17 killed in encounter at Chhattisgarh's Sarkeguda not Naxals, finds judicial inquiry: Villagers recall long struggle for justice

  • A judicial inquiry commission's report into the 2012 Sarkeguda encounter in Chhattisgarh was tabled in the Assembly on Monday.

  • The tabling of the report has also led to renewed attention on other cases involving encounters of alleged Naxals.

  • The commission was constituted by former chief minister Raman Singh in July 2012.

A judicial inquiry commission's report into the 2012 Sarkeguda encounter in Chhattisgarh was tabled in the Assembly on Monday. The tabling of the report has also led to renewed attention on other cases involving encounters of alleged Naxals.

The report stated that 17 people killed by security forces at Sarkeguda village in Bijapur district on the intervening night between 28 and 29 June 2012 were not Maoists. The deceased included six minors. This is the perhaps instance in which a judicial inquiry in Chhattisgarh has indicted security forces in such a manner.

The commission was constituted by former chief minister Raman Singh in July 2012.

Incumbent chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has said that no one found guilty in Sarkeguda encounter would be spared. He further said that the commission report will be sent to the law department and based on its findings, the future course of action will be decided.

Other allegations of fake encounters

Several other cases of alleged fake encounters are either pending before the Supreme Court or the Chhattisgarh High Court. In some incidents, a judicial inquiry was initiated but the outcome is yet to be known. In such cases, the report is either awaited or has not yet been made public.

 17 killed in encounter at Chhattisgarhs Sarkeguda not Naxals, finds judicial inquiry: Villagers recall long struggle for justice

Representational image. ANI

Some lawyers and civil rights activists have said that there have been many encounters that can be termed as "fake" in the past, irrespective of which political party was in power. For instance, Manish Kunjam, CPI leader as president of the Adivasi Mahasabha said, "There have been many cases of fake encounters, in which innocent tribals were killed after being labelled as Maoists. This is for the first time that the findings of a government-instituted judicial inquiry commission have been in favour of villagers and victims. Similar time-bound judicial inquiries must take place in other cases of fake encounters as well.”

Here’s the status of some other cases involving allegations against security forces —

-Edesmeta: Eight adivasis, including four minors and a CRPF constable, were killed in an alleged encounter at Edesmeta in Bijapur district in May 2013. A judicial commission has been conducting an inquiry into this case, and final arguments are over. The report is awaited.

-Tadmetla: The Supreme Court had ordered the CBI to probe allegations against the Chhattisgarh Police of violating the human rights of villagers of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli in Sukma district by burning their houses during an anti-Naxal operation in March 2011. The Chhattisgarh government ordered the suspension of eight policemen who were indicted by the CBI. A chargesheet was filed by the CBI but the trial is yet to reach a conclusion.

-Bijapur- The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in January 2017 found that Chhattisgarh Police personnel sexually assaulted and harassed 16 tribal women between October 2015 and March 2016 in Bijapur district. Two cases of gang rape were also reported. The NHRC had taken suo motu notice of a report published in The Indian Express which said that 40 women from five villages in Bijapur were allegedly raped or sexually assaulted. Lawyer Shalini Gera said, "The NHRC confirmed that sexual violence had occurred in Bijapur and an FIR was lodged. The state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigated it, but nobody was held accountable.”

-Nulkatong- Fifteen villagers had died in an alleged extra-judicial killing by District Reserve Guards and Special Task Force at Nulkatong in Sukma district in August 2018. A case in this regard is pending before the Supreme Court.

Isha Khandelwal, one of the lawyers who represented victims in the commission probing the Sarkeguda case, said, "It’s high time all these cases are investigated. Accountability is what is required right now.”

In the Sarkeguda, the judicial commission's report was tabled at the end of a long-winding process. A notification regarding the setting up of the single-member panel, comprising of High Court judge VK Agarwal, was issued on 11 July, 2012. However, the panel held its first hearing only in December 2013, after a year and a half. The commission submitted its report seven and a half years after it was set up.

When the encounter took place, both the BJP government in the state and the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre hailed it as a major success against Naxals. However, some days later, a fact-finding team of the state Congress termed the encounter as ‘fake’ and said that the deceased were innocent villagers. The then Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and a current state minister Kawasi Lakhma strongly supported the villagers and demanded a CBI inquiry. Later, the then home minister P Chidambaram issued an apology. Incidentally, Patel was later killed in a Naxal attack at Jhiram Ghati.

Kamala Kaka, a resident of Sarkeguda and one of the first people to have raised questions to the authorities about the alleged encounter, had been witness to the carnage. Three of her relatives – 36-year old cousin (brother) Kaka Samaya, nephew Kaka Rahul (15) and niece Anita (13) were killed in front of her.

Kamal Kaka said, “It was a harrowing time for us. We ran from pillar to post, and approached authorities at all levels — from the local police station to the President of India. We met Chidambaram, the then state home minister, chief minister and other top leaders. We staged protests, demonstrations and rallies, and sought legal aid. Only after that did the state government announce a judicial inquiry."

She added, “For two years after the incident, we, the villagers of Sarkeguda, faced a lot of atrocities. Now, justice can only be delivered if the accused are punished. That will bring closure to this case.”

What next?

The commission has recommended registration of a new FIR and strict action against CRPF and police personnel involved in the killing, quashing of the FIR that was lodged against villagers and compensation of Rs 15 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 10 lakh to all injured villagers.

Legal aid activist Shalini Gera said, “This is a rare finding of a judicial commission that has gone in favour of the victims, who were earlier branded as Maoists. Now, an FIR needs to be filed against the accused CRPF personnel involved in the killing of 17 villagers. Now, the government must show political will to take stringent action based on the report. There is a long way to go."

According to the commission's report, the CRPF team got an intelligence input about the gathering of "hardcore Naxals" inside the forest of Silger village — which is 15 to 16 kilometres from Basaguda, from where the CRPF personnel started.

The team marched towards Silger but while they were passing near Sarkeguda, which is 3 kilometres from Basaguda, they saw a gathering of villagers and heard noises. Subsequently, they fired on them.

A Raipur-based journalist said, "If the CRPF claimed that they got a tip-off regarding a Maoist meeting at Silger, why did they assume a villagers' gathering at Sarkeguda to be one involving Maoists? Silger is almost 12 kilometres away from Sarkeguda village. This shows that the CRPF team did a shoddy job and didn't verify what the nature of the gathering was."

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Updated Date: Dec 05, 2019 10:10:07 IST