Chhattisgarh 13 of 121 tribals acquitted in 2017 Naxal attack still in jail some speak about years lost in prison

By Tikeshwar Patel
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Raipur, Jul 18 (PTI) Thirteen out of the 121 tribals recently acquitted by a court in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district in the 2017 Burkapal Naxal attack are still in jail since they are accused in other offences, officials said on Monday as activists slammed the entire case as "grave injustice" to adivasis.
Some of those who walked out of different jails post-acquittal spoke about years lost in prison for an offence they did not commit, and pain and suffering faced by their families in their absence since they were the main breadwinners.
At least 25 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in the Naxal attack near Burkapal village in Sukma district of the Bastar region more than five years ago.
Special Judge for National Investigation Agency cases Deepak Kumar Deshlhre had acquitted the 121 accused, all tribal villagers, on Friday, observing the prosecution has failed to establish their involvement in the offence and links with Naxals.
Superintendent of Jagdalpur Amit Shandilya told PTI that “Out of 118 people (tribals) lodged in a Jagdalpur jail in connection with the case, 105 were released on Saturday while 13, who were accused in other cases, are still in prison.”
Similarly, Superintendent of Dantewada jail Govardhan Singh Sori said three accused in the case were lodged in his jail and they all were released.
Earlier, Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) Sundarraj P said following the court's order, 113 accused -- 110 of them lodged in the Jagdalpur central jail and three in the Dantewada district jail - were released on Saturday.
The IG said further course of action in the case would be decided after examining the judgement documents and legal prospects.
A group of Naxals had ambushed a CRPF team near Burkapal in Sukma on April 24, 2017, killing 25 personnel of the 74th battalion of the paramilitary force.
The CRPF team was sanitising the area between Burkapal and Jagargunda where a road was being constructed when they were targeted.
As many as 125 members of tribal communities, including a woman and three juveniles, were taken into custody in connection with the attack from villages falling under different police stations, including Chintagufa and Chintalnar, in Sukma district while some were apprehended from Pamed in adjoining Bijapur district, IG Sundarraj said.
Most of them were arrested in 2017 while some were held in 2018 and 2019. They were booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, Explosive Substances Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, an anti-terror law.
“One undertrial (Manglu) died in October 2021 due to illness. All the 121 undertrial were acquitted in the case by the court recently. Verdict of a juvenile court is awaited in case of three minors but they are already out on bail,” the IPS officer added.
However, the investigation is still on in the incident under the provision of 173 (8) of the CrPC against 139 absconding Naxals, including dreaded commander Hidma, he added.
After 108 tribals walked out of the two jails, some of them said their families were ruined and pushed into extreme poverty as they languished behind bars since they were the only earning members.
Padam Buska, who hails from Karigundam village, said he and his brother were sleeping at home when they heard sounds of bullets and next day they were picked up by police. He was then 23 years old.
“We have never been associated with the outlawed outfit (CPI Maoist) but we had to spend five years in jail for the crime we did not commit. We both brothers are married, but don't have kids. We have no idea how our wives managed families during these five years,” he said.
He said they were farmers and also dependent on forest produce for livelihood.
“Like us, most of those arrested were earning members of the family and as we were in jail our families were shattered. How they managed legal expenses to secure our release we even don't know,” he told a local reporter.
Echoing the sentiments, another tribal, Hemla Aytu, a resident of Jagargunda village, said, “I got married a few days before the incident. Ever since I was arrested. I haven't seen my wife."
“My uncle Dodi Manglu, who was also arrested in the same case, died in jail. They (jail authority) have not given any document related to him even after I asked for it”, he claimed.
Another tribal acquitted in the case said his family sold their farmland and bulls in Burkapal village to meet court hearing expenses.
The person said he is married and does not have children.
Human rights activist Bela Bhatia, one of the defence lawyers, claimed the Burkapal case is an example of "grave injustice" meted out to tribals in the Bastar region, considered a Maoist stronghold.
She said these tribals have finally got justice, but asked why they had to spend so many years in jail for an offence they did not commit?
"Who will compensate them? Their families have got ruined and the kin of most of the arrested tribals did not even visit the jails in Jagdalpur and Dantewada to meet them as they did not have money to travel to these towns,," she said. PTI TKP GK

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)