His Brother Was Burnt Alive

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Sodi Nanda was killed in 2007. Four years later, his brother wants justice, but cannot get it, says Prakhar Jain

Mute witness Sodi Ganga stands beside the tree where his brother was allegedly killed by Salwa Judum
Mute witness: Sodi Ganga stands beside the tree where his brother was allegedly killed by Salwa Judum, Photo: Prakhar Jain

THE CBI officers came to his village, and left. But his story will not find a mention in their report. In December 2007, Sodi Ganga’s brother was burnt alive. Last year, more than 200 homes were set ablaze in the same village. In January, acting on Supreme Court orders, a CBI team visited Tadmetla in Chhattisgarh to investigate the attack. Sodi Ganga’s story is significant because the CBI team did not, and cannot record it.

The burning down of 200 houses in Tadmetla is one of those rare instances that turned high-profile. The scale of violence, media reports from the ground, civil society outrage, and the attack on Swami Agnivesh, despite assurances from Chief Minister Raman Singh, left the government with no choice but to act. Ganga’s story is testimony to why one inquiry by the CBI is not enough.

His story is from the time of the Salwa Judum, widely believed to be a State-sponsored militia responsible for the forced displacement of more than 60,000 people and burning of 644 villages since 2005. It is a grim reminder of all the horrors. Even in Tadmetla, a village on the radar of human rights groups and investigating agencies, there remains acts of violence that are yet to be recorded.

Located in the dense forests of Dantewada district, (now Sukma) Tadmetla was attacked by the Salwa Judum and the paramilitary forces in December 2007. Fearing violence, most people fled the village to hide in the forests. Ganga’s brother, Sodi Nanda, was not that fortunate. Being ill, he could not run, so he hid behind a pile of logs close to his house. He was spotted by SPOs and Judum members and burnt alive among those very logs, which he thought would save him. Two days later, villagers discovered his charred bones and buried his remains close to where he was set on fire.

Ganga has been living in fear since. “I was afraid. Where could I have gone?” he asks, pointing to the fact that the local police can’t be approached for such cases. He found hope when a CBI team from Delhi came to his village to conduct an investigation. Mustering enough courage, he decided to break his four-year-long silence and requested the CBI officers to register a case against the CRPF, SPOs and the Salwa Judum members involved in the incident.

“But the CBI refused saying it is out of their purview,” says Ganga. As per rules, the CBI cannot investigate a case without the consent of the state concerned, except when it is directed by the high court or the Supreme Court.

There are numerous such examples of deaths, rapes and arson spread across south Chhattisgarh. Professor Nandini Sundar, a lead petitioner in the Salwa Judum case, has been able to document at least 500 such cases. When these records were presented before the Supreme Court, it ordered the Chhattisgarh government to investigate all instances of violence during Salwa Judum and register FIRs. However, despite repeated directives by the court, the state government has failed to do so.

“We have filed a contempt of court petition against the Chhattisgarh government in the Supreme Court on 23 March,” says Sundar.

On their part, the police refute the allegations. Additional Director General of Police (anti-Naxal operations), Ramnivas, told TEHELKA that the police have investigated most of the cases and filed FIRs wherever necessary. “Relief and rehabilitation is a continuous process and takes time,” he says.

Baijendra Kumar, spokesperson for the Chhattisgarh government, refused to comment saying the matter is sub-judice.

Even if we believe that the Chhattisgarh government has tried to reach out to those whose cases have been documented, cases such as that of Sodi Nanda still wait to even be recorded.

Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
prakhar@tehelka.com

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