Chhattisgarh- No Maoists were present when forces opened fire, say villagers


May 19, 2013

 

Suvojit Bagchi, The Hindu

“The villagers gathered in one particular area for community dining, which is a ritual at this time of the year. It is part of the seed festival and there were no Maoists around. The forces opened fire without any provocation,” said a local on condition of anonymity.

Locals of Chhattisgarh’s Edesmeta village — where at least nine persons were killed during a gun battle late on Friday purportedly between security forces and Maoist fighters — have told The Hindu that there was no Maoist presence in the area at the time and that the forces had fired without provocation.

“The villagers gathered in one particular area for community dining, which is a ritual at this time of the year. It is part of the seed festival and there were no Maoists around. The forces opened fire without any provocation,” said a local on condition of anonymity. Two other villagers seconded his testimony.

The incident had taken place in Bijapur district’s Edesmeta forest — about 600 km south of the State capital Raipur — under the Ganglur police station during a combing raid by joint forces. Reports suggest that most of the victims were innocent civilians. Senior officials confirmed that at least seven casualties were villagers and prima facie not attached to the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The dead villagers were identified as Guddu (10), Pandu (45), Bahadur (12), Joga Karam (40), Punem Lakhkhu (15), Punem Sonu (40), Karam Chhonu (42) and Karam Masa (27). Guddu and Pandu were father and son, as were Bahadur and Joga Karam. CRPF soldier Devaprakash died after he was shot in the forehead.

Police say at least one of the slain villagers was a Maoist and that they seized a country rifle made from the spot with the CPI-Maoist’s ‘West Bastar Division’ inscribed on it.

The incident took place when six teams of joint forces — a mix of State police, CRPF personnel and elite commando force CoBRA — were converging upon the Maoist stronghold, Pidiya, from six different directions. “In last few months we have moved in the Pidiya area thrice. We are targeting Pidiya as it is a strong base of the Maoists,” Additional Director-General of Police (Naxal Operation) R.K. Vij told The Hindu.

The forces were reportedly moving from six police stations — Sarkeguda, Jagargunda, Basaguda, Cherpal, Kirandul and Ganglur — towards Pidiya and reached Edesmeta village, around eight km from Pidiya, when the Ganglur team came under heavy fire.

“There were some villagers who were cooking food for a group of Maoists. One of them came towards the force and alerted the rest of the team; firing started and the forces retaliated,” said a senior officer. The senior officers told The Hindu at least seven persons killed in the exchange of fire could be “innocent villagers”. Another officer said “they could also be with Maoist militia”.

On Saturday, senior officers told The Hindu that Maoists were using the villagers as “human shields”. However, other officers refuted this claim and said the villagers were shot when they happened to stray into the firing line.

Post-mortem was conducted in Ganglur police station.

 

Soni Sori acquitted in crucial case, lawyer optimistic of speedy Essar trial #goodnews #vaw


SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu, feb 14

A file photo of a protest by the All India Students
Association in New Delhi seeking the release of
tribal activist Soni Sori. Photo: V.V.Krishnan
A file photo of a protest by the All India Students Association in New Delhi seeking the release of tribal activist Soni Sori. Photo: V.V.Krishnan

Soni Sori, the tribal accused of acting as a courier between Essar Steel and the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), has been acquitted in a crucial case filed in 2010 by the Dantewada district police against 19 individuals for allegedly opening fire and using explosives to blow vehicles of Essar. Ms Sori was one of the key accused in the case.

“But the additional sessions court of Anita Dehariya could not find enough evidence to substantiate the allegations and hence Ms. Sori was acquitted yesterday [Tuesday],” said Ms. Sori’s lawyer K.K. Dubey. Ms. Sori was arrested in 2011 by the Chhattisgarh police for allegedly arranging transfer of money from the privately-owned Essar Group to the members of the banned CPI (Maoist). Altogether, six cases were registered against her and she has been acquitted in four cases so far.

Hole in prosecution case

The witnesses presented before the court could not relate Ms. Sori to the case (sessions trial number 5/11) of firing and burning vehicles using diesel and explosives. “None of the witnesses presented by the police could connect Soni to the incident and that left a gaping hole in the prosecution,” said Mr. Dubey. Incidentally, Ms. Sori was acquitted in another case about a week back. In that case, (sessions trial number 4/11) the allegation was of firing on police near Essar Beneficiation Plant in Kirandul. “There also, witnesses could not confirm if Soni was related to firing on the police,” Mr. Dubey said. . Last year, Ms. Sori was acquitted in two more cases related to firing in Kuakonda police station and burning of a block office. “However, the more critical allegations against Ms. Sori acting as a courier between Essar and the CPI (Maoist) and the attack on Congress leader Avdesh Singh Gautam are continuing,” said Mr. Dubey.

Iconic figure

Ms. Sori — a tribal woman with three children — has emerged as an iconic figure symbolising the State’s attitude toward tribals since her arrest in October, 2011. Ms. Sori’s letter to her lawyer claiming that she was sexually assaulted in police custody under the direct supervision of a police officer, Ankit Garg, became a global rallying point on tribal atrocities. While Mr. Garg and the police continuously denied all the allegations, hundreds of intellectuals, academics, and civil society activists signed petitions, demanding justice for Ms. Sori — a ‘Stand Up For Soni Sori’ campaign was launched across the country. In major cities like London or New York, activists took to the streets, building up the case internationally for Ms. Sori and her 24-year-old activist-journalist relative, Lingaram Kodopi.

Interestingly, while Mr. Kodopi and Ms. Sori both are languishing in jail, like the other 2,000 tribal undertrials of south Chhattisgarh, for allegedly working with the Maoists, two of their co-accused got bail soon after the arrest.

D.V.C.S. Verma, the general manager at an Essar steel plant, and B.K. Lala, one of Essar’s contractors, were arrested in the same case allegedly for paying protection money to the Maoists, which according to police, Mr. Kodopi and Ms. Sori were carrying to the rebels. In fact, Mr. Lala was caught with Mr. Kodopi in the same Palnar market where allegedly Ms. Sori was also present.

While both Mr. Verma and Mr. Lala have been out on bail for a year, Ms. Sori and Mr. Kodopi are both behind bars in Bastar’s jails. Activists associated with the case feel that this is another ‘glaring example’ of injustice to the tribals. Ms. Sori’s lawyer, however, sounds optimistic: “Her acquittal in the all the minor cases may give her a speedy trial in the Essar case now.”

 

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