English Script: Naman Shah
Video Editors: Abhishek Sharma, Purnendu Pritam
On 17 July 2019, a land dispute escalated into violence that killed 11 Adivasis and injured another 19 in Umbha village of Uttar Pradesh's Sonbhadra. The infamous incident is commonly known as 'Umbha Kand'.
What Caused The Massacre of Adivasis in Umbha?
The land, in Sonbhadra's Umbha village, which was tilled by Adivasis for decades, was first registered in the name of the village assembly, then transferred to a society and then sold to a private individual. When the Adivasis protested the selling of the land, the ensuing genocide killed 11 Adivasis on 17 July 2019.
Rampati Singh Gaud, one of the victims, said, "Our ancestors came and settled here during the rule of King Badhar. The king allowed them to cut the forest and make their settlements. This is our fourth generation now. Our forefathers at the time only focused on farming. They didn't think about the paperwork because they were not well-informed."
He added, "Adarsh Cooperative Society was formed in 1955. In 2014-15, the village headman, Yagyadutt, bought that land and that's when we got to know. We thought that when our case is in the court and they come to seek control of it, then government authorities will intervene. But nobody helped. Eleven people were killed. My sister, her son and daughter-in-law were killed. My wife was also hit by a bullet in her legs. By God's grace, she was saved."
Many houses of the village lost their family in the infamous massacre.
My heart can't believe my son is dead. This is his last photo. My body is veiled in grief. The family didn't cook food for five days. If the kid, who we gave birth to, dies and the parents remain alive, then it is intolerable. The pain remains with a stone on the chest. How do we control our tears?Harivansh Lal, Father of Deceased Ashok
Delayed Response by the Police
Anita, whose mother was killed in the incident, said, "We called the police after the firing started but no one picked our calls. When the perpetrators started leaving, only then the administration picked our calls. They carried our people to the hospital like they were carrying animals. Some people died here, on the spot. Others died on the way to the hospital."
Despite calling several times, the police reached only 1.5-2 hours later. Usually, the police reach the spot 30 minutes after receiving the complaint on 100.Rampati Singh Gaud, Victim, Umbha, Sonbhadra
Adarsh Cooperative Society of Umbha was formed on 10 October 1954. Former Congress leader and a big landowner in Bihar, Maheshwar Prasad Narayan Singh, used to be its chairperson.
The members of the society comprised 11 family members, including his wife, Parvati Devi, and daughter, Asha Mishra.
Maheshwar Prasad was the brother of the former governor of UP and Punjab, Chandeshwar Prasad Narayan Singh. Chandeshwar Prasad was also India's ambassador to Nepal.
In September 1989, the then Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) illegally registered the land in the name of Maheshwar Prasad's daughter Asha Mishra, and granddaughter, Vinita Mishra.
Coming from well-connected backgrounds, Asha Mishra married retired IAS officer Prabhat Kumar Mishra, who is the son of retired IAS officer Ram Suchit Mishra. Vinita Sharma, their daughter, is the wife of retired IAS officer Bhanu Pratap Mishra.
It is alleged that their influence led to the illegal buying-selling of the Adivasis' land. On 17 October 2017, Asha Mishra and Vinita Sharma sold off 144 bigha land to then village headman, Yagyadutt. The bid to control this land had led to the mass killings of the Adivasis.
Before 17 December 1955, this land was not registered in anyone's name. It was under forests account of the village panchayat. On 17 December 1955, the then tehsildar of Robertsganj ordered to transfer 435 bigha of land in the name of the society. On 7 September 1989, a case of paper correction was filed here. SDM transferred the land from society to Vinita Sharma and Asha Mishra. The society never bought that land but the land was transferred on the orders of the officials. The patta given by the King does not come to light. The Adivasis claim that they had acquired patta from the King. But the nature of the land was such that there was no mention of any patta. The land was registered under khatauni forest village panchayat and on the basis of that everyone was fighting to seek control of it. The names of their forefathers came to surface on investigation.Dharmendra Singh, Lawyer
The Politicisation Of Umbha Massacre
Political parties indulged in blame game over the incident.
UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had remarked, "Who were the people who made the owners of the land landless? It was found out that it was a Congress MLC from another state, who later became a Rajya Sabha MP and formed a bogus committee which snatched the rights of the poor people of Umbha and Sapahi. Made labourers out of the owners. But Congress never spared a thought about you."
Responding to UP CM, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had then said, "This is BJP's habit to always blame the Congress. It is their responsibility. They should solve the problem. It was a big incident that happened here. People were harassed. People are upset."
Did the Adivasis Get Justice?
While the politicians were busy shifting the blame to each other, the victims were facing the real consequences.
Kamlavati Devi, mother of another victim, Rajesh Gaud, said, "My son was shot with three bullets and died. His widow and two children are dependent on us. We are somehow managing our lives with the compensation we got."
Speaking about the compensation, Harivansh Lal said, "We received 7.5 bigha land but were promised 10 bigha. They said that the rule doesn't allow 10 bigha that's why we are giving 7.5 bigha. We got one lakh from one place, two lakh from another. In total, we got 30 lakh in cash and a home."
Where Does the Investigation stand?
SIT investigation found 21 people, including 16 officers guilty of illegal transfer of land. Departmental enquiry was ordered on 21 officials. CM ordered to reclaim about Rs 1.10 crore with interest from Asha Mishra and Vinita Sharma. Many accused in the massacre are out on bail currently.
Several officers were found complicit. The SIT investigation is on. No action has been taken on anyone. After Umbha incident, the political circumstances of the district changed. The chief lobbyist was made the district president of a political party (Congress). The case has taken a backseat. Nobody has taken interest in the case for the last one year.Dharmendra Singh, Lawyer
Rampati Singh Gaud added, "The matter was investigated. Government constituted an SIT team. The land sale was rejected and poor people got the land but our 11 people who lost their lives won't return. We are not satisfied because the government assured to give jobs to the literate family members of deceased."
Could the Massacre Have Been Avoided?
Apna Dal MLA Hariram Chero apprised the CM about the issue six months before the massacre. About 1,200 villagers also wrote a letter to the national president of BJP, requesting help. But no action was taken.
When Will the Rampant Corruption End?
The horrific massacre leaves behind the question – was Umbha just a one off incident or will we keep on saying such incidents in the future?
"Even today, thousands of hectares of land of the Adivasis has been illegally transferred in the names of families of government officers. Umbha is just an example. There are many other problems that could lead to another incident like Umbha. This district has been harassed in the name of it. In 1994, the land stipulated for forest department went to it; the land stipulated for farmers went to them. Then why hasn't Section 20 been published since 1994? Who is to be blamed? This period saw governments of Congress, SP, BSP, and BJP. The BJP government is still here," said Dharmendra Singh.