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Police violence, Arrests, and demolitions haunt 250 days of peaceful protest in Gadchiroli's Todgatta

20th November saw a brutal police crackdown on peaceful protestors in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district

By B. Mohita
New Update
gadchiroli demolition and police crackdown

The morning of 20th November saw a brutal police crackdown on peaceful protestors in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district causing widespread injuries to protestors and destruction of huts at the protest site. The crackdown comes after 250 days of people’s protest against iron ore mining in the Surjagarh region located in the Etapalli tehsil of Gadchiroli.

Controversial nature of arrests

Local sources told Ground Report that personnel from multiple police stations (including Gadchiroli, Gatta, Etapalli among others) came to Todgatta, which is the main protest site and surrounded the village. The police then rounded on significant leaders of the protest from the various huts at the protest site. Their belongings were searched, and phones were also confiscated. The police singled out 8 protesters and flew them to Etapalli taluka in helicopters. These include Mangesh Naroti, Pradeep Hedo, Sai Kawdo, Gillu Kawdo, Laxman Jetti, Mahadu Kawdo, Nikesh Naroti, and Ganesh Korea. 

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Meanwhile, the police vandalised huts which had been built during the last few months at the protest site in the village. Roofs were dismantled and the possessions of the demonstrators were confiscated. A leaked video from the scene revealed officers wielding lathis to intimidate individuals, preventing the recording of any video or camera footage. Eyewitnesses on the ground reported a severe lathi charge, resulting in numerous protesters sustaining injuries, with some even losing consciousness due to head injuries. Local sources suggest that when protestors from other villages also started arriving at Todgatta (which is the epicentre of the protest), the police brought in trucks to arrest more people. 

As per the accounts of Jabbe Uike, a 40-year-old female protester, the protestors refused to get into the trucks. Following this refusal, the police began their lathi charge and forced approximately 20-25 other villagers into the trucks and took them to the Etapalli police station. Charges under Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) have been imposed on them.

Violence under detention

On reaching the police station, Jabbe says that she, along with Raso Gota (35), Puni Kodo (30), Jamini Korsa (35), and several others were heavily beaten up. Several of them, including Jabbe herself, were beaten until they fainted. Seema Korse, a 20-year-old student from Rekalbeta was one of the victims who refused to be loaded on the truck and was also beaten up till she fainted.

Jabbe informed that even female protestors were beaten up by both men and women personnel in front of the tehsildar. It was late in the evening yesterday that Uike along with 20 other protestors were released from detention.

It must be noted that Adv. Lalsu Nogoti (a renowned advocate and activist from the region, Sushila Norote and a few other local protesters were in Delhi for a press conference at the Press Club of India when the crackdown happened. 

Press club of India

In the press conference titled- “Anti-Displacement Movement and State Repression”  (organised by the Forum Against Corporatisation and Militarisation (FACAM), representatives from Surjagarh gave a detailed account of their resistance against the invasion of mining in their areas. Adv. Lalsu Nogoti told the press conference in Delhi that the state had been using drone cameras over the Andolan site. 

“This (the police crackdown) is not a coincidence. They took advantage of us not being there to disrupt the protest.” 

“Adivasis at Todgatta and Damkondwahi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti call for urgent support from journalists and activist groups against this unprompted and unjust crackdown and to extend support and solidarity,” Nogoti appealed in the press conference. 

It must be noted that Sushila Norote, who is the wife of Mangesh Norote and Vandu Uike, the daughter of  Jabbe Uike were also among the representatives who had come to the press conference in Delhi. 

As per the latest update, approximately 21 people were released from detention last night, after being assaulted by the police.

How are police justifying the crackdown?

The police claimed that the protestors were detained after they allegedly stopped the way of security personnel heading towards a police station at Wangeturi on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border in Etapalli taluka.

“When police parties from Gatta along with C-60 teams, a special anti-Maoist commando force of Maharashtra, were going towards Wangeturi through Todgatta, the agitators stopped them from going ahead”,

the statement from Gadchiroli Police Station read as per Press Trust of India. According to Gadchiroli police, some locals also complained that they were coerced into participating in the protest by Maoists. The police have denied any involvement in vandalism. They claimed that voluntarily dismantled the huts at the protest site. 

However, eyewitness stories leaked video footage from the incident, and injuries of the detainees raise significant questions about the claims given by the police. 

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Police personnel in Todgatta sourced from villagers

Protestors noted how, despite the peaceful and constitutional nature of the protests, they are branded as “Naxals'' and are made to undergo frequent interrogations and detentions by the police. The region has had a history of violent police repression which has been documented in several reports by journalists and civil society organisations alike. It is noteworthy that the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations in its 2018 investigation of state-sponsored oppression in Gadchiroli, had highlighted the collaboration between the mining company, local administration, and the Central Reserve Police Force in Etapalli. 

Why are the Adivasis protesting?

The village of Todgatta comes under the Wangeturi gram panchayat, where an indefinite protest has been going on for more than 350 days now. The protest is being led by the Madia-Gond Adivasis, one of the three Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) from the state. On March 11th of this year, 70 villages from the Surjagad and Damkondwahi pattis/ilakas began protesting under the banners of “Damkondwahi Bachao Andolan” and “Paramparik Gotul Samiti- Surjagad”.

The current protest of the villagers is part of the Madia tribe’s decade-long fear and angst against iron-ore mining in their region– the Surjagad Patti in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. The recent expansion permitted to Lloyds Metals and Energy Private Limited (LMEL), spanning nearly 4,700 hectares has generated massive resistance from several villages.

Ground Report has previously covered the protest and its various dimensions extensively in a detailed report titled: As land bleeds, the struggle for 'Jal Jungle Jameen' in Gadchiroli continues - GR.  As has been covered in the report, the protest has been underway in a very peaceful manner but the villagers complained about the increasing concentration of police camps in the region, despite the local demands against this. 

The brutal suppression comes only a few weeks after the protest and demands at Todgatta were voiced internationally by Adv. Lalsu Nogoti, at the 54th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), Geneva, Switzerland. Adv. Nogoti, through a video statement, had highlighted the history of mining and police repression in the region and how these measures were taken without the consent of the Adivasis and their Gram Sabhas in the region, or rather, despite their widespread protests. 

On account of the police deeming the protest illegal, Nogoti protests- “The police has always known about the protest at Todgatta. They have even visited the site on a few occasions during the last eight months. They were there when Minister and Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) local MLA Dharmaraj Atram came to meet the protesters. How can we accept this? We will continue fighting for our jal, jangal, jameen.”

Keep Reading

In Gadchiroli, Madia Gonds’ way of life and the forces that threaten it

As land bleeds, the struggle for ‘Jal Jungle Jameen’ in Gadchiroli continues

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