Sonbhadra: Could the heinous killing of 10 tribals by an upper caste mob, allegedly led by the village headman, over a land dispute in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra district been prevented if the police had not played a questionable role?
It does seem so, if villagers are to be believed. Some villagers accused the Ghorawal police of being “hand in glove” with the accused village headman and helping him in every move in the past two years, including carrying out the carnage a couple of days ago where 10 Gond adivasis were gunned down.
As per preliminary investigations being done by intelligence sources, shared with this reporter on the condition of anonymity, a few policemen from Ghorawal police station, including the beat constable for Umbha village, had prior information about the planning of this carnage. Incidentally, the Sonbhadra police arrested 29 people, including the main accused, within 24 hours but has not yet disclosed the location from where these people were arrested.
Sonbhadra’ superintendent of police (SP) Salman Taj told Newsclick over phone that four arm licenses and six trolleys which were used in this incident were confiscated by the police. But villagers/eyewitness have claimed that more than 300 men came on 30 tractors armed with weapons and committed the carnage.
The accused (village headman) and his henchmen had planned everything in advance, including absconding and remaining underground. Nothing, not even a needle, was found in the accused’s house, said sources.
Meanwhile, a pall of gloom has descended over the sprawling Umbha village about 60 kilometers from the Robertsganj district headquarters in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh after the killings.
Delhi-based journalist Kumar Sambhav Srivastava, who records land conflicts with his initiative Land Conflict Watch, says the problem lay in the Indian caste system and the laws made by the then colonial government in India which turned tribals into encroachers overnight by passing a law in 1927.
“These tribals belong to the lower section of the society and have been denied land rights. This has contributed to the mindset among upper caste people that tribals or people from lower castes cannot own a piece of land,” he said.
The Gond tribals have been living in this village much before Independence and have been getting their bread and butter from cultivating the controversial piece of land. Despite the land being transferred in the name of an administrative officer in 1951, 1955 then to the Adarsh Society Scam and then again to the pradhan, the tribals were never stopped from farming on this very fertile chunk of land.
The villagers, ever since 1951, have not been given the lease of land for farming and have been practising agriculture by simply giving some sort of lagaan (tax) to the headman of the village or to the landowner.
The problem over this controversial 100 bigha piece of the 145 bigha land started in 2017 when the main accused, Yagya Dutt, who held the position of pradhan, and his family members started attempting to take possession of the very fertile 90 bighas of land. It is to be noted that Dutt bought the land in the same year and was now trying to sell this piece at Rs 45 crore, as per the Umbha villagers.
After buying the land, Dutt got a police case registered against the Gond tribals under Sections 506, 504 and 447 in a bid to get hold of the land, but tribals resisted. Dutt, through his relatives, got two more police cases lodged against the tribals in October in 2014 under Sections 506, 504, 447 and 149. Despite this, the Umbha villagers did not step back. These Sections of the Indian Penal Code imposed on the villagers amount to trespassing, criminal intimidation and breach of peace. I
Interestingly, the Ghorawal police station did not hear out the Gond tribals and continued detaining a few villagers, who was released later.
As per the villagers, the land and revenue department was informed when the pradhan bought the land chunk and tried to get the Dakhil Kharij (mutation) done. The Dakhil Kharij, as per advocate Nityanand Diwedi, who is representing the Gond tribals, was reportedly done in 2017 and its record is being taken out to be produced in court.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court, in a recent judgement held that dakhil kharij in no way confers/extinguishes land title. It only means that land revenue can be collected by the person in whose name the entry has been done.