.
For the members of Moolwasi Bachao Manch, the Silger protest is one of the many battlefronts against the security forces. “Everywhere in Bastar region, police and other forces are indulging in killings and other brutalities against tribals. If nothing else works, tribals are framed in fake cases and jailed. The government is not protecting us. Our MLA has not visited us even once during one year of protest. We have to fight not just for ‘jal, jungle, zameen’ but also for our existence,” Raghu (22), one of the Manch members said.
The Manch also organised an exhibition of photographs and news articles covering “police brutalities” over the years. A small booklet in Gondi, released by the Manch, encapsulates protests by the tribals in the last four years. A dispensary was set up for common ailments commandeered by a local nursing-student.
Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma under whose constituency the village falls was not available for a comment till the time going to the press. Tribal Affairs Minister Prem Sai Singh Tekam could not be reached for a comment.
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