Police in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division say they are getting ready to take “strict action” against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and several others booked for the murder of a tribal in the state’s insurgency-hit Sukma district last week.
Sham Nath Baghel of Nama village, about 450km from capital Raipur, was allegedly killed by armed Maoists on November 4 for spearheading an agitation against them since April.
“The family of Sham Nath Baghel is in grief and hence we will take their statements in next few days. We have enough evidences and documents and we will produce them (Sundar and others) in court to ensure that strict action is taken against them,” Shivram Kalluri, the controversial inspector general of police of Bastar, told HT on Tuesday.
Kalluri has been in the news for what rights activists describe as his high-handed style in tackling Maoists in the region. He has had several much-publicised run-ins with journalists and is said to have been instrumental in the detention of many of them.
The detentions led to nationwide outrage, prompting the Chhattisgarh government to limit the powers of the police in arresting journalists.
Kalluri said Sundar, who visited the region in May, was booked with nine others on the complaint of Baghel’s wife. The others charged include professor Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Vineet Tiwari from Delhi’s Joshi Adhikar Sansthan and Chhattisgarh CPI(M) state secretary Sanjay Parate.
Sundar, who heads the sociology department at Delhi University, has worked extensively on Maoist insurgency, especially in the Bastar region. Her recent book, The Burning Forest: India’s war in Bastar, takes a close look at the conflict and its consequences for the area and its people.
On Tuesday, Sundar dismissed the charges against her, saying: “The FIR against us is absurd. We haven’t been there for months. This is a vendetta against all researchers, journalists, lawyers, activists who are willing to expose complete lawlessness of police.”
Baghel and some villagers in May lodged a complaint against Sundar and others for allegedly inciting tribals against police.
Kalluri claimed that Sundar and the others charged were upset since the villagers were organising local resistance groups called “Tangiya (axe)” against the Maoists.
“The Maoists sent a ‘delegation’ in which Nandini Sundar and all came to Bastar in May. They also used false name. When Nandani Sundar was stopped by the police, she told us the fake name. They roamed freely in the jungle; they stayed in the hotels and rest houses with false names,” Kalluri said.
“We don’t mind anyone supporting some ideology, but they should not incite innocent tribal to rebel against the state,” the IG said. “There is sufficient background, there is prelude, correspondence and evidences.”
It was on Sundar’s petition that the Supreme Court in 2011 ordered the disbanding of Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed to take on the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. The court said it was illegal and unconstitutional to deploy tribal youths as special police officers in Salwa Judum.
When contacted, state Congress president Bhupesh Baghel alluded that Kalluri could be getting back at Sundar for standing up to the state machinery. “I demand a court monitored investigation into the matter,” he said.
“The whole FIR is fabricated and police are doing this because she is fighting a case against the atrocities of the Bastar police in the Supreme Court,” said Gautam Bandhopadhya, a Raipur-based social activist.