Following two crucial peace talks held in Chhattisgarh capital Raipur protest site at the Bijapur-Sukma border in Silger on Tuesday, the stalemate between the Chhattisgarh government and protesting tribals showed signs of a resolution as both sides claimed that the protests could end on Wednesday.
The approaching monsoon season and the threat of coronavirus infection looming large are seen as reasons behind the tribals and their supporters brokering peace with the state government.
The protests against security forces erupted three weeks ago over the set up of a police camp at Silger on an allegedly illegally acquired land. Police said the Silger protests by residents of 30 villages in a core area of Maoists are “staged” under pressure from Naxals. Officials backed the claim stating the camp aims to bring ‘development and progress’ to the region.
In the last few weeks, the agitation gathered national limelight and turned into a vehement fightback from the ethnic community whose natural resources are threatened by the gradual intrusion of modernity and development.
The protests intensified after three protesters were killed in firing by the forces on May 17. Villagers had cried foul, accusing security forces of attacking them to end their stir. Officials, however, claimed armed Naxals had opened fire and threw stones at the camp during the protests while taking cover of the villagers, following which the security personnel retaliated. A total of 18 persons were injured in the incident.
As both sides declined to budge, the authorities expressed alarm over the presence of thousands of protesting amid the pandemic. The protest was also denting the Congress government’s image severely as the party had raised the voices of tribals for years and also made pre-poll promises of awarding justice to the community.
As several rounds of peace talks had failed, today meeting saw two important dialogues. One of them took place between Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and human rights activists in state capital Raipur. Senior human rights activist Bela Bhatia said that under the banner of ‘Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan’, they met CM Baghel and governor Anusuiya Uike and handed a memorandum chartering eight-point demands from the tribals.
Andolan head Alok Shukla said that the Chief Minister was positive in the dialogue and promised to fulfil demands and promised them to meet villagers on police firing.
However, there was no official word from the CM over the questioning of proposed camps in the area.
Meanwhile the major breakthrough during talks between the administration and volunteers in Silger. Senior activist Soni Sori who mediated between the protesters and administration comprising of DIG Komal Singh, collector Ritesh Agrawal and SP Kallochan Kashyap, hinted that the agitation could be over on Wednesday.
“Seeing the Covid-19 situation, we will hand over a memorandum to the collector on Wednesday,” said Sori who along with Bela Bhatia and others was in constant touch with the protesters. They were initially stopped from visiting the area by security forces.
She accepted that thousands of tribals agitating during Covid-19 times is alarming.
IG Bastar Sundarraj P too affirmed that following constructive dialogue, the stir could end on Wednesday.
On Monday, senior minister Ravindra Chaubey said that no camp would be dismantled in the deep forest areas and even claimed that more camps would come up in the Bastar region.
After driving out government officers and health staff who tried to test them for Covid-19, the tribals had blocked Bijapur-SIlger-Sukma roads with stones and trees. Sources even claimed that 150 locals had tested positive in the Silger and nearby region.
Silger in Sukma district was once famous as a chironji market, but Maoists had detached it from nearby Jagargunda. After the Salwa Judum campaign, a mass counter-offensive operation against Maoists, the militia retreated to this region.
(With inputs from Raunak Shivhare)