New Delhi: Protests by members of the adivasi community are raging in Madhya Pradesh's Khargone district after the death of a tribal man, allegedly due to custodial violence. More than 3,000 tribals staged protests on September 14, demanding an FIR against guilty police personnel and the arrests of doctors responsible for the death of Bisan, the son of one Habu.
Bisan and three others from Kherkundi village under Bistan Police Station in Khargone District were picked up by police officials on the night of August 31 on suspicion of theft. They were allegedly kept illegally in custody until the families of those arrested filed a petition in court against their detention and alleging torture at the hands of the police.
Bisan’s case is not a stray instance; the tribal protesters point towards the pattern of violence and further criminalisation of the community, let alone the impunity enjoyed by those who are accused in such cases and the failure of the legal system. In Bisan’s case, a formal arrest was registered only on September 4 after pressure from the community.
Following the protests, more people were taken into custody. Residents of the village alleged that those inside the station were tortured and violently targeted.
Speaking to NewsClick over the phone, Nitin Varghese of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), said: “Four people were picked up by the police and no information was given to the family or to the villagers; the giraftari was not registered. On the first (of this month) people assembled outside the police station."
"Eight people were taken inside the station and even then no formal information on arrests or detentions were highlighted. On the fourth of this month, these people were presented in court. The 12 people were beaten up with a patta used to grind wheat. The wounds on their bodies are gory and his son said that his skin had been ripped off, that’s how brutally he was beaten,” he alleged.
Activists alleged that despite the violence, the injury to Bisan was termed "minor" by the doctor who denied him treatment, which eventually led to his death. Bisan was beaten so badly that flesh on his buttocks came off the bone, which led to the sepsis/septic shock leading to his death, the activists alleged.
Members of the adivasi community said such incidents of violence against them were on the rise "only because" the state government continued to "protect the accused in such incidents". They warned the government that the adivasi society would not be "passive recipients" of such injustice.
There are 46 recognised Scheduled Tribes in Madhya Pradesh, three of which have been identified as 'Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups'. The population of Scheduled Tribes is 21.1% in the state, according to the 2011 Census. According to latest data, atrocities against tribals increased by 25% in Madhya Pradesh with the state recording 2,401 cases of atrocities against tribals in 2020, about 25% more than in 2019.
Speaking with NewsClick over phone, tribal rights' activist Madhuri Krishnaswamy explained: "Historical injustices are continuing against tribals; they are treated as second class citizens because that is an acceptable form of understanding. There is also rampant criminalisation of tribals. In this instance – after extreme violence, no action has been taken, the magisterial enquiry has not even commenced. Officers are being transferred only for optics, but no action has been taken to address the situation.”
The day of the protests in Khandwa, another custodial death was reported from in Mandhata Thana where a young man from the Mankar community was also reportedly tortured, leading to his death. “The brother of the dead is now being placated in his case These instances are endemic. They get highlighted only when a death occurs. Otherwise, this pattern of violence continues," Krishnaswamy alleged.
Protesting tribals have demanded that an FIR must be filed in the case against police officials allegedly responsible for the death and that they be arrested for the murder and torture of Bisan. They have demanded that police personnel in Bistan be immediately transferred, and their involvement in the torture of the accused from Kherkundi must be thoroughly investigated and necessary punitive action must be undertaken against them.
Angry protesters also warned the state government about the failure of the state government and district administration to act on these demands, adding that this would spur a further, larger agitation by adivasi communities until all their demands were fulfilled.