Protests erupted in Chhattisgarh this week as thousands gathered in Bijapur district to demand justice in the Sarkeguda firing case in which 17 tribals were killed by government forces nine years ago. A one-member judicial commission formed to probe the matter found in December 2019 that those gunned down, including six minors, were innocent, following claims that they were Maoists who had shot at the security personnel.
Residents and activists from over 30 villages, including lawyers who fought for the victims, gathered in Sarkeguda on Monday.
“The Congress stood by us before coming to power and opposed police brutality. But somehow they have forgotten all this. They have forgotten all about the report,” said Shanti, a protester and resident of Sarkeguda.
The incident took place on the night of June 28 in 2012. The security forces, comprising teams from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Chhattisgarh Police, had said the villagers, who had gathered for a Maoist meeting, opened fire on them and they retaliated. Locals, however, called it a fake encounter and said they had assembled to discuss a festival.
According to the report of the Justice VK Agarwal judicial commission, there was no evidence of the involvement of any Naxals. The people killed were said to be villagers. Some were shot in the back, indicating they were running away. One was killed several hours after the so-called encounter. The personnel who got injured were apparently hit in friendly fire. The inquiry found no evidence of any shooting by the villagers.
Local resident Budhram told News18, “We want that no person should be harassed. Our first generation was illiterate. Now the people of the village have also become educated and the villagers are rightfully living in their own territory. First of all, we want schools, hospitals, etc."
Another local, Markam Rambabu, said that he walked for eight days to attend the protest meeting in Sarkeguda. “Because in 2016 my father was also killed by branding him a Naxalite, I am also waiting for justice. In our village, Singavar, even today many do not have Aadhaar cards. We want a hospital, Anganwadi and school in our village," he said.
Shanta Madkam of Sarkeguda, who lost her two sons in the shooting, said the guilty in the case should be punished at the earliest. “The firing happened when the entire village had gathered to celebrate the traditional agricultural festival of Beej Pandam," she said. Shanta alleged that the security personnel surrounded them and opened fire from all sides, while their houses were set on fire. Her family is in a dire situation, she said, adding that she wants to send her children to a good school.
The 17 killed were:
1. Saraswati (12) - She was the youngest. Her father Kaka Ram is a poor farmer and mainly produces rice and tamarind.
2. Kaka Samayya (35-40) - Samayya’s four children and wife depended on him.
3. Kaka Nagesh alias Rahul (15)- The class 10 student studied in a government boarding school in Basaguda.
4. Madkam Ramvilas (15) - He was a classmate of Rahul. His family said that he always stood first in his class and had good knowledge of English.
5. Madkam Dileep (22) - He had studied up to class 8. The authorities had alleged that Dileep attacked a police patrol party on the banks of the Tailperu river on October 24, 2009.
6. Irpa Munna (23) - His father alleges that he climbed a tree to save himself. But after he came down hours later, the security personnel opened fire and killed him.
7. Madakam Suresh (35) - During the days of the Salwa Judum, an anti-insurgency militia, he was arrested along with his mother in 2007, and jailed with thousands of other tribals. During the Dantewada jailbreak the same year, Suresh managed to escape apart from 298 inmates. Later, he returned to his village, got married and had two children. Apart from the jailbreak case, he had four more cases against him. In all of them, the charges against him were the same – attacking a police party with the intention of killing them.
8. Madkam Nagesh (32) - He was the brother of Madakam Suresh and used to play drums during festivals in his village. A case was registered against him in 2006, alleging that he tried to attack a police party.
9. Irpa Dinesh (35) - Police claimed that he was actually a Naxalite, Irpa Somulu. Locals, however, maintained that there was no one by that name. Dinesh lived with his wife Janaki and their three children.
10. Sarke Ramanna (25) - Villagers said that he was a marginal farmer and is survived by his wife and a daughter.
11. Madavi Ayutth (33) - He is survived by his wife and four children. Two cases were registered against him, one in July 2007, in which it was alleged that he had tried to kill a police officer. The second was of July 2010 and the allegation was of looting villagers.
12. Korch Bichum (18) - He had lost his parents years ago and lived with his brother and sister-in-law. He had two cases against him. It was alleged that in October and December 2011, he attacked police parties with the intention to kill.
13. Irpa Narayan (45-50) - He is survived by his wife Sita and four children. A case was registered against him in December 2011, alleging that he attacked a police party.
14. Kunjam Mall (17) - There are no police records against him.
15. Kshama Mitra (17) - He was the son of a marginal farmer and had dropped out of school.
16. Irpa Dharmaiah (40) - No police records against him.
17. Irpa Suresh (18) - He was one of those injured in the firing and was taken to Bijapur district hospital where he died.
Social activist and lawyer Bela Bhatia told News18 that the Congress had called the Sarkeguda encounter fake in 2012, yet no action has been taken against the guilty now that it’s in power in the state. “The families of all the people who lost their lives in fake encounters in the past 15 years have attended the protest meeting… Remembering the atrocities done at the time, the villagers erected a stone monument and demanded justice for all of them," she said.