In Chhattisgarh, jail is the cost of filing a public interest litigation plea
Aman Sethi in THE HINDU
Police detain three witnesses to killings in Gompad village, ban journalists from site
Police decline comment on veracity of claims made in petition filed by Sodi Sambho and others. There is concern that the facts surrounding the Gompad killings might never be known
Konta: The mystery surrounding the killing of nine Adivasis in Gompad village in Dantewada district in October last year is deepening, with the Chhattisgarh police detaining three more witnesses to the incident and restricting all access to the area on the pretext of Operation Green Hunt. Operation Green Hunt is a catch-all phrase, used by the police and media alike, for all major anti-naxal offensives since July 2009.
As previously reported by The Hindu, the Chhattisgarh police have assumed total control over the movements of Sodi Sambho – one of several witnesses in a Supreme Court petition that alleges that the 9 civilians were killed by the security forces. On Friday, armed policemen and Special Police Officers (SPO) lined the length of the highway from Dantewada town to Konta, the block headquarters closest to Gompad, stopping vehicles and questioning commuters. Travelling with local journalists Anil Mishra of Nayi Duniya and Yashwant Yadav of Navbharat, this correspondent was repeatedly detained along the route and told that Gompad village was out of bounds as a major anti-naxal operation was underway. Non-journalists were, however, let through.
Concerned that we might enter the village from Andhra Pradesh, we were detained by SPOs for about 45 minutes on the Chhattisgarh-A.P. border and allowed to proceed only after the intervention of Deputy Inspector-General, Dantewada, S.R.P. Kalluri. At present, the police have refused to comment on the veracity of the claims made in the Supreme Court petition filed by Sodi and others. “The Superintendent of Police of Dantewada has been told to initiate an enquiry into the Gompad incident,” said T.J. Longkumer, Inspector-General Police, Bastar.
However, witnesses to the killings insisted in interviews to The Hind u that the police were involved in the early morning ‘sanitisation operation’ and killed nine villagers (seven from Gompad and two from nearby villages), including three women and a 12-year-old girl. “The police also cut off the fingers of a two-year-old infant,” said one witness speaking on condition of anonymity fearing police retribution. “The police stabbed Madavi Venka [a victim] and then shot him fatally,” said another witness, “All those killed were innocent villagers with no involvement with the naxals.” The witnesses were interviewed, via a translator, at a weekly bazaar at Adralpalli on the Andhra Pradesh side of the border between the two States. Due to the police cordon around Gompad village, witness reports could not be verified independently.
The villagers also claimed that the police have detained Soyam Rama, Soyam Dulla and Kattam Dulla, three witnesses whose testimonies could prove crucial when the case comes up for hearing in the Supreme Court. “All three men have been held at the police station at Konta for the last one week,” said a Gompad villager. The Adivasis were picked up by the police in the first week of January when they came to Dantewada town for a public airing of grievances, the villagers said, an assertion DIG Kalluri contests. “We have never detained these three men,” he said. “They have never been taken into police custody.” However, police sources speaking to The Hindu on background confirmed that the three men were indeed held “for questioning” at the Konta police station till January 14 but could not confirm their current location. At present, their whereabouts are unknown.
Yet to be addressed
Police control over witnesses and restrictions on the movement of the press have raised concerns that the facts surrounding the Gompad killings might never be known. In another PIL petition pending before the Supreme Court for the past three years, allegations of large-scale killing of Adivasis and arson by the Salwa Judum and security forces have yet to be addressed.