The National Human Rights Commission has come down heavily on the Chhattisgarh government for abetting the ghastly Salwa Judum crimes in the state and turning a blind eye to severe human rights violations of the deceased persons and their families.
The NHRC has made the observations in a case emanating out of a complaint lodged in 2013 by villagers of Kondasawali, Sukma district, with the Collector that a few years before 2013 (during the times when Salwa Judum was active in the State), some Special Police Officers and Salwa Judum leaders had come to their village, burnt 95 huts in three settlements in their panchayat, killed 7 people, and threatened the villagers against telling anyone about those incidents.
The villagers had been forced to leave their village after the arson attacks with many fleeing into the forests. They could come back to the village only after the end of Salwa Judum and wrote to the Collector on July 12, 2013, with the help of sarpanch of Kondasawali Sundam Sannu about the Salwa Judum vigilante excesses upon residents of village Kondasawali, Kamaraguda and Karrepara.
The seven villagers as named in the complaint are: Mandavi Bhima and Bharse Sukalu from village Kodasawali, Bharse Nanda of village Korapara, Kunjam Boda from Karrepara, Sudam Bhim Mangdu and Sudam Bhim Joga and also Mediam Ayyati from village Parlatta.
Soon after the complaint was made, Barse Nande, one of the complainants who had complained about the killing of her husband Barse Nanda, was attacked and killed by security forces on August 13, 2013.
The complaint was brought before the NHRC by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh, in September, 2013.
The PUCL also expressed its concern about the safety of the ex-sarpanch in the wake of killing of Barse Nande.
Simultaneously, the lawyer members of PUCL in Jagdalpur followed up the case through RTI which revealed that no compensation has been disbursed to the next of the kin of deceased since their death or post-mortem certificates are not available.
Meanwhile, in a communication sent to NHRC dated August 8, 2016, District Magistrate, Sukma said the alleged incidents of killings and arson had taken place in the year 2007, no FIR was registered till 2013 and no post mortem was conducted and also that names of five out of seven deceased do not appear in the voter list of the year 2009-2010.
Fact-finding team’s treacherous journey as NHRC looks for true picture
With the state appearing laidback, in April 2017, the NHRC asked PUCL general secretary Sudha Bhardwaj to make a visit to the area and record the testimonies of the complainants.
On Bhardwaj’s behalf, a fact-finding team comprising human rights activist and AAP leader Soni Sori, PUCL member and researcher JK Vidhya, human rights defender Lingaram Kodopi and Sukul Prasad left for Kondasawali. The team was accompanied by journalists Pushpa Rokde, Nitin Rokde and an interpreter named Danti Poyim.
The team got delayed due to rains and finally undertook the journey, which involved walking on foot for several kilometres for hours through thick forests and climbing up and down the hills, and on August 23, 2017, the team met all people whose houses were burnt or whose family members were killed in 2009-10 and in 2013. Each person who lost a family testified on camera.
While working on the complaint, the PUCL, in its report, also gives an idea of the pitiful state of residents of the area.
While explaining the delay in tabling the report before NHRC, it goes on to state in its report, “It is not at all surprising that almost all members of the team became severely ill after this trip. Ms Soni Sori and Mr Sukul Nag had to be hospitalised. Ms Vidhya was diagnosed with malaria of the falciparum type. The journalists Pushpa Rokde and Nitin Rokde were also ill. This show the precarious conditions of health villagers are surviving in. It was also the reason for delay in submission of the instant report”.
State’s cover-up, no notice for 7 years
The NHRC examined the report of the Tehsildar, Konta, district Sukma, and also the report of SP, Sukma according to which no case(s) was registered about these incidents because no one lodged a report with the police station having jurisdiction over these villages.
The NHRC noted that, “In a district, the responsibility for revenue collection and developments vests with the District Collector. Similarly, the responsibility for maintenance of law and order rests on the shoulders of the District SP, who is assisted in this task by his various subordinate officials posted in police stations and police posts.
“In order to discharge their responsibilities, the officials of the Revenue Department and the various development related departments such as block development officers, agriculture development officers, district social welfare officer and their subordinates are required to regularly visit villages within their jurisdiction and during these visits they get/collect information about events which had taken place in those villages. Similarly, police officials posted in various police stations are required to visit the various villages within their jurisdiction on a regular basis to collect information, in connection with enquiries and for investigation, etc. In addition, each district has a network of primary and secondary schools, health sub centres and primary health centres and community health centres. These schools and the health care facilities are also manned by public servants. Thus, the network of district functionaries in a district is fairly large and widespread, this is specially true of the network of the police and the revenue department officials.”
