Amid the ongoing Adivasi protests in Chhattisgarh, the police have detained several leaders of the Mulwasi Bachao Manch, an organisation formed after security forces killed Adivasis in Silger, Sukma, last May. While the police claim they were arrested for breaching COVID-19 protocols, the Manch has alleged that it was an attempt at implicating the leaders in false cases.
The Manch demanded the immediate release of their nine leaders who were apparently travelling on a public bus from Bastar to state capital Raipur to meet the governor. The forum issued a statement saying, “It is a conspiracy to falsely implicate these leaders under various cases”.
Nine of the Manch leaders were allegedly detained in Kondagaon district and brought to Sukma; four of them have since tested positive for COVID-19, according to government officials.
According to Bastar IG, P Sundarraj, the nine persons were brought in for recording their statement after they were found to have violated the Section 144 of CRPC evoked due to increasing COVID-19 cases.
“They have not been arrested nor kept in detention. Considering the spike in COVID cases since first week of January 2022, the protesters have been asked to disperse the assembly as section 144 CrPC has been evoked. Out of them four have tested COVID-19 positive and the others have been kept at a quarantine centre,” Sundarraj told the Indian Express.
Questions have been raised over the manner of the alleged detention. A member of the Manch told the Indian Express that the leaders were asked to reach Raipur on January 21 to meet the governor. However, sources told the newspaper that the governor was out of station till January 24.
Along with Manch members, the family members of the nine leaders alleged that the police illegally detained them. “Why was no one else from the bus stopped? The government is trying to curtail the protests by putting our people behind the bars,” one of the member of the Manch told the newspaper. It has also been pointed out that had they been taken for violating COVID-19 norms, it should have been done at the protest site itself and not when they were travelling on a bus.
In an unprecedented attack on Adivasi protesters, security forces on May 17 last year opened fire on a gathering of about 3,000 Adivasis who were protesting against the new camp in Sukma and the increased militarisation of the region. The firing killed three tribal villagers. Poonam Someli, who was pregnant and got injured in the stampede sparked by the firing, passed away after a few days.
While the police forces claimed they were targeting naxals in a crossfire, the villagers asserted that the unprecedented move was aimed at dispersing the crowds and suppressing their movement.
The incident led to the Silger protest intensifying and the Mulwasi Bachao Manch was formed by young Adivasis. The Manch soon received support from other villages, leading to widespread protests in the Bastar region.
The Manch’s main demands include the removal of police camps from Bastar, allowing mining rights to be with natives, fresh enquiry of various fake encounters in Bastar, and registration of cases against the guilty policemen.