Raipur, India – Rights activists in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have called for action against security forces after a judicial inquiry established that the killing of Indigenous people in 2012 was staged and that victims were unarmed civilians.
In June 2012, security forces killed 17 Indigenous people, known as Adivasis, including seven children, in Sarkeguda village of Bijapur district, accusing them of being Maoists.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in so-called encounters (or extrajudicial killings) but Adivasis allege many of them are fake.
The families of those killed in the encounter now demand justice.
Shanta Madkam, 52, from Sarkeguda village wants the culprits to be hanged. Her two sons – Nagesh, 16, and Suresh, 12 – were among those killed when security forces encircled villagers gathered for the Beej Pondum festival and opened fire.
“Around 10 o’clock, when the villagers were sitting in an open field, indiscriminate firing started. Nobody understood anything. There were bullets from all around,” she said as she recalled the horror of that night.
“When the firing stopped, the armed forces started beating people with guns and other weapons. I was desperately searching for my sons calling their names. But their voices never came.”
There were bullets from all around.
Kamala Kaka’s three relatives, including a minor, were also killed in the incident. The 29-year-old also called on the government to take action against the culprits.
“We have fought a long battle to prove our family is innocent. But our experience is that such reports are suppressed. Until the action is taken against the culprits in this case, this report has no meaning for us,” Kaka told Al Jazeera.
Chhattisgarh is rich in mineral resources and renewed mining activity has displaced thousands of Adivasis. The state has emerged as the stronghold of the Maoists, locally known as Naxals, in recent decades after mining was initiated.
The government has deployed tens of thousands of troops to root out the 50-year-old armed rebellion in Chhattisgarh. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the state since 2001.
Adivasis have been caught in the middle of a conflict pitting the Maoists against government forces.
For the last few years, those who talk about the rights of tribals are labelled as urban Naxals
Security forces have been accused of committing mass sexual and human rights abuses, and extrajudicial killings of Adivasis. Human rights activists and journalists have been targeted for reporting the abuse and unlawful killings.
Maoists have also been accused of killing and torturing villagers after accusing them of being police informants.
Shalini Gera, who was a complainant in the case, said that the government should take action against the culprits in this case.
“This report has come out after a long battle of tribals,” said Gera, who has been working on issues related to tribespeople in the Maoist-affected state.
“Those who raised questions about the encounter at that time were called pro-Naxalites. For the last few years, those who talk about the rights of tribals are labelled as urban Naxals.”
The one-member judicial commission headed by Justice VK Agrawal has said that the villagers were meeting in an open field adjoining the village, not in the dense forest as claimed by police officials.
The commission has said that the firing was one-sided, carried out only by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the local police.
The commission in its report has also denied that the people killed in this incident had any connection with the Maoists.
The report of the commission of inquiry was presented in the State Assembly on Monday.
President of the ruling Congress Party in the state, Mohan Markam, blamed the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for the killing.
“There should be action against the guilty,” Mohan, who is also a member of the state legislature, told Al Jazeera.
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has said that strict action will be taken against those responsible for the killing. “There is no question of sparing anyone in this matter,” he told Al Jazeera.
The tribal leaders also allege that a large number of innocent members of their community have been thrown into jail after being labelled Maoists.
The ruling Congress Party came to power in the state last year on the promise to release those wrongly imprisoned by the state. But one year on, no action has been taken in this matter.
Tribal leader Soni Sori has been spearheading a campaign for the release of innocent Adivasis in Dantewada district.
“The government had promised that it would release innocent tribals. But nothing has been done till now,” Soni Sori told Al Jazeera.
“We will intensify our movement for the release of our tribal brothers and sisters.”