Sunday, April 11, 2010

Body of Suklu, tale of Rukmati


The milestone in Chinta Gufa. Picture by Siddharth Anand
Mukram (Dantewada), April 11: On the way back to Mukram, the vehicle in which we are travelling is trapped in a camouflaged trench cut by the Maoists.

Blessed are we that travel on roads here that are not mined with deadlier stuff. Three non-people emerged from the forest to help and pushed the vehicle out.

Drunk on mahua at 4 in the afternoon, Mangdu Kunjam and his two friends said they were returning home after burning the body of Mangdu’s brother, Suklu Kunjam. They found the body in the forest after a two-day search near Tadmetla Tekri where 76 policemen were killed.

And, no, they could not recall anyone by the name Rukmati, identified by the Maoists as one of their own killed in the attack. In any case, they were looking for Suklu.

Suklu was missing since Wednesday morning, a day after the massacre. The police, they alleged, came and took him away. They do not know what happened afterwards.

Suklu is a grandfather. Mangdu is the youngest of four brothers. Suklu was the eldest.

If Mangdu and his two friends were not drunk in the daytime after the ritual of burning human flesh and bone over dried wood and twigs of lantana bush, they would have been hiding in the forests too like everyone else in this 130-house village on either side of the road that abuts the killing fields.

Mangdu walks us through a patch of forest to the place where he said his brother’s body was found after a two-day search. He leads the way, probing the ground with a stick before taking each step. Where the body was found the brush had been flattened.

When they found Suklu this morning amid the brush near Tadmetla Tekri, the hillock from where the policemen were ambushed, he was dead. Blood had oozed from his right ear. The skin on his hand was peeling and the corpse was swollen.

So they took the body away and cremated it. They did not think about taking it to a hospital for a post-mortem or to a police station, or to the panchayat. A non-person was killed. There is no record that he was even alive. Why to record when and how he died?

In Chinta Gufa, halfway to Dornapal where there is a plaque in memory of CRPF troops killed exactly a year back and a milestone that reads “Welcome to Heaven”, the sentry at the police station notes down the registration number of the car and matches it with the number that the guard had taken down in the morning.

Two youths on a motorcycle follow us. In Dornapal, one of them identifies himself as Akhilesh Kumar Shukla. “I know everything about these bastards (Maoists) because I am from Chintalnaar,” he says. “But I was afraid to come up and talk to you and be seen by the CRPF.”

Shukla is 28 years old, he says. He has a house in Chintalnaar where he was born. “I want a gun to shoot these people down. But I don’t want to be a ‘special police officer’, I want to be in the district force.”

Special police officers are an auxiliary cadre hired by the police and many of them are former Salwa Judum activists. Graffiti reading “Salwa Judum Zindabad” abounds in Dornapal.

Shukla claims he even knew who Rukmati was. “She is originally from Tadmetla but married a man in Mukram and moved there. She was also called Pooja and was about 18 or 19 years old and had gone to school. She left her husband when someone gave her a black automatic gun with perforations in its barrel and she became a Maoist,” he said.

So Rukmati deserted her husband and became a Maoist simply because someone gifted her a carbine? Non-people throw up such improbably strange stories.

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