A day after a village chief and his associates fired on a group of tribal farmers in Uttar Pradesh's Sonbhadra district killing 10 people over a land dispute, disturbing details of the massacre have emerged. The main accused, Yagya Dutt, had brought nearly 200 men on 32 tractor trolleys to take possession of the land, eyewitnesses have told NDTV. After the tribals opposed, his men fired at them for over half-an-hour, they add.
"They just started firing. Once people started falling to the ground, they started hitting them with lathis. It was plain horror," a woman told NDTV.
Another eyewitness has claimed that the shootout continued for nearly half-an-hour.
"We did not know they had come armed with guns. When they started firing, we ran here and there (to save ourselves), started calling the police. The police came after an hour. The firing went on for a half-an-hour," the eyewitness told NDTV.
The dispute between the villagers and the village chief pertains to a piece of land measuring 36 acre. The tribals, who have tilled the land for generations, have been demanding titles for it. The main accused claimed he had bought the land 10 years ago from a prominent local family.
Initial investigation has revealed that the tribals have occupied the land for decades but they don't have ownership titles, sources said.
In 1955, a huge chunk of land including the area covered by the village was transferred to a cooperative society formed by a family, under a government scheme, the probe reveals. In 1966, the scheme was abolished but the land was not returned to the government. In 1989, the land was transferred to individuals in the same family, including the relatives of an IAS officer.
This family sold a chunk of this land to the village chief in 2010.
"The tribals here have been appealing to government officers for decades. They raised objection to the sale.This land should rightfully belong to the local gram sabha (village assembly). But no one listened to them," Chhote Lal, former BJP parliamentarian, said.
24 people have been arrested so far in connection with the shootout. The main accused, however, is missing.