A Public Interest Litigation challenging the spate of encounters in Bijapur was filed last year before the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur by two young women from Korcholi with extra-ordinary grit and determination –Suneeta Pottam (19 years old).and Munni Pottam (18 years old). WSS is the third petitioner in this case.
Faced with a dozen affidavits of the villagers whose family members were killed, the High Court of Bilaspur held that the questions of extra judicial executions and government policies which are responsible for these are similar in spirit to the issues raised by the Salwa Judum petition (Nandini Sundar and Ors vs. State of Chhattisgarh), currently being heard by the Supreme Court. Following which, the young Petitioners filed a Transfer Petition in the Supreme Court last year seeking the transfer of their PIL to the Supreme Court. Suneeta and Munni Pottam were in Delhi to attend the hearing of their transfer petition on Wednesday, 10 January 2018.
At a press conference these young women talked about these cases of encounters along with the details of the very recent physical and sexual assault of the the women of the villages where Suneeta and Munni live. They also talked about the harassment and threats that they have been receiving by the Bastar police ( as recent as few weeks back) as result of filing this petition, who have threatened them that if they keep raising these issues which show the police in a bad light, they would be arrested for Naxalite offences and thrown into jail. Shaken but not defeated, these young women came to Delhi to put their continuous harassment on record before the apex court at the coming hearing.
Short note on incidents
Initially the petition was filed regarding the extra-judicial executions of 6 people, which took place in the villages of Kadenar, Palnar, Korcholi and Andri in Bijapur district over the course of the last year. As the case wound its way through the High Court, other cases from the area were also added. Accompanying this petition are sworn affidavits of ten villagers who are family members of the deceased or eye witnesses of the incident, who challenge the police versions. In Kadenar, the villagers talk about how a married couple, Tati Pande and Manoj Hapka, were forced out of their home in the evening at gunpoint, on the pretext of getting them “surrendered” in the Gangaloor police station. In Palnar, Seetu Hemla was dragged from the fields which he was ploughing, with his hands tied behind him, in full view of his young wife, mother and other villagers. In Korcholi, the womenfolk witnessed Sukku Kunjam of Itavar being shot point-blank, while he was visiting his relatives house in November 2015.
In the remote village of Andri, which is a day’s walk from the closest, motorable road, the police have not claimed any encounter, nor registered any death. However, the villagers recall that in February of this year, the police party mortally wounded Kudhami Ganga, a young man, by shooting him while he was collecting siyadi leaves for a village wedding. The police team probably never realized that Kuhdami Ganga had succumbed to his injuries some minutes after they shot at him, and never collected his body – hence, this killing probably does not figure in the celebrated “century” of encounters. A few days later, the same patrol team killed or mortally wounded a 9-10 year old boy, Sodi Sannu, who was tending his family’s tomato fields. His death too does not figure in the dubious “century” for the obvious reason that it is diffcult to pass off an obviously young child as a Naxalite. What has been done with Sodi Sannu’s body is a question that still haunts his parents.
There was the extra judicial execution of Mangu Korme of Peddakorma village who was captured by the security forces while chasing a monkey attacking the village’s paddy stocks. He was paraded in the villages as a captive, and then killed in cold blood. There was also an attempted extra judicial killing of Mangu Tati of Palnar village who was captured by the forces while in the forest trying to gather some bamboos, but he was rescued by the village women who covered his body with their own and would not let the police shoot him.