Chhattisgarh activists reject police theory on Silger firing
Ten days after police firing killed three tribals protesting against a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp at Silger village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, a two-member fact- finding team of activists said they didn’t find any evidence to support police claim that an armed group of 3,000 agitators, including Maoist cadres, took over the peaceful protests on May 17 and intended to burn down the CRPF camp, leaving the forces with no choice but to open fire.
Human Rights activist Bela Bhatia and social activist Jean Dreze, who formed the fact-finding team, issued a press release on Thursday and said the locals were opposed to the CRPF camp fearing harassment.
Three people were killed and many others were injured on Monday afternoon when security forces fired on protestors, agitating against the CRPF camp, opened on May 12 near Silger village - a Maoist stronghold along the border of Sukma-Bijapur districts.
Chhattisgarh Police maintains that the CRPF camp was established in Silger village on 12th of May to mainly facilitate the Basaguda -Jagargunda road construction among other developmental works since the axis is an important corridor for Maoists in south Bastar region and a stronghold of People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) Battalion number 1, led by dreaded Maoist commander Hidma. PLGA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned organisation in India.
The activists claim that the Silger camp was set up in the dead of night at around 3 am on May 12, without informing the villagers and about 40-50 of them were dispersed by force when they protested against the camp the next day. “On 14 May, about a thousand adivasis [tribals] of five nearby gram panchayats started a mass protest which went from strength to strength in the following days. Mass protests continue to this day,” the fact-finding report claimed.
The report added that the protests swelled between May 14 and 16.
“People shouted slogans demanding the removal of the camp. Every day the police tried to disperse them, sometimes with lathis, sometimes with “mirchi pataka” or tear gas. Dozens of protestors sustained minor injuries... and returned to their villages for local treatment,” the activists alleged.
They cite witnesses to claim that the number of protestors might have reached 10,000 on May 17 and some of them started pelting stones after lathicharge, tear gassing and firing in the air by the security forces sent most running for cover.
“Some protestors are said to have shouted that they would burn the police vehicles, but this did not happen,” the activists press release claims.
“By that time the forces were on both sides of the road with protesters in the middle. Soon police firing started. Three protestors were killed on the spot (one of them, Uika Pandu – also called Murali – of Timmapuram village, who was hit in the head, was only 16 or 17 years old), at least another three had bullet injuries and as many as 40 were injured in one way or another,” the activists alleged.
One survivor from Pusbaka village, who is now in the ICU in Bijapur, was shot in the back, the activists’ report claimed.
The activists further said that the police theory that the protests were joined by armed cadres of Maoists who were looking to burn the camp down was “bizarre”.
“This bizarre story does not fit with any of the testimonies we have heard. By that time [the protestors gathered] the camp had a huge presence of heavily armed personnel and there was no point in trying to attack it,” the report claimed.
Explaining the reasons behind the protest against the camp, the report stated, “The main reason for people’s opposition to the camp is that they are afraid of harassment (eg, searches, beatings, sexual assault, fabricated cases, fake encounters and such).”
To back their contention the activists claimed that an unarmed civilian named Midiam Masa was killed at Tolevarti village on May 22 near another new CRPF camp in the area while gathering mangoes with two other villagers.”
Bastar region’s police chief (IGP), Sunderaj P refuted the claims made in the so called fact-finding report and said Silger villagers were properly briefed about the nature of the camp on May 13 by police officials and executive magistrate and they returned convinced with the response.
“Meanwhile the Maoists were planning to destabilize this camp to protect their corridor. So the Naxals mobilized their frontal organization members and Militia cadres from the surrounding area and sent [them] to Silger on 17th of May with a conspiracy to instigate violence and launch an attack on the security forces deployed in the Silger camp,” the IGP said.
He further claimed that some armed cadres hidden in the jungles attacked the camp triggering retaliation from the security forces.
“On 17th of May, when the crowd started pelting stones and attacked the troops, utmost restraint was maintained by the security forces. The executive magistrate repeatedly issued warnings to maintain peace and order, which was ignored by the miscreants, who were basically the militia cadres acting on the behest of Maoist leadership,” the IGP said.
He added that the security forces retaliated only after they were attacked by the armed cadres. He added that the three bodies recovered from the spot could not be identified by the villagers for two days since they were outsiders. He also refuted claims that one of the deceased was a minor.
He further alleged that the Maoists compelled the villagers to bring all the three bodies to Silger village and were planning to cremate them as per the Maoist way of cremation but gave up when relatives insisted on cremating them in their own villages.