The Buck Stopped Here: Village Head and Three Brothers among the 51 Accused in Sonbhadra Massacre

The Indian Express reported that a chargesheet has been filed in the case of the Sonbhadra massacre on Monday, October 14. The chargesheet names head of the attacked village Yagyadutt, three of his brothers, and one Vijay as the culprits of the indiscriminate shooting that took place at the village of Umbha, Sonbhadra over a land dispute among the accused and the tribals.

Sonbhadra lynching, Sonbhadra Massacre

The carnage
It was on July 17, 2019 that the brewing conflict, essentially a battle of Adivasis for their land and tilling rights, boiled over. Yagyadutt led a large group of the dominant, land-owning Gujjar community to indiscriminately fire guns at Gond tribals. Reportedly, close to 300 men who were atop 32 tractors rode onto the farmlands that belong to these tribals and started firing at the Umbha village of Sonbhadra. The incident occurred on July 17 when villagers belonging to the Gond community were farming the disputed land. A group of people led by Yagyadutt went to take possession of the land which they claimed was purchased by him and his relatives two years ago. They indiscriminately fired at the villagers, killing 11 of them and injuring 21 persons.
After the attack, the police seized five firearms, (including three double-barrel and one single-barrel gun), 19 tractors and 12 sticks.

Here is a quick recap of the issue.

The conflict
The district of Sonbhadra, while being one of the most backward in Uttar Pradesh, is also prime real estate for industrialisation. Nicknamed the ‘power capital of India’, it produces at least 12,000 MW of power, with 32 major plants, factories and mines dotting the area. The district has had aluminium and chemical factories, a cement plant and a steel plant established in the 1960s, and the reserves of coal, bauxite, limestone, and gold make it riper for mining-related investment.  

The Gonds have been tilling land of Umbha, a village in Sonbhadra since before independence. Other than being their home, this land has played a role in their formation of a cultural identity. In the year 1952, 639 bighas of the area’s land was declared to be a ‘gaonsamajbhumi’⁠—land owned by the village Gram Sabha under the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950.

However, in 1955, Maheshwari Prasad Sinha used political connections of his IAS son-in-law Prabhat Kumar Mishra to get this very land transferred to a charitable society which he had formed in Sonbhadra. Sinha’s daughter and Mishra’s wife Asha Mishra was made the manager of the society of about 463 bighas of land. In 1989, another 200 bighas of this land was transferred to Asha.

In 2017, Yagyadutt bought 144 bighas of this land from Vinita, daughter of Prabhat Kumar Mishra. The Gond tribals complained to the revenue authorities and approached the court against what they termed was an illegal sale. Ownership of that much land by one person also goes against Land Ceiling law. Yagyadutt thereafter lodged FIRs against the Gonds for “encroaching” on his land.

Thus, the Gond tribals had their unequivocal right to their land put in jeopardy by a few Savarna politicos playing the system and misusing their power. (Read Systematic betrayal of the Adivasis since independence for more detailed coverage)

The chargesheet
Prabhakar Chaudhary, Sonbhadra’s Superintendent of Police, (SP) stated that this chargesheet has been prepared on the basis of scientific evidence along with statements made by 123 people. He told the Indian Express, “The role of 59 people has come to light. Fifty-five of them have been arrested and four others are on the run. On Monday, we filed the chargesheet against 51 of in a local court of Sonbhadra. The court has fixed October 24 for taking cognizance of the chargesheet,”

The chargesheet specifically states that Yagyadutt, his brothers Nidhidutt, Devdutt and Dharmendra, and one Vijay fired guns at the Gond tribals. It states that after Nidhidutt got injured at some point, another accused Neeraj Rai fired using his double-barrel gun. Most of the other persons charged are also related to Yagyadutt.

The chargesheet also names Komal Singh, suspended superintendent of Bhadohi railway station, as a key conspirator in the case. He spoke to Yagyadutt and Dharmendra five times each at the time of the crime. The document also notes that another railway employee contacted Yagyadutt 16 times and Dharmendra 17 times on the day of the killings.

The police has applied IPC sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly in prosecution of common object), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 34 (acts done in furtherance of common intention) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy), in addition to the SC/ST Act and Arms Act. It has been reported that the UP Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe Commission also asked the state government to invoke the National Security Act and the Gangster Act against the alleged culprits.

Can the meek inherit the Earth?
The hubris displayed by Yagyadutt and his associates might come as a rude shock to the uninitiated, but it comes as no surprise when one looks into all the injustices that adivasis suffer from ever so often. The cards are almost always stacked against them.

With respect to this incident, the village head, who is duty-bound to protect the interests of the villagers, has been been trying to unceremoniously turn the Gond tribals into encroachers of their own land, they are considerably socio-economically disadvantaged as opposed to their Gujjar adversary, the Ghorawal police has been accused of working hand-in-glove with Yagyadutt and helping him with every move since 2017, and now they have had their lives threatened over the property.

Even on a national scale, adivasis are often treated as the invisible class. The government does not provide any assistance to tribal applicants trying to assert their right over forest land, as a result of which lakhs of tribals are not facing eviction from their homes.

Against all odds, however, the tribal communities continue to fight back. Adivasi rights activists from Sonbhadra and other tribal-populated areas have found strength in numbers and collectively assist other tribals in making land claims and raising a voice against discrimination.

Adivasi rights activists Sokalo Gond and Nivada Rana are now seeking court intervention through an intervention application which is supported by CJP and the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP). (CJP has been actively campaigning for the rights of forest-dwellers. You can have a look at our work here.)

As Sokalo Gond (Sonbhadra native and member of All India Union of Forest Working Peoples) said to, “We have to stand with each other and with all the other communities who live in the forest. Even though there has been a stay order from the Supreme Court, we have to continue to show the people in charge that we are not afraid of asking for our rights.”


  1. “Jaan de denge lekin zamin nahi denge” (we will give our lives but not the land): Sonbhadra
  2. Forest Dwellers have no support from Gov’t in filing Land Claims: Roma
  3. Pellets in MP village, villagers severely injured accused of “encroaching” their own lands




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