• DU Professor Nandini Sundar, 5 Others Cleared of Murder Charges by Chattisgarh Police

    Manu Sebastian

    February 15, 2019

    The names of Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, and five others have been dropped by the Chattisgarh police from a murder case registered against them in 2016, for lack of direct evidence. "The statements of the villagers were taken which suggests that they were not present at the time of the murder. Hence, we have taken back the cases against them", Jitendra Shukhla, Superintendent of Police, Sukma District told The Hindustan Times. 

    This comes after the SC had sought a report from Chattisgarh government in November 2018 regarding the status of investigation, when an application was filed by Nandini Sundar stating that no action had been taken by police for two years after the registration of the case.

    Apart from Sundar, the police have cleared the names of Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari from Delhi's Joshi Adhikar Sansthan, Chhattisgarh Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sanjay Parate from the case.

    The case pertains to the murder of Shamnath Baghel, a resident of Nama village in Sukma district, who was allegedly killed by Maoists on November 4, 2016.

    According to the police,Vimala Baghel, the widow of Shamnath Baghel, had stated that he had been receiving death threats from Maoists after he filed a complaint against Sundar and others alleging that they were inciting Adivasi Villagers to act against police. Based on this, Sundar and others were booked by police under charges of murder, criminal conspiracy and rioting, as well as charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Arms Act.

    However, in a video interview given to NDTV seven days after the death of her husband, Vimala Baghel denied having given the names of Nandini Sundar and others in relation to the case.

    All this while, the police had not arrested them in relation to the case, on the basis of interim protection given by the Supreme Court. The Additional Solicitor General on behalf of the State of Chhattisgarh had undertaken before Supreme Court on November 15, 2016, that Sundar and other activists will not be arrested or interrogated without the permission of Court. In the event of any investigation which the police intends to carry out against these persons, they should be given at least four weeks notice of the same, the SC had ordered.

    A few months before the case was registered,Sundar, Archana Prasad, and the four others who were named in the FIR had carried out field visits in Bastar district, during May 2016. The team's visit turned controversial after police claimed that the activists had told the villagers to "side with the Maoists", which is denied as a "rank lie" by Sundar. She points out that the article published by the team in Economic and Political Weekly exposed the role of both government and Maoists in worsening the situation of Adivasis in Bastar.

    Sundar feels that Chattisgarh police was vindictive towards her and other activists after they took up the Tadmetla case – a case where Chattisgarh police officials allegedly killed 3 persons, sexually assaulted 3 women and torched 300 houses in an alleged ant-Maoist operation. It was Sundar's PIL which filed led to SC ordering CBI investigation in Tadmetla violence in July 2011. The murder case was registered against them soon after CBI had filed charge-sheet against special police officers in Tadmetla case in October 2016.

    "The FIR was lodged immediately after the CBI charge-sheeted SPOs for burning the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli, in which the then DIG SRP Kalluri was also implicated, since he admittedly directed the operations as SSP Dantewada. Following this, the police burnt effigies of activists, including Sundar, in six different places. Even before this, the police had been propping up vigilante groups to protest against Nandini Sundar and Archana Prasad", said Sundar in her personal blog.

    Nandini Sundar's PIL led to the 2011 judgment of Supreme Court which banned "Salwa Judum" – a state sponsored private militia comprising villagers formed with the purported objective of countering Maoist terror . She has authored the book The Burning Forest- India's War In Bastar, which chronicles chronicles how the armed conflict between the government and the Maoists has devastated the lives of some of India's poorest, most vulnerable citizens in the mineral rich district of Bastar.


    First published in Live Law.

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