Photographs By Tarun Sehrawat
THIS WEEK marks the first anniversary of a brutal attack by the banned CPI (Maoist) party on India’s paramilitary forces. On 6 April last year, 76 jawans were massacred in the forests of Chhattisgarh. The carnage became a major flashpoint, renewing calls for an escalation in anti-Maoist operations. One year later, the same forests have witnessed another brutal carnage. As TEHELKA’s investigations reveal, this butchery comes not from the enemy, but from the ‘security’ forces. Those attacked are India’s most invisible citizens.
In the course of a five-day operation in the second week of March, police torched three villages deep inside the jungles of Dantewada district. Three hundred huts were set on fire. Hundreds of tribals left homeless. Three women sexually assaulted. Three civilians killed. Granaries incinerated. Gold jewellery and thousands of rupees looted. One corpse left dangling from a tree. Another sliced with an axe. Two villagers kidnapped. Livestock stolen.
Barring reports in Hindi daily Rajasthan Patrika, The Hindu and a few local television channels, no independent verifications have been possible. While then Dantewada police chief SRP Kalluri — under whose command the paramilitary forces operated — called reports of the arson “Maoist propaganda”, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar said the Maoists are to be blamed for the arson.
In the last week of March, several teams were barred from entering the villages. Despite being accompanied by police officials and despite an assurance from the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, social activist Swami Agnivesh was attacked by enraged mobs. Local journalists were beaten and threatened with arrest. A truck driver carrying relief materials from the Dantewada Collector was assaulted by Kartam Surya, a Special Police Officer (SPO) earlier accused in a rape case, and declared untraceable by the police. A team of 11 Opposition MLAs were prevented from entering on the pretext of a security threat. After many embarrassing spectacles, the state government was forced to act. On 27 March, Kalluri was transferred and a judicial inquiry promised.
LAST WEEK, bypassing the police barriers and going via a longer forest route, TEHELKA accessed the affected villages. Eyewitnesses revealed that the attackers were uniformed men, including the CRPF, the Cobra and Koya Commandos and the police. The team was aided by SPOs, some in uniform, others in civilian dress.
“The police believed that country-made weapons were being manufactured in there. They had intelligence that top Naxal leaders are hiding there,” police sources said. “These villages are supporting Naxals. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are in connivance. They helped kill 76 jawans.”
A week after they were set ablaze, the tribal hamlets of Morpalli, Timapur and Tarmetla look like ghost villages. The landscape is filled with charred huts, their insides hollow, excavated like ancient ruins.
They are an eerie reminder of the early days of the Salwa Judum. The Judum is widely acknowledged as a State-sponsored militia responsible for the forced displacement of 60,000 people and the burning of 644 villages since 2005.
Though there is no similar mass exodus yet, many homeless tribals have left for Andhra Pradesh to work as coolies. Those who remain in the villages huddle together at night, sleeping under large trees.
Ironically, it appears that the men in uniform initially pretended to be Maoists. But locals say they can identify several men involved in the attack: Madkam Bhima alias Ramesh from Nagaram, Telam Anda from Lakaparo, Budke Mara from Morpalli, Kichche Nanda from Kurraparo, who is accused in the murder of 19 tribals in Singaram. And Kartam Surya from Misma, accused in the rape of four women. There are pending warrants and court orders for the arrest of Nanda and Surya. The police claim they are absconding.
Of these men, some are surrendered Maoists; some are former Salwa Judum activists turned SPOs; others are SPOs who have been promoted to Koya Commandos. It is this strange cycle that makes it impossible to distinguish where the Salwa Judum — which the state government claims is non-existent — ends and where the paramilitary begins. It also blurs the lines between the local and national, between operations carried out for personal revenge and a coordinated anti-Naxal strategy.
The insidious civil war becomes apparent when you meet Morpalli resident Budke Laccha, a father who wants his son dead. SPO Budke Mara is the man who led the forces into Morpalli and helped burn his own village. In the past few years, Mara had begun drinking and misbehaving with women, his father recalls. After he allegedly raped a woman, Mara earned a bad name. Upon being reprimanded, he fled.
