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Sonbhadra massacre: A half a century old land dispute that led to the brutal killing of 10 people

The dispute over the land dates back more than five decades, which started in 1950s.

Details have started to emerge about the land dispute which led to the brutal massacre in Ghorawal area in Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh this week. On July 17, 10 people were shot dead and many more were injured when henchmen of a village head opened fire on local tribal people who were protesting against the occupation of what they claim is their land.

According to reports, around 200 people in 32 tractor-trailers were brought to occupy a piece of land in Ubhha village that was bought by Gram Pradhan Yagya Dutt two years ago. After arriving at the site to take over the land on Wednesday, they had surrounded the plot and started ploughing it. As the locals claim that the land was sold illegally, they arrived at the site and protested against this. This led to an altercation, which quickly turned violent when the goons of the Dutt, who had come prepared with guns, rifles, spears and lathis, started attacking them with lathis. But unable to chase them with that, they took out their firearms and opened fire on the villagers. According to survivors, the firing went for half an hour. 10 people were killed in the attack, and 29 were injured. 7 persons died on the spot, 2 died while taking to hospital, while 1 died in hospital. The injured are being treated at the BHU hospital in Varanasi.

The piece of land that led to this violence has been the centre of dispute for a long time. The local people belonging to Gonda tribe has been farming on the land, but its ownership has remained disputed for more than 60 years.

Yagya Dutt and several members of his family had purchased 145 bighas of from the wife and daughter of a retired IAS officer from Bihar cadre in 2017. Since then, they were trying to take possession of the property from Gond farmers, who were resisting the move. The Gond people had complained against the sale with revenue authorities and later filed a case in civil court earlier this year.

On the other hand, Dutt and his family have lodged three FIRs against members of the Gond community at the Ghorawal police station. People who are pursuing the case against the Gram Pradhan and his family as named in the FIRs. The FIRs alleged that several people from the Gond community had come with seven tractors and ploughed the land that they had purchased. FIRs were filed under sections 506 (criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 447 (criminal trespass), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 144 (joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon), 352 (assault or criminal force otherwise than on grave provocation ), and 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) against the Gond community.

The dispute over the land dates back more than five decades, which started in 1950s. Local tribal people were cultivating the land for decades before the independence of India. After the implementation of UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, around 600 bighas of land owned by a local estate was recorded as infertile in the revenue records, and it was registered in the name of Gram Sabha. The local residents, mostly belonging to Gond tribe, continued tilling the land for cultivating after that.

But in 1955, 463 bighas of land was transferred in the name of Adarsh Cooperative Society. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath says that it was done illegally by the Tehsildar, which planted the seed of the dispute. In 1989 when the president of the society passed away, 145 bighas from the plot were transferred in the names of a Patna based IAS officer’s wife and daughter, the daughter is also married to an IAS officer. The UP CM has pointed out that Congress was in power in the state when both this transfer of land had happened.

The Mishra family from Patna who had purchased that land had started collecting Lagaan (rent) from the farmers who were cultivating on the land. It is reported that every year one person used to come from Patna to collect Lagaan. The Tribals continued to do farming on the land by making the payment.

But in 2017 when it became to be known that the land has been sold to Dutt, the farmers stopped paying the Lagaan. Advocate Nityanand Dwivedi, who is representing the Gond farmers, said that the land was bought for Rs 2 crores. Since then Dutt’s family has been trying to take control of the land, which the villagers are opposing. The dispute intensified when Dutt filed cases against the community members, and it resulted in the tragedy on 17th July.

More details about the murky dealings that led to this incident will be known after the investigation ordered by the UP government is completed.

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