People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) condemns the turn of events at Silanger village in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh over the past two weeks. On 12 May, a CRPF camp was set up at the Silanger village despite protests by the residents of nearby villages. On 17 May, the CRPF fired at protestors, killing three, including a minor, and injuring many others. Eight villagers were arrested. Amid continuing protests, there has been a promise of an inquiry by an executive magistrate ordered by the District Collector.
The details of this sequence of the happenings, as reported in the press, are as under:
1. A complaint signed by 64 villagers, including four sarpanches, has claimed that the CRPF camp has been set up against the wishes of the residents of the region. It claims that a “farzi” (fake) gram sabha and force and threats have been used to obtain “consent”. Villagers fear that a permanent camp would become a source of regular harassment of the residents and interference with their social practices. The IG police, Bastar, has claimed that the camp aims to provide protection to villagers and aid developmental projects in the region. This has also been corroborated by the Government of Chhattisgarh through a newsletter.
2. According to a complaint lodged by villagers at Jagargunda police station on 24 May 2021, 35-40 residents from Silanger village went to meet camp personnel on 13 May. But they were lathi-charged, as a result of which many suffered injuries. Media reports show that a large number of them have been injured from 13 May to 17 May due to lathi-charge and that one other unarmed villager was killed on 22 May.
3. From 14 May, residents from 22 gram panchayats started a dharna near the camp. When they gathered on 17 May and walked towards the camp, CRPF personnel pushed at them physically with lathis. Some villagers pelted stones, and CRPF retaliated with teargas and firing that left three dead. Villagers claim the firing was without instigation. Senior police officers claim that the protest was Maoist instigated, and police fired in self-defence upon firing by Maoists from among the protesters. Eight villagers were also arrested and sent to jail.
4. Despite the coercive measures, protestors have continued demanding that the CRPF camp be removed, and that action be taken against errant CRPF personnel for firing upon an unarmed crowd of protesters. 4000 to 5000 locals travelled 17 kilometers up to Basaguda to meet officials. Finally, the Collector has announced an inquiry by a subordinate, an executive magistrate, into the incident. A meager sum of Rupees Ten Thousand was announced for the families of those who died.
Importantly, in view of the fact that even today, the protests are continuing, PUDR seeks to draw attention to the following issues:
- The villagers’ right to not want a permanent CRPF camp must be upheld as the signatories to the complaint make it amply clear that “consent” was sought through coercion and through the fraudulent practice of holding a fake gram sabha. The camp must be withdrawn as it furthers the militarization of an already embattled area. The official argument of setting up camps for the protection of the villagers and for developmental purposes is false as this has been contradicted by the Director General, CRPF, who stated that such camps are going to be set up for launching operations against the Maoists.
- The protesters were attacked and fired upon by the CRPF personnel. The official argument that the firing was instigated by Maoists is wholly untenable as the protesters were unarmed. Further, the justification of self-defense is specious as the losses were on the side of the villagers. The right to peaceful protest is a democratic right, and the CRPF attack is condemnable, especially since it led to the loss of three lives and grievous injuries to many.
- The decision to hold an executive inquiry into the incident is reprehensible as such an inquiry will be conducted by a subordinate executive authority into the conduct of the CRPF personnel. In an area where the paramilitary writ runs large, such inquiries are aimed at mimicking democratic practices without any serious intent at addressing the grievances of the people. It may also be noted that this inquiry is not an investigation under the normal Code, as no FIR has been registered yet on the complaint submitted by villagers. On the other hand, the fact that eight villagers have been sent to judicial custody shows clearly that the aim is to harass and implicate protestors.
We, therefore, demand that:
- A judicial inquiry be ordered by a sitting High Court judge into the killings as well as the policy of setting up of security camps as part of militarization;
- An FIR be registered against guilty personnel;
- Interim compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs each be given to the next of kin of the deceased and those who have suffered serious injuries;
- Those arrested should immediately be released, and the case against them be withdrawn;
- The camp at Silanger village be removed, and the policy of setting up of military camps be stopped immediately.
- Dialogue be initiated between the elected representatives and the people.
Radhika Chitkara, Vikas Kumar