A first information report has been registered against six of us (and assorted others) for the murder of a villager called Shamnath Baghel on November 4th, ostensibly on the complaint of his wife. The charges are serious and include murder, rioting, possession of arms, and unlawful activities (UAPA).
This FIR comes in close succession to a series of incidents implicating the police.
In 2011, the police had gone on combing operations in which they burnt 300 homes in the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli. Three women were raped and three men were killed. The Salwa Judum leaders, a vigilante group supported by the police also attacked Swami Agnivesh, a well known human rights activist and religious leader. In July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry as part of the petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Manish Kunjam and others.
On 17 October 2016, the CBI chargesheeted 7 Special Police Officers (SPOs) for arson and 26 Salwa Judum leaders for the attack on Swami Agnivesh.
On 23 October 2016, Inspector General (IG) of Bastar, S.R.P. Kalluri took responsibility for directing the operations, claimed the CBI was lying and accused Nandini Sundar of bribing villagers to depose.
On 24 October 2016, the former SPOs turned armed auxiliary forces/constables burnt effigies of activists.
On 26 October 2016, AGNI, a state sponsored vigilante group Agni, and RSS activists attacked a press conference by Manish Kunjam, President of the Adivasi Mahasabha, and one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court case, which resulted in the CBI chargesheet against SPOs. The Communist Party of India (CPI) office in Jagdalpur was vandalised.
On November 7 2016, the Bastar police, led by Mr. Kalluri, framed a false FIR against Nandini Sundar, Archana Prasad and others for the murder of Shamnath Baghel by the Maoists on November 4th.
The background to this FIR
A group of us had gone on a visit to Bastar in May 2016. In a group of villages we visited — Nama, Soutnar, and Kumakoleng — the villagers had formed an anti-Maoist patrol gang, which they called the "tangiya gang" with support from the police. The police got a fake complaint filed against us (ostensibly in the name of villagers) saying we incited the villagers against the police, and that we are in favour of the Maoists. The Indian Express had also done a story quoting the villagers saying they had not filed any complaint.
Our press release, as well as articles in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and the Times of India show that we had done no such thing as inciting villagers or threatening to burn their houses. Instead we faithfully reported the villagers dilemma caught between the police and Maoists, and stressed the need for peace talks.
On November 4, the Maoists killed the leader of this anti-Maoist gang. We are being charged with his murder, even though we last visited six months ago.
The police are also claiming that I had malafide intent because I used a false name, Richa Keshav, on that visit. However, this was only used once, and for the safety of the team. I have had a long history of persecution by the Chhattisgarh police.
The people being charged:
Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University (author of The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar, Juggernaut Press 2016; also lead petitioner in the case in which the Supreme Court banned Salwa Judum in 2011, Nandini Sundar & Ors. vs. State of Chhattisgarh)
Archana Prasad, Professor, Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies, JNU (author of Environmentalism and the Left, Leftword 2004), also member of AIDWA, CPM’s women wing)
Vineet Tiwari, former journalist and currently at the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, also member of the CPI.
Sanjay Parate, State Secretary of the CPM, Chhattisgarh.
Manju Kawasi, Sarpanch of Guphidi village, CPI activist, Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.
Mangalram Karma, former resident of Nama, now working as a carpenter elsewhere.
And assorted Maoists.
Also read the statement by Indian sociologists against the false charges here.
Frontline's cover story by Divya Trivedi on the CBI chargesheet against the SPOs can be read here.
Ushinor Majumdar's story "Why Bastar Police Hate Nandini Sundar" published in Outlook can be read here.