"We have been here for the last one year. We will continue our protest till our demands are heard and justice is served to Kawasi Waga, Korsa Bhima, Uika Pandu, and Poonam who were killed by the police in 2021"
Said Raghu Midiyami, the president of Mool Niwasi Bachao Manch, a tribal rights group which emerged amidst the protest against police camps and tribal killings in May last year. Marking one year anniversary of the alleged police shootout in Silger on 17 May, tribals resolved to continue the protest until their demands are met.
Last year on 17 May, three tribals – Kawasi Waga, Uika Pandu, and Korsa –Bhima were allegedly shot dead by security forces, ironically, during a protest against a security force camp which came up on 12 May in the Silger village of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh.
Poonam Someli, the fourth victim, later succumbed to the injuries incurred during a stampede caused by the shootout.
The Police had at the time said that all the deceased were in fact Maoist associated with the village level 'frontal organisations' of the banned organization CPI (Maoists).
Villagers, however, maintained that those killed were ordinary tribals and were simply seeking the eviction of a police camp which had allegedly come up without the consent of the villagers.
Since the death of four tribals, residents of Silger and nearby villages have staged an unwavering protest at the spot of the killing – a Maoist stronghold along the borders of Sukma and Bijapur districts – seeking action against those responsible for the casualties.
'Bhupesh Govt Didn't Fulfil Its Promises'
Protesters of Silger, which tribal leaders and activists have acknowledged as one of the longest and biggest protests of the current time against security forces and their camps in Bastar region, have claimed that Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government in Chhattisgarh has in fact duped them with the "unmet promises."
Raghu Midiyami, the president of the Mool Niwasi Bachao Manch, which has emerged as the central point of the tribal protests in Bastar in light of the killing, told The Quint that they have met Baghel twice since the incident. The meetings and his assurances, however, have yielded no results.
"We met the Chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, on 16 June 2021 where he promised to fulfill our demands based on the findings of the magisterial inquiry," Midiyami said of his first meeting with the chief minister.
"We met CM Baghel again on 25 March 2022 where during the conversation he again assured us of fulfilling the demands of the protesters within a month. However, there has been no result, and the Silger protest continues," he added.
Midiyami asserted that they now have support across Bastar and that the protest seeking protection of tribal rights will continue till their demands are met.
Not even a single demand by tribals, including a magisterial inquiry of the incident, Rs 1 crore compensation to the victims' family, and the removal of police camps among others has been fulfilled, Midiyami said.
"Our demands are simple, remove the police camps, take gram sabha consent prior installation of a police camp, give compensation to the kins of those killed by police in Silger last year."Raghu Midiyami
Activists Say Govt Lacks Intent to Address Tribal Demands
Bela Bhatiya, a Bastar based lawyer and tribal activist, said that the government seems to be lacking intent to address the tribal issues.
"The demands of tribals are very simple. They are demanding removal of camps that have been set up without gram sabha consent. Another demand is to set up an inquiry into the killings of four tribals last year. However, not even an FIR has been registered. This shows a lack of intent."Bela Bhatiya
P Sundarraj, Inspector General of Police, Bastar Range, told media that Silger security camp is essential for security purposes and that the demand for its removal was motivated.
"Some people with vested interests are attempting to manipulate the villagers in order to create an atmosphere of enemeity and hostility in the region."P Sundarraj
(With inputs from Vishnukant Tiwari.)