A protest that began last Monday with about 1,000 people has now swollen to more than 5,000. As Scroll reported last week, the arrest of a primary school cook, Hadma Mutchaki of Hamirgarh village, brought 1,000 adivasis to demonstrate outside Tongal police station in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on February 16. The police had charged Mutchaki with aiding the Maoists in the murder of a police informer. But the protestors said he was innocent and had been wrongly framed.
Men, women and children sat on the national highway outside the police station, blocking it for 17 hours, and bringing all road traffic between Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to a halt. The next day, activists Soni Sori and Bela Bhatia persuaded the protestors to move from the highway to a ground near the police station. But the protest itself did not dissipate. It gained strength after the police detained three of the protestors, Hidma Kawasi, Ramji Mandavi and Podiyami Budhra. The final straw came when the three men emerged from police custody with injury marks. They alleged they had been beaten up while in custody. As the news spread, thousands of adivasis from villages across Darbha, Kuakonda, Chhindgarh and Sukma blocks of Bastar and Sukma districts converged on Tongpal on Thursday.