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Mainstream, VOL LX No 31, New Delhi, July 23, 2022

Statement of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan on the recent Supreme Court judgment in the case of the Gompad Massacre of 2009

Friday 22 July 2022

Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan

PRESS RELEASE: | [July 20, 2022]

On 14th July 2022, Supreme Court dismissed a writ petition filed by Himanshu Kumar and twelve other people in a 2009 case that sought an independent investigation in the extra-judicial killings of Adivasis in the villages of (then Dantewada) now Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. This came to be known as the Gompad massacre, and it includes two major incidents of violence in September and October 2009 that happened in the villages of Gompad and Gachchanpalli along with 2-3 smaller incidents nearby, in which at least 17 adivasis were killed.

While dismissing this writ petition, the Supreme Court has imposed exemplary costs of Rs. 5 lakhs on Himanshu Kumar and has suggested that further action can be taken against the petitioners by the State of Chhattisgarh / CBI, for falsely charging the Police and Security forces, for hatching a criminal conspiracy, among other sections of the IPC. We, the civil society organizations and people associated with the Human Rights movement in Chhattisgarh are alarmed to note that this judgment has virtually made the pursuit of justice in a judicial court a criminal act itself. This judgment is a threat to the very existence of human rights advocacy and systems of accountability from the Police and Security Forces in Chhattisgarh, especially Bastar.

Himanshu Kumar, who is Petitioner no. 1 in this case, is a Gandhian who has been working in Bastar for over three decades and has consistently helped in bringing out the human rights violations against the Adivasi people of Bastar to light. The other twelve petitioners, in this case, are family members of the people killed in the Gompad massacre. The judgment brazenly targets Himanshu Kumar, by saying that Petitioner no. 1, who runs a NGO has put up this entire petition when there is no need for further investigation into the killings in Gompad, let alone the appointment of an independent agency.

As noted above, two incidents of September 17 and October 1, 2009 resulted in the killing of at least seventeen Adivasi people from the villages of Gachchanpalli, Gompad, Nulkatong, and the forest of Singanmadgu among other nearby villages, along with several other people who were harassed and brutalized during these attacks. Several media reports, as well as fact-finding reports of civil society groups, corroborate these incidents of violence by the Special Police Officers (SPOs) and the CoBRA (CRPF) Security forces of the region at the time. Media reports of intimidation and harassment of eye-witnesses to the attacks on the villages, surfaced as the case against the Police and Security Forces moved ahead in the Supreme Court.

By rejecting the plea for an independent investigation, this judgment turns the principle of natural justice on its head. It should be recalled that it was the result of people’s demand for an independent investigation that resulted in the CBI inquiry into the violent incidents at Tadmetla, Morpalli, and Timmapuram during Salwa Judum in 2011, and the inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission into the incidents of mass sexual violence in Bijapur and Sukma districts in 2015-2016. Both of these investigations corroborated the villagers’ allegations of mass violence conducted by security forces. Therefore, by rejecting the plea for an independent investigation into the Gompad massacre, and harshly penalizing the lead petitioner, this judgment sets back the right to demand a fair and unbiased investigation and refuses to acknowledge the reality of state violence.

For more than three decades, Bastar has been the ground zero for an ongoing conflict between Naxalites and the Security Forces, resulting in an insurmountable human rights crisis for the Adivasi people of the region. Access to justice has been rendered impossible due to structural constraints like lack of access to courts, resources, language barrier as well as a lack of institutional will of the government. Since 2005 there has been an escalating crisis in Bastar, where reporting, investigating, and verifying any incidence of violence has been a herculean task. Even visiting incident sites is challenging as most villages in South Bastar do not have motorable roads. The environment of fear created by the Police and security forces hinders independent journalists, researchers, and activists from visiting affected villages. Often the Police’s version is the only version available as no other independent voices are allowed to establish the truth of an incident. In this context, very few cases of violence in Bastar are able to reach the Supreme Court.

Thus the role of human rights workers is all the more important in the Adivasi people’s struggle for justice and peace in Bastar. Himanshu Kumar is one such voice who has helped the Adivasi community to seek accountability and justice. Instead of acknowledging the myriad difficulties faced by people in accessing justice, and the multiple means by which the State can harass and intimidate survivors of state violence in a rare case that reaches Delhi, the Supreme court has virtually criminalized all assistance to people in their pursuit of justice.

The judgment in the case of Himanshu Kumar & Others holds that since the petitioners were unable to prove their accusations against the Police and the Security Forces, hence the entire petition has malicious intent, and may even be a criminal conspiracy. This logic is fallacious in itself. It is well known that in the district of Dantewada alone, the acquittal rate of Adivasi persons booked in Naxalite cases is over 95%, year after year. A study of 101 cases of UAPA registered in Bastar Sessions Court in 2015 showed that 92 of such cases resulted in acquittals, the remaining 9 were transferred to other courts, and not a single case resulted in a conviction. Does that mean that the entire police force in Bastar should be imprisoned for criminal conspiracy?

We are distressed to note that the vicious circle of incarcerating Adivasi persons for being Naxals and persecuting human rights activists as Naxal sympathizers by the State Police continues unabated till date in Bastar. As people committed to the ideals of peace, justice, and truth, we demand the following:

1. Having made peace and justice in Bastar a central plank in their election campaign, the Congress government should reopen the investigation into the Gompad Massacre, and conduct it with fairness and objectivity.
2. No coercive action should be taken against Himanshu Kumar or any of the other petitioners, who are well within their rights to seek redress from a Constitutional Court in such serious matters.
3. We urge the Hon’ble Supreme Court to expand the principle of Accountability jurisprudence and equal treatment under the law with respect to officers of the state not acting in good faith.

Sincerely,

Convener’s Group, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan
Sudesh Tekam, Manish Kunjam, Bela Bhatia, Nandkumar Kashyap, Vijay Bhai, Shalini Gera, Ramakant Banjare, Alok Shukla

Zila Kisan Sangh Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti), All India Adivasi Mahasabha, Jan Swasthya Karmchari Union, Bharat Jan Andolan, Hasdeo Aranya Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (Korba, Surguja), All India Kisan Sabha (Chhattisgarh State Committee), Chhattisgarh Kisan Sabha, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (Kurud), Dalit Adivasi Manch (Sonakhan), Gaon Ganrajya Abhiyan (Surguja), Adivasi Jan Van Adhikar Manch (Kanker), Safai Kamgar Union, Mehnatkash Avas Adhikar Sangh (Raipur), Jashpur Zila Sangharsh Samiti, Rashtriya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (Chhattisgarh Chapter, Raipur), Jashpur Vikas Samiti, Richharia Campaign, Bhumi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (Dharmajaigarh).

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