A Chhattisgarh court on July 14, 2022 acquited 121 tribals in an UAPA case after 5 years in jail. The accused were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly assisting Maoists in the 2017 Burkapal attack, which killed 25 CRPF personnel.
Of the 121 accused, seven were minors who were released earlier and one died during the trial of the case. After a delay of four years, the trial finally began in the NIA court at Dantewada in August 2021.
A designated National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Dantewada pronounced the acquittal order on Friday after which the tribals, who had been in jail for five years, were released on Saturday.
On the evening of April 24, 2017, the 74th battalion of Central Police Reserve Force (CRPF) came under heavy firing from Maoists, 100 meters from Burkapal village, killing 25 personnel including an inspector-rank officer.
Questioning the police investigation, the court said the prosecution failed to prove that arms and ammunition were recovered from the accused during the time of arrest and that they were present at the spot of the ambush.
The NIA court said no evidence or statements recorded by the prosecution was able to establish that the accused were members of the Naxal wing and was involved in the crime. No arms or ammunition seized by the police were proved to be found from the accused.
After the acquittal, activists said the Burkapal case will be remembered as one of the injustices done to Bastar tribals in the name of anti-Maoist operations.
“Five years of their lives were wasted behind bars and they were brought to court hearings only twice during the trial, when it is mandatory to produce the accused in person in every hearing. Bail was denied in the designated NIA court at the district level as well as the high court,” said Bela Bhatia, a human rights activist and one of the defence lawyers in the case.
“Should the state police not be accused of criminal conspiracy to turn ordinary villagers as scapegoats in their fight against the Maoists? Will the state compensate them for their lost time or earnings?” Bhatia asked.
The Supreme Court has recently passed strictures against Teesta Setalvad for her failure to prove before the SIT that CM Modi’s nod was there behind the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, leading to her arrest.
And the Supreme Court has also recently imposed Rs 5 Lakh as a fine on Gandhian Himanshu Kumar for his failure to prove that the police had killed 16 Adiwasis in Chhattisgarh.
Adopting the same yardstick, shouldn’t the Chhattigarh police be booked/ fined for wasting five years of the life of 121 tribal youth?
Why was there a delay of 4 years to begin the trial? Why are the courts allowing such inordinate delay?
Bail was denied in the designated NIA court at the district level as well as the high court. Because they are not Arnab Goswami or Aryan Khan. We have a Supreme Court that is more worried about ‘the collective conscience of the nation’. Unfortunately, the miseries of Adivasis could not be accomodated in the blessed ‘colective conscience of the nation’..
Look at the poor guys coming out of the jail. For Dr. Manmohan Singh, these wretched fellows ‘remained the biggest internal security challenge facing our country’. What am I to say about the incumbant Prime Minister?
Mahatma Gandhi once foresaw that it was the successful Indian who would be the biggest roadblock in the way of the unsuccessful. An American missionary asked Gandhi what he most despaired of in India. Gandhiji replied, “The hard-heartedness of the educated Indian”.
The number of educated Indians has increased manifold. So, has the “hard-heartedness” of the burgeoning middle-class. The persons occupying positions of power from the village level to the secretariat, policemen from thana to state police headquarters and the judges from lower court to apex court are all from the flourishing middle-class.
Moral of the story:
1) For a BJP-ruled state or a Cong-ruled state and for a lower court or High Court or Supreme Court, the adivasi lives are dirt cheap.
2) It is a curse to be born poor. It is a Himalayan curse to be born as a Dalit or Adivasi.
3) Adivasis cannot survive without hills and forests. We cannot live without electricity and steel. There lies the hitch. So the conflic, harassment, torture and loss of innocent lives will continue.
Sankara Narayanan,Political commentator, Erode .E-Mail: email@example.com.