Uniformed police personnel in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh state in India burnt effigies of activists, who had moved the country’s apex court against alleged human rights violations by security personnel.

The incident, being described as the first of its kind in independent India, occurred last week only two days after the Supreme Court took note of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s charge sheet against seven former special police force officers (SPOs) – now renamed armed auxiliary forces – for attacking and burning of tribal villages at Tarmetla between  March 11-16, 2011 and 26 former Salwa Judum (a government-sponsored militia) activists for attacking social activist Swami Agnivesh when he tried to reach those villages for an independent investigation into the incident.

The inspector general of police, Bastar range, S.R.P. Kalluri, had earlier said during a press conference that tribal houses had caught fire on their own because of extreme heat and cross fire, thereby contradicting the First Information Report filed by his own police which had stated that the houses had been burnt by Maoists.

A day after the press conference, the police personnel burnt the effigies of two of the petitioners who had approached the Supreme Court – Communist Party of India leader Manish Kunjam and Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar – as well as of social activists Himanshu Kumar and Bela Bhatia,  Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori and journalist Malini Subramaniam.

Several journalists reporting on the two-decade long conflict between Maoists and government security forces as well as prominent social activists and lawyers had to leave Chhattisgarh this year, allegedly because of pressure by the police.

The Maoists are opposing the government’s plan of removing tribal villages from the area and help private mining companies begin operations there.

The police sent WhatApp messages to journalists inviting them to observe the burning of effigies. ‘Big breaking news’, one of these messages said. “In Kondagaon at 3:30 PM, the police will burn the effigies of Nandini Sundar, Bela Bhatia, Manish Kunjam, Himanshu Kumar. At the Jay Sthamb chowk.” After the effigy burnings, the police and armed auxiliary forces men marched through various towns in a show of strength.