The Gompad case gets murkier. Gachanpalli is another village mentioned in the same case I have been writing about for some time now. I visited the village this week to find a similar pattern where villagers vanish without really telling anyone where they are going and suddenly show up in the Supreme Court in New Delhi.
Given the matter is sub judice, I’ll refrain from any theorizing at this point.
Gachanpalli: A frayed umbrella, a half filled bottle of cooking oil and two shopping bags stuffed with clothes constitute the unlikely tombstone that marks Kowasi Ganga’s grave. “It’s the sum total of his worldly possessions,” says his grandson Kowasi Muye, “It’s a Muria tradition.”
Kowasi Ganga, 75, died on September 17 2009. Muye’s last memory of his grandfather is of Ganga dying dead outside their home. He had been stabbed multiple times.
Five Muria adivasis of Gachanpalli village were killed in their homes that day, three were above 65 years of age. Dudhi Muye, 70, a crippled grandmother, was found dead in her doorway. Her breasts hacked off with a machete. Madavi Joga, 65, was found in her hut. Madavi Hadma and Madkam Sulla, both about 35 years of age were found in Sulla’s home. Madavi Deva, 25, was visiting from his village of Singapalli when he was shot dead.
According to the villagers, the killings were conducted by the salva judum, a tribal paramilitary force armed by the state, backed by regular security forces.
“A large group of uniformed men and salva judum members entered the village early on the morning of the Operation,” said an eye-witness from Gachanpalli, “Everyone ran into the forests and when we returned we saw the bodies.”
This wasn’t the first time Gachanpalli was attacked; villagers say that, in an incident in 2008, the Salva Judum burnt nearly 40 houses in the Dorlapada (Dorla tribe area) of the village.
A petition, filed in the Supreme Court, holds the security forces responsible for the six villagers killed in Gachanpalli on September 17 2009 along with the death of a total of 11 villagers in a separate incident in Gompad village on October 1 2009. Investigations by The Hindu reveal allegations that, if true, point to a concerted attempt at dissimulation on the part of security forces.
On September 2009, security forces launched a massive anti-Maoist offensive in which they claim to have killed 30 Maoists and lost 6 policemen – an operation in which, the petition alleges, six innocent villagers were killed.
As reported in The Hindu, twelve petitioners of this case had gone missing only to be produced in court by the police at a later date, raising concerns that the police were intimidating petitioners. Petitioners from Gompad went missing on January 6 this year and were produced in court on February 15 along with Madavi Hidma from Gachanpalli.
The remaining Gachanpalli petitioners Kowasi Kosa, Madvi Sukda, Madvi Raja and Madakam Mukke from Gachanpalli were presented at Tis Hazari Court in Delhi only March 11. Two other petitioners from Gachanpalli are still missing.
“We sent a message to Gachanpalli just before Holi (March 2),” said Superintendent of Police Dantewada, Amresh Mishra in a telephonic interview with The Hindu, “The villagers came soon after Holi and we presented them without any delay.”
Villagers in Gachanpalli disagree. “A police party came in the first week of February and took 11men including Madavi Hidma (a petitioner), to Dornapal police camp” said a villager who was part of this group, “We were interrogated for two weeks and then 10 of us were sent back.”
While Madavi Hidma was sent to the Supreme Court after 2 weeks of police detention, the released men were told to send the remaining petitioners back to the police. This could explain why Madavi Hidma was produced in court much before other petitioners from his village.
“My father, Kowasi Kosa, and the other petitioners went to meet the police much before Holi,” said his son Kowasi Muye, contradicting SP Amresh Mishra’s claim, “It has been more than a month since we last saw him.” If true, Muye’s statement implies that the Chhattisgarh police kept the villagers in illegal custody for at least two weeks before informing the Supreme Court.
Villagers allege that the police have also arrested Dudhi Bhima, grandson of Dudhi Muye – one of the six killed in September. His current whereabouts are unknown.
There’s fresh earth scattered around the graves in Gachanpalli. Despite the petition urging that investigations into the killings be handed over to a Special Investigative Team, Director General of Police Viswaranjan confirmed that local officials carried out a post mortem at the site.
“On the day they arrested 11 men, the police also dug up the bodies,” said Kowasi Muye. The bodies have been returned to their graves, but the petitioners are yet to return to their village.
First published in The Hindu on March 19 2009