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Chattisgarh's vendetta trail


The trend of innocents getting framed as Naxalites is helping the Maoists, reports Anil Dwivedi
ANIL DWIVEDI | Issue Dated: June 7, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : naxalism | salwa judum |

Sushila Sodhi, a 35-year-old Anganwadi worker in Chattisgarh, is in extreme agony. Her paraplegic husband Lakhan Sodhi has been declared a Naxalite, therefore a proclaimed offender, and put behind bars. "My husband is handicapped and can hardly walk. How can he possibly help Leftist radicals,'' she wails.

It does not matter if most of those accused of killing two Salwa Judum activists along with Lakhan have been released by courts for lack of evidence.

While the Chattisgarh government has periodically made tall claims about getting a handle on the Maoist movement, the fact is that the state continues to be in the severe grip of ultra Left violence with the Bastar district as its epicentre. The combined might of the state police and para-military forces have been unable to stem the tide of Maoist violence: what has then followed are a series of false encounters, alleged rape cases and a deadly state-inspired initiative to fill the state's prisons with innocents, passing them off as ultras, with not a single conviction obtained till date!

As a TSI team which visited the worst-hit Bastar, Dantewada and Sukma districts in Chattisgarh found out; the facts of Lakhan's case stand out as a stark reminder that while the real culprits have continued to get away, it has been relatively easy to frame poor tribals who have neither the wherewithal nor an awareness of their rights to defend themselves.

According to the police version, on July 8, 2010, 17 tribals were arrested under sections 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 396 (Dacoity with murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) along with the Explosives Act, on charges of raiding the house of Awadesh Gautam, a local Salwa Judum leader in Dantewada district's Nakulnar village. In the attack, two relatives of Gautam, Sanjay Singh and Dharmendra, were killed.

After nearly two years of hearing, a sessions court found no evidence against the accused and when the eyewitnesses too turned hostile, the case fell flat on its face. Judge Anita Dahriya, who was hearing the two sides, arrived at the conclusion: "The prosecution has been unable to prove its case against the accused.''

Says Kopa Kunjam, a young tribal activist, "Who will compensate the tribals for the two years spent in prison and a life time's meager earnings thrown away in futile litigation?"

Four such accused – Sukul Prasad Nag, Vijay Sodhi, Lakhan and Sukhnath Oyam – agitatedly reiterate, "One of the reasons for poor tribals taking up arms are atrocities committed by the state.''

Settling political scores by implicating activists in false cases is by no means new but in Chattisgarh, it has acquired an altogether different hue. Says Sukul Prasad Nag, CPI (ML) district secretary in Dantewada, "Since I disagreed with the policies and tactics of Salwa Judum and was protesting against the land acquisition policies of the state government, I was framed on the instance of a rival." Nag claims that at the time of his illegal midnight arrest, he was threatened with extermination by the police. "If the Naxalites are so strong, how come the seven panchayats in the district always elect BJP and Congress members,'' he questions indignantly.

The story of 22-year-old Vijay Sodhi in Sukna district too runs on familiar lines. Once a Congress activist close to MLA Kavasi Lakhma, his opposition to Salwa Judum and land acquisition policy proved  costly. Says his father Unga Sodhi, "MLA Kavasi Lakhma came to my house and took Vijay along with him. The next thing we knew, he was arrested. When questioned, the legislator told us that the police had plans to encounter Vijay.''

Vijay's wife Richa Sodhi, a local school teacher, is currently running from pillar to post to get her husband released from the Jagdalpur jail. "While most named in the Awadesh Gautam case have been buried, my husband continues to l
anguish behind bars with no help from his party or legislator Lakhma,'' she says  tearfully.

The agony is the same for 26-year-old Ramesh Kawasi, who was buried in the Gautam case after a messy two-year litigation which involved spending a hard-earned one lakh rupees on lawyers and the sale of a prized two acre family land. In Dantewada's Badegudra village, his wife Kajal, also an Anganvadi worker, recalls with a shiver, "One night, more than 50 policemen entered my house and took away Ramesh charging him with involvement in the Gautam case, while the fact is that he was in Bilaspur on the day of the crime.''

On balance, however, Ramesh could be considered fortunate when compared to Sukhnath, whose wizened old mother in the Bailadila hills, continues to wait for his release not knowing her son's crime. A copy of the court order procured by TSI revealed that while the case in which Sukhnath was held was squashed long ago for lack of evidence, the man continues to languish behind bars. Says his mother Peede, "We sold off our house for Rs 50,000, which has all been used up for fighting the case. Now I am living hand to mouth.''

In a hurry to finish off Maoists, Chattisgarh's trail is littered with innocents getting it on the neck, thanks to political vendetta. The case of Ramsahay is symbolic of how the wheels of this justice grind. The 42-year-old was picked up by the police on charges of firing at a patrol party and then escaping in the jungle. Once again, in the court, the police was unable to substantiate its charges and most incredibly, the police witness himself declined to give a statement. Ramsahay's expenditure to save himself: Rs 50,000 and a lifetime's saving gone down the drain.

The Chattisgarh Police, however, sticks to its official version. "Many of these people help Naxalites but when we catch them, witnesses change their statements overnight making the cases untenable before the court,'' says an official. Surely a vicious circle that needs to be broken and a telling comment on the state of policing. Little surprise then that the Maoist underground tactics are working to good effect in Chattisgarh and by the looks of it, there are more takers than ever before of arms and ammunition flowing in a torrent through various sources. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017