A fact-finding initiative by the Bastar Adhikar Shala (BAS) has confirmed the deaths of three Adivasi protesters due to CRPF firing at Silger village in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district on May 17. The BAS also revealed that another protester was shot in the back during the action and continues to recuperate in an ICU at a hospital in Bijapur.
Newsclick had reported that security forces set up camp in Silger on May 12 despite opposition from locals. Protests – still ongoing, BAS activists say – have continued to take place against such camps and security forces responded to one such protest with firing, killing three Adivasi villagers in the process on May 17.
In a statement issued on Thursday, BAS said that despite local opposition the camp was set up at around 3 am on May 12 without informing the villagers or seeking their consent through the gram sabha. “About 40-50 of them went to the camp the next day to discuss and register their protest but they were dispersed with lathis, causing injuries to 24. On 14 May, about a thousand adivasis of five nearby gram panchayats started a mass protest which went from strength to strength in the following days,” the statement said.
BAS mentions that a large number of protesters from Silger and its neighbouring villages continued to protest against the camp between May 14 and May 16 with the security forces trying different methods to disperse them. “...sometimes with lathis, sometimes with “mirchi pataka” or tear gas. Dozens of protestors sustained minor injuries during these days and returned to their villages for local treatment,” it said.
It added that the protests had continued to remain non-violent during the period but that the number of protesters were swelling. On May 17, BAS said, “the rally had peak numbers”, mentioning that about ten thousand villagers were present according to a witness.
“Many of them explained that by then people’s patience was wearing thin. When the force began a lathi charge to disperse them, followed by tear gassing and firing in the air from the MPVs, some protestors ran helter-skelter but others started picking up stones and throwing them at the forces...” the statement said.
“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,” it added, mentioning that a survivor from Pusbaka village was shot in the back and is recovering in an ICU in a Bijapur hospital.
One of the injured in ICU Bijapur hospital who was shot in the back.
The activists mentioned that a police statement on May 20 had claimed that a “new group of 3,000 agitators” had attacked the camp and intended to burn it down. “This bizarre story does not fit with any of the testimonies we have heard. By that time the camp had a huge presence of heavily armed personnel and there was no point in trying to attack it,” they added.
The BAS activists said that the local Adivasis remain “undeterred” with protests continuing in the area. They mention that the number of protesters has only grown since May 17. “On 23 May, we witnessed their daily protest near the camp. It was a remarkable display of unity and resolve, wholly peaceful,” the BAS added, saying that the police had seemingly become more “restrained” since May 17 and that there was no attempt to disperse them on the day the activists were present.
However, filing a complaint against the brutality has also been difficult. “It took massive efforts to get the thana in-charge to accept this simple complaint and give an official receipt. If the people of Bastar are not even allowed to complain of such atrocities, where do we go?”
The activists mentioned that the protests continue in the area in the form of a 'chakka jam' with Thursday being the third day of such a course of action.
MPVs outside the CRPF camp.
They add that the reason why the protesters were against the camps were fears of being beaten up, sexually assaulted, of false cases being filed against them and fake encounters.
“The validity of this concern was dramatically brought to us soon after we arrived in Silger, when we learnt that an unarmed civilian, Midiam Masa, had been killed the day before near another new CRPF camp in the area. He and two others were gathering mangoes when the forces suddenly appeared. They started running away out of fear. Two escaped, but Masa was shot dead. This happened in Tolevarti village on 22 May.”