दुश्मन देश का हिस्सा है बस्तर का गोमपाड़, नलकाटोंग? A report on the Sukma ‘encounter’


  • August 26, 2018
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On August 6th 2018, news reports indicated that 15 ‘Naxals’ had been gunned down by the Chhattisgarh police in Sukma district. This encounter happened near Nalkatong village in the Konta Block of South Sukma. A day after all these claims, hundreds of women adivasis in Bastar protested against this police action, calling it a ‘fake encounter’. The women claim that all those killed were villagers working in their fields and none of them are Naxals. Following visits to the village by Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Tameshwar Sinha, it was revealed that the police force, in order to show their efficiency in combating Naxals in the area, shot and killed villagers. Based on this and other journalists’ reports who trekked to the encounter site, Kamal Shukla writes.

The villages of Gompad, Nalkatong, Velpocha, Kinderpad and Ethegetta in the Konta block of Sukma district in Chattisgarh do not seem to belong to this country. In the last 20-25 years, people in these villages have only seen security forces in the name of Government” – remarked Adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi, who was the first to break the news of the most recent ‘encounter’ in Bastar, on 6th August, in which 15 adivasi villagers were shot dead by security forces. His report not only busted the security forces’ claims of killing hardcore Maoists, but also exposed the biased role of local media in dishing out only the police version of the incident to the outside world.

Across the district of Bastar, where the security forces and the Maoists are literally engaged in a war, there are certain villages that are ‘marked’ by the administration. These marked villages are repeatedly encircled and attacked by the security and para-military forces. Houses in the villages have been set on fire on many occasions. Numerous allegations of rapes of tribal women and looting of houses by security forces have been regularly reported from these villages. Since the last 20 years, particularly after the formation of Salwa Judum, these villages have seen no Government welfare schemes or projects. Villagers tell that till 1980 there were roads to reach these villages. But afterwards, officials from the forest and other government departments stopped entering these villages. These villages fall under the Mehta panchayat, whose members including the Sarpanch are elected in Konta, 25 kms away. In this entire 25 km radius only one village, Banda, has a middle-school. That too was set up in 1962. There are nearly 300 adivasis in Gompad, living in 70-80 hamlets. For these villages, ‘governance’, ‘administration’ and the reaction to the same, comprise of mainly two things – the security forces and the Maoists.

Till now, very few journalists have been able to reach and report from these areas. There are no roads, and journalists have to walk 20-25kms through forests to reach these villages. In addition of the physical inaccessibility, there is also the regular stopping of journalists by security forces, either at Sukma, Dornapal or at Konta. The CRPF and the police even sent back many journalists who were trying to go there. Tameshwar Sinha, an independent journalist entered the area and investigated the truth of the encounter. He had to walk for two days to reach the area and return. Tameshwar reported:

Police does not like that journalists and human rights activists reach the place of the incident and talk to the villagers. So they harassed us a lot, at many places we were blocked from moving and at one point we had to return back. Many journalist belonging to national media and Suhashini from New York Times were so frustrated by this harassment that they returned after reaching Sukma.

Soni Sori, adivasi activist, set out to visit the area on 17th August. She alleged that the police stopped and interrogated her on the way. The police also blocked the road she was traveling by. She was continuously followed wherever she went. Another journalist, Akash Poyam, who too set out to visit the affected areas said that “the most stupid thing in Bastar is to say that you are a journalist”. The entire police and state intelligence will be after you. They will do whatever is possible to ensure that you can’t reach the area.

Soni Sori conducting fact finding in Nalkatong village. Photo: Tameshwar Sinha

Another journalist, Rajkumar Soni from Raipur who reached those villages had this to say – Gompad is a village where even sun’s light thinks twice before entering, even in the darkness of night villagers fear to light the lanterns. The little flicker is enough to attract the security forces. Scores of stories of barbaric tortures and killings lie buried in the heart of these adivasis. But they prefer to stay silent. Sometimes, even if they speak out a little, they lament in Gondi language – “mommani dollas puttom. Eme sarkar oinki … Elo kacchon naksali”. (We are born to die. It’s either the government that will kills us or the Naxalites.)

Two years ago, on 13 June 2016, a sixteen years old tribal girl named Madkam Hidme was raped and then killed by security forces. Soni Sori led a protest against this incident and it was mainly due to her efforts that the High Court ordered fresh post mortem of the girl’s dead body and started investigation of the incident. The village again came into the limelight when on 15th August 2016, Soni led a protest march to this village.

The first attack on Gompad and Nalkatong was carried out during 2005-2006. Houses were set on fire, everything including pigs and goats were looted. Three elderly persons, too feeble to flee, were killed. Muchaki Sukdi had tears rolling down her eyes when she spoke of how her 14 yrs old son, Aayat, shot dead in the 6th August encounter, was only three years old when her husband too was killed in a similar encounter in 2007.

Soni Sori says, “the killing games in these tribal villages began after 2005, when the Government raised a tribal militia – Salwa Judum – to take on the villagers sympathetic to the Maoists. This led to a violent internecine war among the tribals. During those days, the goons of Salwa Judum who were appointed as SPO’s in police, attacked, burnt and looted these villages many times. After the disbanding of Salwa Judum, now they are in the District Police as District Reserve Group (DRG). Even today, they look upon these villagers as the enemy.”

The history of attacks and killings that took place in Gompad supports Soni’s claims. Soya Bhima, an adivasi from this village said that the first attack on Gompad and Nalkatong was carried out during 2005-2006. Many houses were set on fire. Three elderly persons, too feeble to flee, were killed. Besides, everything including pigs and goats were looted. Muchaki Sukdi, an adivasi woman from Nalkatong village had tears rolling down her eyes when she spoke of how her 14 yrs old son, Aayta, who was shot dead in the 6th August encounter, was only three years old when her husband too was killed in a similar encounter in 2007. During that encounter the security forces had killed 9 villagers, accusing them of being Naxalites.

