Fifteen days after three men were killed in an alleged exchange of fire between security personnel and suspected Maoists at the CRPF camp in Silger village, protests against the camp continue with villagers erecting a structure of rocks in the shape of a memorial pillar to honour the dead. The Chhattisgarh police has alleged Maoists’ hand behind the protest.
In the meantime Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel on Tuesday formed a committee of public representatives, headed by Bastar’s MP Deepak Baij, to find facts about May 17 Silger firing and the subsequent protests. The committee also includes tribal leader Lakheshwar Baghel and it will report to the chief minister’s office after talking to the local people. Others on the committee include Sant Ram Devti Karma, Shishupal Sori, Anup Nag, Vikram Mandavi, Rahman Baijam and Chandan Kashyap.
The villagers, however, threaten to stay put until the CRPF camp at Silger village is removed, however, police allege the protest is backed by Maoists and legal action against the 17 “outsiders” at the protest site is under consideration for their alleged role in fuelling the unrest.
“Villagers in the area are being pressured by Maoists and their sympathisers to continue the protest against the security camp in Silger. ...Sukma and Bijapur district administration have issued numerous appeals... to end the protest...,” IG Bastar P Sunderaj said on Tuesday.
Three people were killed on May 17 when security personnel opened fire on thousands of violent protestors including suspected Maoists on the fifth day of protests against the setting up of a CRPF camp in Bastar’s Silger village- a Maoist stronghold along the border of Sukma-Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh. Villagers said they feared the presence of CRPF personnel in the camp would lead to harassment of innocent tribals.
The villagers also claimed that the firing was unprovoked but the police said they retaliated to firing by armed Maoists, who had infiltrated the protesting crowd, and planned to set the CRPF camp on fire.
Later, a magisterial enquiry was also ordered into the firing but it has not finalised its report yet.
A few days back, the Communist Party of India (Maoists) Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee issued a statement in support of the protest against the CRPF camp and called for a strike on June 5. On May 29, the villagers claimed that a pregnant woman, Poonem Somli, 25, who was injured in the stampede during the firing on May 17, also died.
The Bastar IG on Tuesday said that police have seized photos, video, documents, mobile call detail records indicating 17 persons, including 6 women, were instigating the villagers to violence on the behest of Maoists.
“The main Maoist cadres operating in the area are Irpa Jagdish, Manila, Shankar, Deva and Vinod. We are gathering more evidence against the entire conspiracy behind the incident and will take appropriate legal action against those who are directly or indirectly supporting the banned CPI Maoist formations,” the IG added.
Human rights activists in Bastar have asked for removal of the camp in support of the protestors’ demands.
“What is needed is to break this stalemate democratically. It can be done if the government suspends functioning of this camp and... any new camps in the area during the Covid crisis. The Maoists too should... cease military action and concentrate on getting the population under their influence vaccinated. Let Corona times be peaceful times,” said Bela Bhatia, a human rights activist.
Bhatia in her fact-finding report, which was released on May 27, claimed there was no evidence to support police claim that an armed group of 3,000 agitators, including Maoist cadres, took over the peaceful protests on May 17 and intended to burn down the CRPF camp, leaving the forces with no choice but to open fire.
The security forces maintain that the Maoists were opposed to the CRPF camp, set up for construction of a key road, as it would lessen their influence in the area. Chhattisgarh government too issued a press release last week to say 28 camps of security forces had been set up in the Maoist-affected areas of Bastar in the last two years to support developmental works.
“Since the progress of Bastar is being looked at as a hurdle by the Maoists, they are regressively opposing these camps. These camps are often ambushed. The Maoists even attempt to create misunderstanding among the native villagers and trick them to go against the security forces,” the release said.
The government also claimed that the surge in the Maoist activity in Bastar was also due to lack of communication and dialogue between villagers and the district administration, which was being addressed by measures including these camps.
Ravindra Chaubey, government spokesperson and a cabinet minister said it was pretty clear who was opposed to the CRPF camp and was behind the protest. “People need roads in that area and hence camps are established. For the development of people, roads are important and if needed more camps will be established,” Chaubey said