A large group comprising Special Police Officers (SPOs) of the Chhattisgarh police and members of the Salwa Judum attacked social activist Swami Agnivesh on Saturday as he attempted to deliver relief to a village allegedly torched by security forces in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district.
On March 23, The Hindu published reports and photographs alleging that SPOs had torched about 300 homes, granaries and wood-sheds, killed three men and sexually assaulted three women during a five-day anti-Maoist operation in the villages of Tarmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli.
Since then, the district police had sealed off the three villages and intimidated journalists who tried to visit them.
On Saturday, Mr. Agnivesh was to deliver clothes, blankets and other relief materials to the affected villagers when he was attacked twice in six hours by a mob at the Salwa Judum camp at Dornapal.
(The ‘Salwa Judum' refers to a controversial tribal vigilante group, armed, trained and assisted by the Chhattisgarh government in its battle against the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). A public interest litigation, currently being heard by the Supreme Court, holds Judum members responsible for 537 murders, 99 rapes and 103 acts of arson.)
“Relief material seized”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Agnivesh said the first attack occurred early in the morning when a crowd of SPOs and Judum members surrounded his vehicle, pelted him with raw eggs, knocked off his turban and pushed him around. Reporters at the spot were also manhandled by the crowd. In a dispatch filed from the spot, Joseph John of the Indian Express reported that the crowd accused Mr. Agnivesh of turning a blind eye to the plight of victims of Maoist violence.
“They seized all the relief material intended for Tarmetla,” said Mr. Agnivesh, adding that he then returned to Sukma and telephoned Chief Minister Raman Singh for assistance.
In February this year, Mr. Agnivesh was instrumental in securing the release of five policemen kidnapped by Maoists.
Sources in the security establishment told The Hindu that the 150th Battalion of the CRPF was called in to protect Mr. Agnivesh.
The CRPF was in place by afternoon, when Mr. Agnivesh attempted to visit the affected villages once more. “Despite security assurances by the Chief Minister, we were attacked by a crowd engineered by the Salwa Judum and SPOs,” said Mr. Agnivesh, adding that his vehicle was stoned and he was forced to return.
Reporters at the site said a crowd of nearly 2,000 people at Dornapal attacked mediapersons and broke several cameras. Eyewitnesses said Naresh Mishra of the television channel Zee 24 was among those beaten.
“The police have created a Frankenstein's monster that they cannot control,” said Mr. Agnivesh. “This was an attack on the administration by an unaccountable lynch mob.”
Reacting to the events of the past three days, the Chhattisgarh police transferred S.R.P. Kalluri from his post as the Dantewada Senior Superintendent of Police. “Mr. Kalluri was transferred to allow for an independent inquiry into the recent allegations,” said Director-General of Police Vishwa Ranjan, “He will take up duty as Deputy Inspector General, Surguja.”
Mahasamund Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg shall take over as Dantewada SP.
The spokesperson for the Chief Minister, N. Bajinder Kumar, confirmed that Dantewada Collector R. Prasanna has also been transferred. “Mr. Prasanna shall take over as Municipal Commissioner Raipur. “The existing Commissioner, O.P. Chaudhury, shall replace him,” Mr. Kumar said.
“Mr. Kalluri has lost the moral, legal and constitutional right to remain in his post,” said Ajit Jogi, Congress MLA from Marwahi and former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.