Sukma encounter, as the locals saw it

On August 6, the police fired upon a hut in Nulkatong village, in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing 15 people who were sleeping inside. The police say those killed belonged to Jan Militia, a Naxalite outfit, while the villagers say that they were innocent. The case is now in the Supreme Court. Tameshwar Sinha reports

On 6 August 2018, security forces claimed that they had gunned down Maoists in Nulkatong village of Konta block in Sukma district, Bastar division, Chhattisgarh. The police told a press conference that 16 weapons had also been seized. But the residents of the village reject the claim. They allege that the police killed innocent, unarmed Tribals and made it out to be a shootout ­– a fake encounter in today’s parlance. Narayan Rao of the Civil Liberties Committee filed a petition on the matter in the Supreme Court. A bench headed by Chief Justice Mishra heard the petition for the first time on 13 August 2018.

The incident

Nulkatong is about 25 km away from the Konta block headquarters. The cops had run amok in this and many nearby villages during the days when Salwa Judum, the militia deployed by the government, was active. On 5 August, some 12 residents of the nearby Gompad village fled to the adjoining forests en route to Nulkatong. The security forces had been raiding their village for two days. In Nulkatong, they had their meal at a relative’s home and retired to a hut, which stood in a field, for the night. Dodhi Boodhri, who had once been arrested by the police and had been in jail, took water to the hut. On 6 August 2018, policemen reached the hut around 6 am and immediately started firing indiscriminately. Among those who died in the firing, Soyam Sita, Madvi Deva, Kadti Hadma, Soyam Chandra, Madvi Nanda and Kadni Ayata were from Gompad. All of those killed from Gompad were men, and according to the locals, one was a minor. A man each from Velpoccha, Kindarpad and Aithegatta villages were also among those killed. The man from Velpoccha was there because his wife’s family hailed from Nulkatong. The men from Kindarpad and Aithegatta had also come to Nulkatong for fear of the security forces’ excesses.

A petition pertaining to the Sukma encounter is in the Supreme Court

Sukka, a resident of Gompada, who was injured in the firing and whose son Kadti Ayata was killed, said that Kadti, a student of Konta Pota Cabin School, was 12-13 years old. He said that the police opened fire as soon as they reached the hut in question. Soyam Chandra, the sarpanch of Gompad, raising his hands, introduced himself and asked the police to stop firing. The firing continued and Soyam Chandra himself was also killed. Those in the hut ran for their life. Some of them had gone to a nullah nearby to relieve themselves and thus survived.

Kadti Ayata, a minor, who was killed in the firing. The police say no minors were killed

Bullet grazed his knee

Sukka said that a bullet scraped his knee and he started bleeding. To catch him, cops followed his blood trail. Once he had crossed a nullah, however, they lost track of him because they found no blood trail.

The hut in Nulkatong where the Adivasis were staying when they were fired upon

The residents of Nulkatong, who were eyewitnesses to the incident, said that the police first shot Soyam Chandra and then smashed his face with a spade. They said a portion of his head is still lying at the spot. When the police presented the dead bodies to the media, they had them covered in polythene sheets. Muchaki Sukdi, a resident of the village, says that in 2006-07, Salwa Judum killed her husband and now the police had killed her son Muchaki Mukka, leaving the family without an earning member.

Even a pregnant woman not spared

The women residents of Nulkatong said that when they rushed towards the hut on hearing the gunshots, the cops hit them with the butts of their guns. A pregnant woman said that she too was thrashed. A young man from the village says, “According to the police, we had weapons. How could we have had weapons? The police are killing farmers, women and schoolgoing children. We till the land. Why should they kill us? They should ask for directions and go their way.”

Two young men who died in the encounter

Social worker Soni Sori says that district police force had the men who were once Salwa Judum Special Police Officers (SPOs). “They include surrendered Naxals,” she says. “Tribals are being given weapons to kill tribals. Due to police raids, in the nearby villages, the number of men has decreased.”

All men driven out

This is not the first time Gompad has witnessed police atrocities. This village has been on the radar of the security forces since 2009. Recently, Madkam Hidme was raped and then killed. The case is in the court. Rame was shot while she was fishing. The people here thus live in fear. They are terrorized and are helpless.

Silence reigns in Nulkatong following the encounter

Silence reigns in Nulkatong. Only women and children are left in the village. The women said that all the men were driven out by the police. They were told that there would be firing in the village that night and if they stayed back, they would be killed. All the men escaped to Durma, a nearby village. The women said that the security men even looted the foodgrains stored in their homes.

Police: ‘No innocent person was killed

Abhishek Meena, the Superintendent of Police, Sukma district, says no innocent person was killed in the police action. All those killed had a criminal record. Soyam Sita, he said, was a notorious Naxal. According to Meena, all the killed men were members of the Jan Militia. Meena said the militia formed the lowest rung of the Naxals. “Its members lay mines and fire on the police,” he said. When it was brought to his attention that a minor had also been killed in the encounter, he said that it was not true. “We have all the evidence,” he said.

Abhishek Meena, Superintendent of Police, Sukma

Meena said that the police did not enter the village. The Naxals were hiding in a hut outside the village. He said that many teams had visited the village and conducted investigations. He said that one of them, led by Bela Bhatia, had reported that the villagers admitted that the killed people were members of the Jan Militia. He said that some people were trying to incite the residents of the village and on the basis of the statements of locals, cases had been registered against them. When asked about the petition in the Supreme Court, he said that the police would follow all the directives of the court and submit the related evidence.

Translation: Amrish; copy-editing: Anil


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