Bastar encounter: activists stopped from meeting villagers

Police say magisterial inquiry ordered into death of 3 villagers

May 21, 2021 09:40 pm | Updated 09:40 pm IST - New Delhi

Days after three villagers were killed in police firing at Silger in Chhattisgarh, police said a magisterial inquiry will be conducted to probe the “encounter” deaths as per the Supreme Court guidelines.

The villagers killed on May 17 were part of a large group who were protesting the opening of a security camp at Silger in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, one of the worst Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas.

The police claimed that the three were Maoist sympathisers and were killed when the security camp was attacked. However, human rights lawyer Bela Bhatia said it was the security forces who opened fire first.

On Twitter, she posted the photographs of a 16-year-old boy identified as Uike Murali who had been shot in the head and another villager admitted in the Intensive Care Unit of Bijapur district hospital who was shot in the back. She also shared a video by regional journalist Alok Putul where shots can be heard being fired at unarmed villagers when they blocked an under construction road.

Inspector General of Police, Bastar Range, P Sundarraj told The Hindu that the said camp was opened on May 12 and it was detrimental to the Maoists as the “camp is at their doorstep.”

“The Maoists mobilised their jan militia cadres from far-off villages and compelled some local villagers to participate in the protest. On May 17, all of a sudden they started pelting stones, they wanted to burn the tents and they even fired at the camp, we were left with no option but to retaliate… it took us a couple of days to identify the bodies,” Mr. Sundarraj said.

Ms Bhatia said the villagers were demonstrating against the camp for five days.

“On May 13, the villagers had a conversation with some security personnel at the camp and five days later this incident occurred. The locals have been calling us on phone but the administration is creating hurdles, they are not letting me perform my duty as a lawyer. The villages need legal guidance,” said Ms. Bhatia. She added that though there are no formal arrest orders, they were being stopped on the pretext of RT-PCR tests and other excuses. Ms. Bhatia and activist Jean Dreze were stopped from meeting the villagers for the second consecutive day on Friday as the gates of the government guest house where they were accommodated were locked by officials.

When asked why the police was not allowing the activists to Silger, Mr. Sundarraj said the area was brimming with Maoists and the situation is still volatile.

“We have to clear the area from the Maoists first. We are not hiding anything, people were carrying mobile phones (on May 17), our action has also been recorded, it is not that the Maoists will not target activists, they do not have any ideology, How can Ms Bhatia guarantee that she will not be harmed?” asked Mr. Sundarraj.

He said the opening of the Silger camp has been in the works for few months. The camp is around 12 kilometre parallel to the Tarrem camp on Sukma-Bijapur border where 22 security personnel were killed in an encounter with Maoists on April 3.

Police identified the deceased as Kowasi Bhima, Uika Pandu and Kursam Bhima, members of a frontal organisation of the Maoists.

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