• Ritesh Mishra, HT, Nama (Sukma)
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  • Updated: Nov 14, 2016 17:53 IST
Nandini Sundar, who heads the sociology department at Delhi University, has worked extensively on Maoist insurgency, especially in the Bastar region. (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Villagers of Nama in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region have disputed police claim that Delhi University (DU) professor Nandini Sundar had visited the region as part of a Maoist delegation and instigated the murder of a local tribal early this month.

“Sir, Nandini Sundar se kya? Hum tow Maovaadi se dushmani le rahe hain (Sir, what can we have against Nandini Sundar. Our enmity is with the Maoists,” a villager told HT.

Shamnath Baghel, a local associated with a village resistance group ranged against the Maoists, was killed by unidentified assailants on November 4, prompting the Chhattisgarh police to book Sundar along with 10 others for the murder. Police said Baghel’s wife had filed a complaint with the police naming Sundar.

Sundar, at the forefront of a campaign against police excesses in Bastar, has dubbed the police action as a ‘gross abuse of power’. Academics and rights activists say the Chhattisgarh police carry a grudge against Sundar for petitioning the Supreme Court against their excesses.

Baghel’s wife, Vimala, too has rejected the police version, telling a TV channel that she had not identified anyone among the attackers and had not named Sundar in her complaint. Vimala gave birth to a child a day before her husband was killed.

Villagers said none of them had seen the assailants. “It was 9.30 pm when they came that day. They killed him within five minutes and fled away. We had no time to react,” one of them said.

Police in Bastar also claimed that Sundar had visited the village in May under a fake name and warned the residents against supporting the police in their anti-Maoist drive.

The villagers – some of whom included members of Baghel’s extended family – said Sundar on the contrary had advised them to stay clear of both the Maoists and the police.

“Usne aisa bola .. ki ek taraf kuan hai ..ek tarah khai hai..dono se bach ke raho ( She told us that on one side there is well and on the other side there is a trench. Stay clear of both),” a villager, who did not want to be named for safety reasons, recollected.

They also contradicted the police claim that Sundar had visited Nama as part of a Maoist delegation. “Un log kahe hum manavadhikaar kee taraf se aayein hain (those people said they had come on behalf of civil rights group),” a villager said.

Tribals of insurgency-hit districts of Chhattisgarh, where more than 3,500 people have reportedly been killed in the past 10 years because of the unending conflict, say they are caught between the Maoists and the police, accusing both of atrocities in the event of not toeing their line. Bastar is among the worst affected regions of the state.

SRP Kalluri, Bastar’s controversial inspector-general of police, dismissed the villagers’ version. “In any case, we don’t care a damn about what you write,” he told HT.

Sundar said last Tuesday that the FIR against her was “patently absurd”.