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Chhattisgarh encounter: Police behaviour 'retributive' despite promise by Congress govt

Counterview Desk
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has called for judicial inquiry into the “encounter” of two anti-mining activists of the Nandaraj movement, claiming, neither of them was involved with the underground Maoist movement”, even as condemning “persecution” of human rights activist and top academic Bela Bhatia, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and human rights defender Soni Sori, Dantewada sarpanches and 150-200 tribal villagers.
A statement signed by Degree Prasad Chouhan, president, and Shalini Gera, secretary, PUCL, Chhattisgarh, says, retributive behaviour of the Dantewada police continues despite promises of the Congress government of chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, and “little seems to have changed on the ground”.

Text:

Taking note of the Fact-Finding Report by human rights defenders (Bela Bhatia, Soni Sori, Madkam Hidme and Lingaram Kodopi), media reports and the demands by various political and social organizations, the Chhattisgarh PUCL demands that the state government immediately announces an independent probe by a retired Judge of the High Court into the deaths of Podiya Sori and Lachhu Mandavi in the so-called encounter on the night of 13th September 2019.
Furthermore, PUCL is appalled that the Dantewada police has lodged an FIR against the activists, sarpanches of Dantewada, as well as the 150-200 unnamed tribal villagers, who were merely registering the complaint of an extra-judicial killing and engaged in a peaceful protest against this injustice, and condemns this police action as retributive action meant to intimidate those speaking up for Adivasi rights.
It is well established that Podiya Sori and Lachu Mandavi were young and respected leaders from village Gumiyapal in Dantewada district who had been active in the popular movement against the plans of the mining giant Adani Group to start iron-ore mining operations in Nandaraj mountain in Kirandul, which is held sacred by the tribals in the region.
Recently, there had been widespread protests against the fraudulent No-Objection Certificate (NOC) obtained from the Gram Sabha of the affected village, and a magisterial inquiry had been instituted to investigate the matter. However, on September 13. 2019, both were killed by the security forces in their village and declared as Naxalite commanders, carrying rewards of Rs 5 lakh each for information leading to their capture.
However, villagers claim that neither was involved with the underground Maoist movement, and deny the police allegations that they were killed in a firefight with the security forces. As told to the Fact-Finding Team consisting of human rights defenders, social activists and media persons (Bela Bhatia, Soni Sori, Linga Kodopi and Hidme Madkam) the village folks clearly stated that on the night of 13th September 2019, the duo along with three other youth had congregated in the school premises for some light-hearted entertainment.
At around 9 pm that night, when Podiya had already left the school premises to sleep at a friend’s place, the security forces appeared, and rounded up the youth in the school and dragged Podiya from his friend’s house. The five, including Podiya and Lachhu, were slapped and beaten and forcibly taken away by the security forces. En route, two of the men managed to escape and return to their families. The next morning, the villagers learned that Podiya and Lachhu had been killed and shown as dreaded Naxalites, and the fifth youth, Ajay Telam, continued to be in police custody.
With this information, in the evening of September 16, advocate and researcher Bela Bhatia, and the AAP leader Soni Sori, along with two tribal women activists, Hidme Madkam and Pande Kunjami went to the Kirandul police station. Hundreds of villagers who had walked to the police station from their villages in a rally in protest against this injustice were also sitting peacefully in a demonstration in front of the police station.
Bhupesh Baghel, Chhattisgarh CM
The police complaint and the peaceful demonstration by adivasis villagers were to raise a voice against this extra-judicial killing of two young men, and to inquire about the whereabouts of the third. However, none of them were allowed to even enter the police station and the complaint itself was accepted only through the closed bars of the police station gate.
The next day too, when the team returned to follow up on their complaint, the sub-divisional police officer (SDOP) of Kirandul was loud and accusatory, insinuating that they had rounded up the villagers and the protest was “stage managed”.
It is ironic that while the complaint of these activists against the police was never registered as an FIR, they themselves were accused of violating the Model Code of Conduct and an FIR 62/2019 of PS Kirandul was registered against Bela Bhatia, Soni Sori, Sarpanch Nanda, Sarpanch’s husband Bhima and 150-200 other villagers u/s 188 of the IPC.
Chhattisgarh PUCL is dismayed by this retributive behaviour of the Dantewada police and the fact that despite the promises of the Baghel government, little seems to have changed on the ground. The false encounters continue and innocent Adivasis, standing up for their rights, continue to be labelled as Naxalites and killed in cold blood by security forces. Human rights activists peacefully asking for police accountability and transparency continue to be persecuted by draconian and illegal measures of the authorities.
Chhattisgarh PUCL loudly condemns these actions of the State Government and local police, and demands that an independent inquiry by a Retired Judge of the High Court be immediately ordered to probe the murders of Podiya Sori and Lachhu Mandavi of Gumiyapal village and the illegal detention of Ajay Telam (who has since been released); and that the police immediately send a closure report for FIR no. 62/2019 of Police Station Kirandul against Bela Bhatia, Soni Sori, and other villagers to the concerned magistrate and stop persecution of human rights activists.

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