Sunday, 3 January 2010

Nothing "Official" in Chhattisgarh

Sambo misses her four children; and has long stopped smiling. The petite woman’s eyes are vacant; she has already seen enough. She has already had enough. © Javed Iqbal

October 1, 2009, 7 am, Gompad:
Security forces and SPOs (special police officers) of the Salwa Judum enter the village of Gompad, which is on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border. Sodi Sambo is shot on her leg. Witnesses the murder of six other villagers by the security forces and SPOs.

Circa October 20, 2009:
Sodi Sambo is brought to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) in Dantewada. She is taken to Delhi for a surgery some days later. She continues to live in VCA.

November 24, 2009:
Himanshu Kumar and the victims of the massacre in Gompad, Gachanpalli, Nulkatong and Belpocha file a write petition in the Supreme Court. The hearing is posted for January 4, 2010.

December 30, 2009, Dantewada:
Sambo develops a mild fever. Blood test confirmed malaria, and the doctor suggests hospitalisation. She wouldn’t be safe in the hospital. So it is decided to keep her at the civil hospital of Dantewada only for the three-hour drip, and then bring her home. Himanshuji is on the fifth day of his fast.

December 31, 2009, and January 1, 2010, Dantewada:
It is learnt that that four cops were enquiring about "the lady who has a bullet wound on her leg and uses a walker". Thankfully no single nurse works 24x7 and neither are they too attentive. The nurses on this shift, at the civil hospital of Dantewada, know nothing of this patient. We learn that the cops had come twice, asking about Sambo. Everyone was looking for the victim-cum-eyewitness of the massacre in Gompad village.

January 2, 2010, 9 pm, Dantewada:
Sambo is being sent to Raipur by bus, along with a volunteer of VCA and a volunteer of Aid India. They would reach Raipur on December 3, and then take a train to Delhi, where her leg would be operated. Himanshu Kumar’s nephew Abhay drives them to the bus stand.

January 2, 2010, 9.10 pm, Dantewada:
Abhay notices several bikers armed with automatic rifles following them. He instantly calls up Himanshuji, who advises Abhay to bring the car back to VCA.

January 2, 2010, 9.20 pm, Dantewada:
Himanshuji, Satyen and another friend Gangesh then get onto the car and go towards the bus stand. The cops outside VCA, stationed for Himanshuji’s protection, are caught unawares when the car rushes out. They eventually catch up with the car.

January 2, 2010, 9.25 pm, Dantewada:
A jeep of SPOs has arrived near the bus stand. Himanshuji tells the travel agent that the three passengers would be boarding from Geedam, 10 kms north of Dantewada. The car then takes a detour 2 kms south of Dantewada and sees the bus headed to Raipur passing by. The bus is stopped, and Himanshuji requests the driver to let the three passengers board the bus there itself.

January 2, 2010, 9.30 pm, Dantewada:
The bus reaches the bus stand at Dantewada, and Himanshuji’s car follows it. They then see one SPO approaching the bus conductor, who asks him to accompany them to the police station. Himanshuji intervenes; asks the SPO why was he intending to take the conductor to the police station. The SPO politely replies that some enquiries had to be made. Himanshuji then asked him, “Does this have to do anything with the injured lady on the bus?” The SPO denies any such issue. Himanshuji realizes that Sambo could be arrested midway during the journey, and so he asks the trio to alight from the bus. They then drive towards VCA, and Abhay speeds the car into discreet lanes, such that they emerge on the main road towards Geedam.

January 2, 2010, 9.35 pm, Dantewada:
The car catches up with the bus and the trio boards it again. The car follows.

January 2, 2010, 9.45 pm, Dantewada:
Near the bus stand at Geedam, the bus halts. While Himanshuji gets his car refueled, Gangesh walks out to assess the situation. He returns to say that another jeep full of cops had arrived near the bus, along with one of the SPOs whom he had seen near the bus stand in Dantewada. The car rushes to the bus stand, and Himanshuji asks the trio to alight again, knowing well what could happen if they continued the travel.

January 2, 2010, 9.55 pm, Dantewada:
The car reaches VCA; a long discussion ensues about what could be done next. We all spoke in hushed whispers, lest the cops would be eavesdropping. The irony – all phone conversations are tapped; we are all being heard. Yet, no one is ‘listening’! Finally it is decided that Himanshuji, along with his protectors who report his every move to their seniors, would go to Raipur the next day.

January 3, 2010, 7.30 am, Dantewada:
Himanshuji, Abhay, Sambo and the two volunteers leave for Raipur in a car. His security tags along. Plan is to catch the train to Delhi from Raipur at 5pm.

January 3, 2010, 1 pm, Dantewada:
Abhay calls up from Kanker, about 200 kms from Dantewada. He informs that Himanshuji and Sambo have been arrested. Himanshuji tells Abhay to proceed to Raipur, along with the two volunteers, to drop the car there.

January 3, 2010, 2 pm, Dantewada:
We are informed that Himanshuji has not been arrested. The cops had approached them at Kanker at around 12.30pm, when they had halted for lunch (Himanshuji is on the ninth day of his fast). Cops say that Sambo needs to be taken to the police station for enquiry. Himanshuji tells them that he wouldn’t allow them to take Sambo alone. So he had he decided to along with them to the police station.

January 3, 2010, 2 pm to 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
Himanshuji and Sambo are at Kanker police station. Abhay drives till Raipur to drop the car. Attempts are made to be in constant touch with Himanshuji, who cannot speak freely. Word about all that is happening is spread around through the Internet, SMS and phone.

January 3, 2010, 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
Abhay and the two volunteers, along with Tusha Mittal (reporter with Tehelka), reach Kanker. The cops in Kanker tell Himanshuji that he should arrange for a cab to take him to Dantewada, while the police, in a separate car, would bring Sambo to Dantewada. Himanshuji tells them that he would die but wouldn’t leave Sambo alone with them.

January 3, 2010, 7.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
Himanshuji is with Abhay and the others in the same car. They head back to Dantewada. Himashuji’s security is with him. Sambo is being brought back to Dantewada in another vehicle, for her statements to be taken. When Himanshuji asks them if Sambo would be put behind bars, he is told, “No, we are not arresting her. The SP of Dantewada has made special arrangements for her. She will have to be at the police station all through the night.” Himanshuji is convinced that she will surely be arrested by the next morning and many false charges slapped on her -- this is what had happened to Kopa too.

We speak to a lawyer; he says that if Sambo is an eyewitness, any statement to be taken has to be done so only where she is comfortable, i.e., her home.