“I heard he was seen in AP working as a coolie. There too, wherever he took shelter, he stole cows, paddy and money,” says Laccha. His son returned to Chhattisgarh last year and headed straight for the Salwa Judum camp in Konta. Within months, he became an SPO, donning a uniform, a rifle, and getting a salary of Rs 3,000. “If he ever comes back to the village alone,” says Laccha, “I will ask people to kill him.”
SPO Budke Mara led the paramilitary into Morpalli and helped burn his own village. His father Laccha wants him dead
This is the reconstruction of what happened during the carnage based on the testimonies of eyewitnesses and victims:
11 March, 8 AM, Morpalli
The forces swarmed into Morpalli from two directions. The first team marched in from the side of a pond where Madvi Ganga’s children had gone to fetch water. Hearing sounds of their arrival, Ganga, 40, rushed to warn his family, but found himself in their way. Ganga, his daughter Lakkhe, 17, and son Bhima, were caught, beaten, taken to the village and tied up. “Where are the Dalam members? Where are the Maoists?” they were questioned.
By the time the first team reached Morpalli, all 200 residents had fled. They found no Maoists or weapons, only a 15- foot Maoist memorial commemorating martyrs. But a Maoist memorial does not turn villagers into Maoists.
At the other end, Aimla Pojje, 40, was tilling her fields when the second team appeared. “Get up. Move. We are the Andhra Dalam of the Naxals. We have to rush for a meeting,” they declared. When she resisted, she was beaten with lathis and stripped. Her life savings of Rs 10,000 wrapped around her waist was snatched. Then, she was sexually assaulted in the presence of her two daughters. (Locals say that since the arson of the Judum days, the tribals of Bastar prefer to wear all their jewellery and carry all their money.)
Both teams arrived in Morpalli, matchsticks and cigarette lighters in hand, looting, beating and razing 35 homes. Farmer Karti Laccha’s mud hut had once before been burnt by the Judum, in 2006. “How many times will I rebuild my home?” he asks. “What if they come again? ”
Another belonged to Anganwadi worker Chodi Shanto. Stocked with ration meant for pregnant mothers, Shanto’s house was perhaps the only face of the government in Morpalli. Curiously, schools, PDS ration shops, drinking water and everything else is outside the village, kilometres away, and often near CRPF camps and police stations. Two new ashram schools have recently come up in Chintagupha, 30 km away, in the shadow of the troops. In the way that Judum tried to empty ‘interior’ villages, it is almost as if development is being strategically placed only along the roadside, as a bait to flush tribals out of the heartland, to keep them under constant watch.
With Morpalli aflame, one team left for Chintalnar Police Station with Ganga and his children. On the way back, the forces stopped, rested and cooked 50 stolen hens, two of which belonged to Ganga. At the station, Ganga and his son were beaten by SPOs. “Why were you running away?” the thanedar asked. Ganga detailed the burning and loot, but all the thanedar wrote down were the names of his family.
Meanwhile, Ganga’s daughter was taken into another cell. The next day, she walked out wearing nothing but a torn petticoat. “She was beaten and raped,” says Ganga. When TEHELKA visited Morpalli, the girl had already left for Andhra Pradesh to work as a coolie, earn some immediate money and buy some new clothes.
On the way out of Morpalli, the second team headed towards a forest clearing where Madvi Ungi, 35, sat sorting mahua seeds. Her husband Madvi Suka, 40, was perched on a tree, plucking ripe bunches of tamarind. Suddenly, they heard the sound of marching boots. Suka climbed down and darted up a leafier tendu tree to hide. Ungi fled to her hut, her one-yearold daughter hanging on her arm. She was caught, beaten and her blouse was torn off.
As the forces moved ahead, she heard gunshots. She kept running. When the trample of boots died down, Ungi crawled out of her hut and returned in search of her husband. There was blood on the ground but he was missing. When she finally looked up towards the scorching sun, he appeared: His body, limp and dead, forked among branches, hanging from a tree. “The forces shot him here,” she says, standing below the tree she once worshipped, wailing, singing a funeral song.
13 March, 12 Noon, Puddampadu
In the afternoon, 300 men left the Chintal nar CRPF camp, headed for Timapur. Police sources say the forces had intelligence that Maoists had set up a camp in the area.
