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Sonbhadra massacre death toll rises to 11, critically injured tribal dies in hospital

Kherwa Gond, a woman in her 50s who was admitted to the ICU on 17 July, the day of the massacre, succumbed to her injuries Saturday.

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New Delhi: The death toll in the Sonbhadra massacre has risen to 11 after another Gond tribal, who was critically injured, passed away Saturday at the trauma centre of the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU, in Varanasi.

The death of Kherwa Gond, a woman in her 50s, comes 45 days after 10 Gond tribals were shot dead in Sonbhadra by their upper caste village pradhan and his family members.

She was admitted to the ICU on 17 July, the day of the massacre, after she was critically injured by a bullet lodged in her neck. Kherwa succumbed to her injuries at around 11 pm Saturday night, and her body was taken back to Ubha where it was buried Sunday morning.

“Our first priority was moving the body back to the village so that the last rites could take place,” Sonbhadra superintendent of police (SP) Prabhakar Choudhary told ThePrint. Kherwa is survived by her husband, Ram Prasad Gond, her two sons, and four grandchildren.

She was among 24 tribals injured when the pradhan, Yagya Dutt, and his family members opened fire over a land dispute. Of them, six were critically injured, including Kherwa, and were rushed to Varanasi hospital’s ICU on 17 July. All but Kherwa successfully recovered and returned to Ubha village, where they live.

Also read: Story of UP’s Sonbhadra which saw a massacre in July: Distance, poverty & a resource curse

Land dispute between pradhan and tribal Gonds

On July 17, Yagya Dutt along with over 70 members of his family and others, landed up in 20 tractors and opened fire on a plot of land in Ubha village in an attempt to forcefully grab the land.

Dutt claimed to have bought 145 bighas of the land in 2017 from a family of bureaucrats who allegedly owned it since 1955. An inquiry, however, found several irregularities in the acquisition of the land in 1955, and its transfer to Dutt in 2017.

The family that sold the land to Dutt is related to former UP governor C.P.N. Sinha, who came from a wealthy zamindari background.

“The documents that the family used sell the land to Dutt had to have been forged, because there is no official document to show that they had acquired it in 1955 in the first place,” Nityanand Dwivedi, the lawyer fighting fighting on behalf of the Gond tribals, had told ThePrint soon after the massacre.

Compensation and investigations

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had ordered a special investigation team (SIT) probe into the land dispute on 4 August, which is now ongoing. As of Sunday, 54 people are in jail for their involvement in the crime; former district magistrate Ankit Aggarwal and SP Salman Taj Patil were shunted out for alleged negligence.

The 10 families whose members were killed were offered Rs 18.5 lakh as compensation by the Yogi government, and another Rs 10 lakh by the Congress.

“We believe Kherwa’s family will be awarded the Rs 18.5 lakh, as was standard with the other families. But we don’t know if the Congress will offer her family compensation,” Ram Pati Singh Gond, Kherwa’s neighbour from Ubha, told ThePrint.

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