“Therefore, it is unimaginable and unacceptable that ghastly incidents of the nature which taken place in above named three villages and about which report was lodged ultimately only in 2013 and which form basis of case FIR No.10/2013 PS Jagarguda did not come to the notice of any of the village/block/police post/police station level functionaries of District Sukma.
“Thus, the Commission concludes that these incidents had come to the notice of police, revenue and other officials of District Sukma soon after they had taken place but police and district officials had deliberately turned a blind eye to these killings and incidents of arson,” he said.
State abetted crimes, then glossed over
The NHRC went on to observe that the state and its officials did not take cognizance of the crime for seven years which goes to show that they abetted the ghastly incidents of arson and killings.
“In fact, the omission by the state and district Sukma Officer to take cognizance of these incidents for seven years is also a very strong circumstance to show that these crimes had been abetted by the district officials of Sukma/or state government officials of the State of Chhattisgarh.
“This willful omission of taking cognizance of these incidents for such a long period is also a very strong circumstance indicative of the fact that these ghastly crimes had been committed by the SPOs of Jagarguda base camp as has been alleged by the complainant of case FIR No.10/2013 P.S. Jagarguda.
“That the objective of the state machinery, both the police and the magistracy is not to ascertain the truth about these incidents but to gloss over these crimes is also amply clear in the manner the investigation of case FIR No.10/2013 P.S. Jagarguda is being conducted and the manner in which the Tehsildar, Konta, District Sukma has conducted his enquiry. A mere reading of the enquiry report of Tehsildar Konta and the statements recorded by the I.O. shows that his objective is not at all to dig out the truth and that he is only conducting a cover up operation. These acts of omission by the public servants of State of Chhattisgarh constitute a gross violation of human rights of the deceased residents of village Kondasawali, Kamaraguda and Karrepara and of those residents of these villages whose houses/huts were burnt,” the NHRC noted in its order dated October 26.
While making these scathing observations, the commission stopped short of taking any final view and gave one more chance to the Chhattisgarh government to explain the anomalies pointed out by it.
It also sought to know the names of patwaries of village Kondasawali, Kamaraguda and Karrepara during 2007-2013, names of naib tehsildars, block development officers, agricultural development officers having jurisdiction over the three villages during the said period.
Besides, it has sought details about name and distance of nearest police posts from these villages, police in-charge who was posted there during the relevant period, distance of police station Jagaguda from these villages.
PUCL’s disturbing report
The PUCL report contained testimonies of the residents of Karrepara whose houses were burnt by Salwa Judum vigilantes.
They testified that they fled the violence and stayed for four years in the forests till 2010 and slowly started coming back and rebuilding their houses.
In Kamaraguda also, 45 houses were burnt in 2006. The SPOs took away all the gold and silver. “Since the situation appeared to improve after 2011 or so, the people started returning to their village by 2013-4 and rebuilt their homes and are now living there. Now there are 35 families (homes) in Kamaraguda that have been recently built. 45 were burnt. When the 7 people of Kondasawali gram panchayat were killed, the people of Kamaraguda were either coming back to the village from the forest or still in the forest,” it said.
“The people who burnt the homes included people who belonged to Salwa Judum, SPOs and the force. They are able to identify three people specifically who were SPOs who brought the force to the village – Bhima aka Ramesh of Talaguda, Andal and Masa. They don’t know any of the others.
Now they are afraid of the forces who continue to harass them, detain them, and when they run away to the forest, declare them Naxals. Besides this, they have no other grievance,” the report says.
In Kondasawali, 40 homes were burnt down in 2006-07. Many people who fled to the forests ultimately lost their lives to snake bites, animal attacks and diseases, while some moved to Andhra Pradesh.
The report said CRPF personnel and SPOs still come at night expecting to catch people meeting Naxalites and recently picked up two children and took them to CRPF camp. The women gheraoed the camp and got them released.
The women also spoke of sexual assaults.
While concluding the report submitted by Bharadwaj, the NHRC was informed that “the NHRC team requires to take into account that the villagers of Kondasawali have once lost all their properties and documents in arson of their houses, have been forced to take refuge in jungles and have only recently rebuilt their homes. It is thus not practicable to expect them to possess documentary evidence of their identities. The NHRC will therefore have to work out some other mechanism such as relying upon the statements of the erstwhile and present Sarpanch, and elders of the village or neighbouring villages etc. to verify the same”.