‘Aag lagane wali sarkar aur chawal dene wali sarkar. How can they be the same?’ asks Dantewada farmer Kowasi Hadma
On their way to Timapur, the troops gheraoed Puddampadu village. From a vantage point, the tribals could see uniformed men marching towards them. On cue, they began to flee. Immediately, the troops began firing in the air. Madkam Hidme, 50, scurried for cover. “I thought they’d kill me,” she says. Luckily, the bullet hit her below the waist. She limps into the forests now, a basket of tendu leaves on her head, a bullet lodged inside her leg.
However, Badse Bhima 40, and Mannu Ram Yadav, 45, weren’t as lucky. They were taken captive as the troops moved along to Timapur. When Badse Lakhme pleaded with the security forces to spare her husband Bhima’s life, she was told he would be freed the next day. Two days later, she found him in Timapur. Kneeling on the ground, legs folded as if in prayer, Bhima sat in a pool of blood, the axe that killed him still dug inside his back. His hands had been tied behind with ropes.
13 March, 3 PM, Timapur
It was late afternoon when forces entered Timapur, a village that has no government schemes, no drinking water, and no functioning anganwadis or schools. There is a primary school building, but education stopped after the Salwa Judum warned teachers not to venture inside villages. Timapur does not have a sarpanch either. While the current sarpanch Madkam Maska stays in the Salwa Judum camp in Dornapal, villagers say that not a single sarpanch has visited the village since 2006.
On the afternoon of 13 March, burning several homes as they trooped in, the forces entered Timapur to find neither Maoists nor villagers. Goats and chicken, the only living things in the village, were roasted for dinner. The forces spent the night in the village. The next morning, while heading out, they were attacked by the Maoists at a spot 2 km away.
“Our PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army) team attacked the forces to save the villages,” reads a hand-written note sent to TEHELKA, signed by Venkatesh, president of the CPI (Maoist) South Bastar Division. “Have the villagers become jungli janwar (wild animals) for Kalluri and his forces? Wherever you found someone, you killed or beat them or looted them. The government machinery talks about development for the Adivasis. But did you see the people of these villages as Adivasis?”
After the encounter with the Maoists in which three Koya Commandos and one Maoist were killed, the forces returned to Timapur. They spent a second night in the village. On 15 March, at the crack of dawn, the security forces began to leave. On their way out, they burnt 50 houses, and killed captive Badse Bhima. The other captive, Mannu Ram Yadav, was taken to Chintalnar Police Station.
Two days later, Mangli Yadav went in search of her husband. “A few hundred metres outside the police station, I was shown a pool of blood,” she told TEHELKA. Villagers in the area told her that is where Mannu was shot dead. The police claimed that 35 Naxals were killed in the encounter, and the body of a dead Naxal recovered. The Maoists have denied 35 deaths, and the body is perhaps that of Mannu Yadav.
16 March, 5 AM, Tarmetla
The village awoke to the sound of forces coming from all four directions. “How will you shelter the Naxals now? How will you cook for them?” screamed uniformed men in black masks dragging Madvi Muka out of his mud hut. Another team of soldiers was close behind, cigarette lighters in hand. A third team was firing in the air.
Those who couldn’t run away were captured. Aimla Jogi, 30, was one of them. Jogi says she was caught by the neck, held at gunpoint, taken into the jungles, beaten with gun butts and sticks, and raped. At some point, she fainted. She recalls seeing a knife but cannot remember what was done with it. Around her eyes are deep cuts. She cannot see clearly. When she awoke hours later in the jungle, the Rs 8,000 tied to her waist was gone, her gold earrings and two nose rings had been snatched off and her house burnt.
“I cannot identify the people who raped me because I fainted,” says Jogi. “Can I still get justice? I want to tell the world what happened. I want them punished.”
The forces left Tarmetla two hours later with two villagers in tow — Madva Aanda and Madva Aita tied with ropes — and at least 207 homes razed. Madvi Muka, 45, returned to his hut to find everything he owns — a few lungis, savings of Rs 2,000, a harvest of 60 bags of rice, and 20 packets of seeds — all turned to debris.
A week later, relief material arrived. Dal, rice, tarpaulin sheets, and Rs 3,000 in compensation for every burnt home. “Are there two different governments?” asks farmer Kowasi Hadma. “Aag lagane wali sarkar aur chawal dene wali sarkar? (A government that burns and another that gives rice). How can they be the same?”
*Names Of rape victims have been changed