Over 60 Adivasi protestors, including the head of Silger village, have written a letter to the governor of Chhattisgarh saying they feared more violence from the police.
Three people were killed on May 17 when police opened fire on protestors opposing the establishment of a security camp in Silger village in Sukma district. The police have claimed they fired in response to gunshots by the Maoists, but the protestors have denied the presence of any armed guerillas in their midst.
For two days now, independent observers have been prevented from visiting the village, with lawyer Bela Bhatia and economist Jean Dreze alleging on Friday morning that they had been locked into the Bijapur circuit house where they had spent the night. Activists of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a tribal rights organisation, similarly said they had been stopped short of the village.
Meanwhile, the residents of Silger sent a copy of their letter to journalists and activists. Addressed to Anusuiya Uike, the governor of Chhattisgarh, the letter bears the signatures or thumb impressions of 62 people, including the headmen and residents of Silger and 22 other nearby villages.
It states that the camp was being established under the pretext of a “farzi gram sabha” or a village council that never took place. In Adivasi areas, development projects require approval from the village council.
In the past, a local police official had assured the villagers that the camp would not be set up, the letter states. But when this promise was flouted, the villagers decided to stage a protest. On May 17, a police lathicharge on protestors provoked them into throwing stones on the camp, which was followed by the police firing tear gas shells and bullets at them, the letter states. “Some villagers died from the gunshots and many were injured,” the letter continues. “Villagers are being threatened that they will be killed. We are scared and are asking for your help.”
The letter sought the intervention of the governor: “Please put an immediate stop to the opening of the camp… institute an inquiry into police firing on peaceful protestors, take strict action against those guilty and deliver justice to us.”
Journalists who visited the village on Thursday said over 10,000 protestors continue to be amassed outside the camp. “The sea of people that filled the forested area continues to stay put in front of the camp well after the bodies were handed over,” said Yukesh Chandrakar, a journalist from Bijapur.
The bodies of the three people who died of bullet injuries – Kawasi Wagha, Korsa Bhima and Uike Murali – were handed over to their families on Wednesday evening. They were buried and not cremated as per custom, possibly to allow the bodies to be exhumed in the future for the purpose of investigation, said Prakash Thakur, vice president, Sarva Adivasi Samaj.
Bastar: सिलगेर हिंसा में मृतकों के शवों को रखकर ग्रामीणों ने श्रद्धांजलि दी. हजारों की संख्या में सिलगेर पहुंचे आदिवासियों ने नए पुलिस कैम्प के पास ही तीनों मृतकों के स्मारक बनाने की मांग की है. कैम्प के विरोध के दौरान गोलीबारी में इनकी मौत हुई थी. देखिए video @thealokputul pic.twitter.com/j99vknxyVD— Bastar Junction (@BastarJunction) May 20, 2021
An undated and unsigned press statement by the South Sub Zonal Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) called for a bandh or shutdown in Sukma and Bijapur districts on May 21 to condemn the police firing on peaceful protestors.
Earlier, in a press statement reported by The Indian Express, the police had said: “Amidst the crowd of tribals were Maoists, who then started firing indiscriminately, which led to a stampede-like situation. The Maoists didn’t heed to warnings of the assembled officials, and thus, our personnel had to fire back.”
The Indian Express also spoke to villagers about why they were opposing the camp being set up by the Central Reserve Police Force. “We would have willingly given our land for a hospital or school,” Sunil Korsa, whose family claims to own part of the land on which the camp stands, was quoted as saying. “We don’t mind security deployed for road construction either. But we don’t want a camp. Once it is established, everything from our movements to our customs will be scrutinised. We don’t want to live in fear of both the Naxals and the police.”