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'Police Shot Us': Chhattisgarh Adivasis Question SC's Dismissal of 2009 Plea

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

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(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of violence. Reader discretion is advised.)

Two weeks after the Supreme Court (SC) rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of Chhattisgarh Adivasis, victims, as well as the families of those who were killed, visited Delhi on 3 August to file a review petition.

The SC order dated 14 July stated that "there is not an iota of material figuring in the investigation on the basis of which even a finger can be pointed towards the members of the police force."

The victims, however, allege that the killings happened at the hands of the police personnel on 17 September and 1 October 2009.

In the petition, which now stands rejected, the activist, Himanshu Kumar, who runs an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, claimed that 16 Adivasis were killed by police forces during anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh. The review petition is yet to be filed.

Apart from Kumar, The Quint spoke to two women and a 15-year-old boy, who travelled to Delhi from Gompad village in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada, about what happened in 2009 and their hopes of filing a review petition.

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

Sodhi Sambho, in Delhi, hoping to file a review petition and get justice. 

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

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What Happened in 2009?

In the petition that Kumar filed in 2009, he alleged that 16 tribals were massacred in the villages of Gachhanpalli, Gompad, and Belpocha in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district. The attacks took place on 17 September 2009 and 1 October 2009.

Thirteen years later, on 3 August, 18 tribals arrived in Delhi from their villages in Chhattisgarh via a train in the hope that their story would be heard and acknowledged. One among them was Sodhi Sambho, a middle-aged Adivasi woman from Gompad village. She recalled:

"I was at home on 1 October 2009, when some police officers came in. I got hold of four of my children – two on my right and the other two on my left. The officers shot at my right leg, after which I collapsed."
Sodhi Sambho

Sambho told The Quint that she came to Delhi for three reasons – to tell her story, to meet India's first tribal President, and to file a review petition in court.

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

Sodhi Sambho's scars from the gunshot. 

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

This was not her first visit to the national capital. "(In 2009), when I got injured, I was taken to a hospital in Dantewada by villagers. From there, Himanshu Kumar brought me to Delhi, and I was admitted to St Stephen’s hospital, where I underwent surgery," she said.

At the time, she used to scream and cry for days, scared that someone would touch her leg, said Kumar.

'Told Court We Couldn't Identify Assailants as Cops Threatened Us in 2010': Tribals

In its latest order, the court referred to statements made by the victims in 2010, wherein they stated that they were "not in a position to identify the attackers."

The order stated, "We come back to the order passed by a Coordinate Bench of this Court dated 15th February 2010. Pursuant to the same, the statements of the petitioners were recorded by the District and 57 Sessions Judge, Delhi."

It quoted one of the petitioners, Soyam Rama, who at the time said that he "did not know who the assailants were" and that he had "not been terrorised or forced to make a particular statement."

Rama had lost his uncle and aunt, two nieces, and a nephew to the attack on 1 October. In 2010, his statement to the court about the firing at his uncle's house was, "…We had run away from the spot and therefore could not see as to who had opened fire." He told the court that he could not "describe the firearm" and that he was in "no position to identify them (assailants)."

Sambho, however, alleged, "We were threatened by the officers when we were brought to Delhi to record our statements."

The SC order held the petitioners guilty of "levelling false charges of offense and of giving false and fabricated evidence."

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

18 petitioners reached Delhi on 3 August. 

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

Despite what the court has said, Sambho alleged that those who attacked her were police officers. When asked how she knew they were police officers, she alleged, "They were in uniform. We recognised them because we had seen them at the police station."

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Muchaka Sukdi, another middle-aged tribal woman who lost her husband in the attack, claimed, "We know that the police attacked us because they were in uniform. I had earlier seen some of them at the police station on the way to the market."

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

Sambho and Sukdi in Delhi. 

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

When asked how she was able to differentiate the police officers from Naxalites, Sukdi claimed, "The Naxalites barely came to our village. We saw police officers in the village, so we recognised them."

About what happened in her village Gompad on 1 October 2009, Sukdi claimed, "The police came in and attacked us. To protect my children, I ran into the forest. When I returned later, other villagers told me that the police had hit my husband with stones on the head and that he had died. They buried him in the station. I never got his body."

'Lost Mother, Aunt & Three Fingers'

Among those who reached Delhi was also a 15-year-old boy whose fingers were cut off, allegedly in 2009, during these attacks.

He had three fingers missing from his left hand. He was two years old at the time. He told The Quint, "I have no memory of the incident, but I have seen a photo of myself when I was an infant and saw the fingers missing. My father told me that the police did this."

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The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

The boy who lost three fingers is now in his teens. 

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

The boy lost his mother in the incident. He said, "In school, my classmates make fun of me and ask me who chopped my fingers. I don’t say anything."

The petition stated, "According to the petitioner no.1, the tongue and other parts of the body, such as, the upper limbs, lower limbs, etc. of the family members of the petitioners nos.2 to 13 respectively were chopped off by the security force. It is alleged that the security forces did not spare even the infants. It is also alleged that the breast of a 70-year-old tribal woman were chopped off and was stabbed to death by the members of the police forces. It is also alleged that a 2-year-old infant was brutally murdered. The houses of the tribals were burnt. Money and properties were looted [sic]."

'Won't Pay Fine as That Would Mean Accepting That Adivasis Are Lying': Activist

In the petition filed by Kumar on 26 October 2009, he claimed that "the Chhattisgarh Police, Special Police Officers (SPOs), the activists of Salwa Judum (group of vigilantes sponsored by the Chhattisgarh Government) and the Paramilitary Forces consisting of the CRPF 2 and the CoBRA Battalions are responsible for the alleged brutal massacre of the tribals in the respective villages referred to above."

Speaking about the fine levied on him, Kumar told The Quint;

"I will not be paying the fine because it is a matter of principle. If I pay the fine, it would mean that we are agreeing that what they are saying… it would mean that we would have to agree that the Adivasis are lying."
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The court order stated that an investigation may be transferred to the CBI only in "rare and exceptional cases." The order read, "We are of the view, having regard to the materials on record, that no case, worth the name for further investigation or re-investigation, could also be said to have been made out."

Kumar, however, said, "The court said that since a charge sheet has been filed, we do not need the CBI to intervene. We wanted the CBI to intervene because the police were involved in the case. The Adivasis do not believe the police because they were involved in the killings."

The court had rejected an activist's plea seeking a probe into the 2009 'extrajudicial' killing of several Adivasis.

Marvi who claimed to have lost her son in the attacks.  

(Ashna Butani/The Quint)

After the writ petition was filed in 2009, the police filed two FIRs recording the death of seven villagers in Gompad on October 1. The accused in the FIRs were described as "absconding accused Naxalites."

Sambho said, "When we heard that Himanshu sir has to pay a fine, we decided to come to Delhi. He helped us at every step of the way, starting from the day we were attacked till today."

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