18 month-old Madvi Mukesh’s fingers were chopped off during an attack, allegedly perpetrated by the security forces. Gompad. 2009. Source: Internet

In 2009, the jawans of the Cobra battalion of para military forces had butchered 16 adivasis in Gompad village with swords. Those killed included an 8 year old girl and a 80 years old elderly person. The fingers of a one and half year old child were chopped off. Himanshu Kumar, a human rights activist, says that his appeal in the Supreme Court asking for SIT investigation into this incident is still being heard. The Supreme Court has accepted the petition. The villagers said that the Supreme Court had even ordered compensation to the families of those who were killed in that incident, but all that money never reached the victims’ families. The Sarpanch, Soyam Muka along with other government officials siphoned of the entire money, alleged the villagers. Later the Sarpanch left the village and started living in Konta, where he soon became a big leader of the Salwa Judum. Hidme Joga, an adivasi from the village, sounds tragically true when he says ‘we are born to be killed’.

Source: Tameshwar Sinha

Whenever the villagers notice the police entering the village, they run away into the forest. Only the old and infirm remain. The police however doesn’t spare even them. This is what actually happened even in the so called ‘encounter’ on 13 June, 2016. On that day, the police informed in a brief that an armed encounter took place between the security forces and the Maoists near Gompad. The police claimed that during search operations after the encounter, the security forces found the dead body of a woman Maoist dressed in guerilla fatigue with a self loading rifle. The police identified her as Madkam Hidme, member of platoon no. 4 of Kishtaram area committee of the CPI (Maoist), who carried a reward on her head. But the members of her family and many other villagers alleged she was not killed in any encounter. The security forces picked her up from the village, sexually abused and tortured her and then shot her dead. The villagers said that Madkam Hidme was sick, so she couldn’t run away into the forest. The entire story of the encounter seems to have been cooked up later to hide the crime.

The encounter on 6th August 2018, in which 15 adivasis were killed, is also alleged to be fake, according to the details that have come out so far, including reports by various human rights investigation teams, and reports of journalists who visited the place. The state unit of political parties like AAP, Congress and renowned sociologist Bela Bhatia have also raised questions over the narrative of encounter put up by the security forces.

Sukka, a villager from Gompad was present at the spot on that day. His 12 years old son Kadti Aayta who studied in Konta Pota Cabin school, was killed in the encounter. Sukka too was injured. He said that the police came and started firing. He further added that Soyam Chandra, a villager who is also the Panch (village head) raised his hand towards the security forces, pleading with them to stop firing but the forces didn’t listen to him. Chandra Sukka too fell to the security forces’ bullets and died on the spot. All the villagers present in the house began running. Since it was morning, many villagers had gone to nearby canals to take a dump. Most of them ran towards the forest. Sukka was injured as a bullet flew past touching his knee. Though bleeding profusely, he kept running. The security forces kept chasing him by following the blood marks. Sukka said that he could manage to escape because he jumped into a drain filled with water and swam across.

Aayta, with elder sister. Courtesy: Newslaundry

Out of the 15 villagers killed in this encounter, six were from Gompad. They were all male. According to the villagers, one among these six killed was a minor boy. 6 others who died were from Nalkatong. One among them was married while the rest were all minors. One person each were from the villages of Velpocha, Kinderpad and Etthegatta. All these villagers were staying in a Laari (jhopri) in a field, in the village Nalkatong. The villagers claimed that these people had come to this village from Gompad the previous night to take shelter in their relatives’ homes and were sleeping in the Laari. They had slipped into this village since the police and security forces were entering and harassing the villagers in Gompad for the past two days. Similarly, the two men from Velpocha and Etthegatta had also fled to Nalkatong because of police fears. The one from Velpocha had come to visit his in-laws.

The villagers in Gompad said that on 5th August, 12 men had fled from the village into the forest because of the security forces’ terror and reached Nalkatong. Six of them were killed in the encounter, while six managed to escape. The six villagers killed were Soyam Sita, Madvi Dewa, Kadti Harma, Soyam Chandra, Madvi Nanda and Kadti Aayta.

Eyewitnesses of the encounter from Nalkatong village alleged that Soyam Chandra was first shot dead and then his body was mutilated. In fact the bodies of all fifteen villagers killed were returned fully covered in plastic sheets tied with ropes. The names of those killed from Nalkatong village are Sondi Prabhu, Markam Lakhma, Tanti Hunga, Muchaki Himra, Muchaki Dewa and Muchaki Mukka. While Muchaki Hidma was married, the rest were all minors. In addition to the killings, the security forces also arrested 4 villagers. Two of them were later released but they are still in hiding out of fear. The other two were sent to jail custody. Among them, Dudhi Budhri has bullet injuries.

After this alleged encounter, Special DG (naxal operations) of Chattisgarh held a press conference, where he told the media, “police had received information from the intelligence sources that Naxalites are running a camp near the Nalkatong village. We sent security forces to the area and in a face-to-face encounter that took place, the security forces shot dead 15 Naxalites present in the camp.”

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging this police version of the encounter. The first hearing took place on 13th August. The Division bench of Chief Justice Deepak Mishra which is hearing the petition has asked the Chattisgarh Government to place it’s side of the event. The next hearing is scheduled for 29th August. When senior police officials were asked about this matter they refused to answer.

The author is a journalist based in Bastar. You can read our earlier interview with Kamal Shukla here: Part 1, Part 2

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