Maharashtra police crackdown on peaceful protesters in Gadchiroli's Todgatta
Police arrest protesters, allegedly destroy huts calling 250 days of protest "illegal".
Around 1,000 police officials cracked down on the peaceful protest at Todgatta in Gadchiroli, where over a hundred tribals had been protesting against six new proposed mines owned by Jindal Steel, Lloyd's and others for over the last 250 days. The police arrested eight of the movement leaders and took them to Gadchiroli. The protesters at the site now fear that the police are preparing to detain the rest of the villagers at the site too. The police also searched the huts that the villagers had built at the protest site and then destroyed them, the villagers allege.
“They came early in the morning out of nowhere and started searching the huts. Then they took aside a few of our leaders (who are fellow villagers) and then took them to Gadchiroli in Helicopters,” says Ganesh Korsa, one of the protesters at the site, told Indie Journal.
“The villagers who were present at the site told us that the police from multiple police stations came to Todgatta in several vehicles early in the morning and began taking several protest leaders aside. The police were searching and upturning all their belongings,” says Lalsu Nogoti, well-known activist from Gadchiroli who extensively works in the tribal belt of the district.
Huts destroyed allegedly by Gadchiroli police.
Nogoti along with a few other local protesters from Todgatta are visiting Delhi to represent the issue at a conference there. The locals said that the police took advantage of the same and started their crackdown on the protesters.
“There were over 70 people at the protest site when the police arrived. After the crackdown began, many other villagers came to join the remaining protesters. However, the police then started bringing in trucks, in what looks like a preparation to arrest more protesters here,” Korsa said.
Pradip Hedo, Mangesh Naroti, Sai Kawdo, Mahadu Kawdo, Nikesh Naroti, Ganesh Korea are among those arrested by the Gadchiroli police. As per the local witnesses, their phones have also been confiscated by the police, along with several other items from the huts, that the police later destroyed.
Police at the protest site, captured in photo by witnesses.
“The police fell several of the huts that we had built for protesting in the last few months. They also burned down a couple of them,” Korsa added.
He adds that the police said that their protest was illegal and that they could not keep sitting at the site. the protest has been going on for the past 250 days.
“How is it a protest if it has to be undertaken strictly with police permission? And it’s not like the police have had no idea of the protest. They have paid a few visits now and then during the last eight months. They were there when now Minister and Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP’s) local MLA Dharmaraj Atram had come to meet the protesters when he was in the opposition,” Nogoti says.
Adivasis from 70-odd villages in Gadchiroli district’s Etapalli taluka have been protesting peacefully for the last 250 days against six proposed mining sites in the Damkondwahi hills in the region and a four-lane road that the villagers said was being built for the benefit of the mining companies. While the protest began with hundreds of Adivasis sitting at the protest site in Todgatta, demanding withdrawal of the mines and the road from the region, as months passed, the villagers built huts at the site and began staying there turn by turn, to ensure that everyone’s villages and livelihoods do not come to a standstill. Apart from the roads, the protest also entails opposition to the increasing number of police stations and police forces in the area.
The police action has led to unrest among the villagers, who have now begun gathering at the protest site in large numbers, the activists closely connected to the movement say.
The police have been claiming that the crackdown took place as the protesters obstructed the passing of a few police vehicles at the time of the inauguration of a new police station in the vicinity. However, the villagers have denied these claims.
Indie Journal tried to contact Gadchiroli SP Neelotpal for his comments on the same. However, even after multiple attempts, he could not be reached. The story will be updated upon receiving a statement from the police.