Sunday, April 11, 2010

Unlisted recruits, uncharted terrain

Mukram, (Dantewada), April 11: Bloodstains by a tubewell and a body in the forest are little to go by to get a picture of “Comrade Rukmati”, identified by the Maoists as one of them killed in the attack in which 76 policemen were slain on April 6.

“Comrade Rukmati”, a three-page leaflet from the Maoist leadership here says, was from Mukram, the village that abuts the killing fields of Tadmetla Tekri. She was a “section commander”.

Mukram was also where the CRPF company and a head constable of Chhattisgarh police accompanying it had dinner on the night preceding the massacre and from where they set out before being ambushed.

The other seven killed were, the Maoists say, Comrade Vagal, also a section commander, from Regadgatta. Regadgatta village is a little off the broken and bombed road from Dornapal, where National Highway 221 runs from Jagdalpur to Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh, to Chintalnaar, the market town here.

Then there is “Comrade Vijjal”, identified as a “deputy section commander” from Palmra village, probably in Andhra Pradesh. “Comrade Engal”, also a “deputy section commander”, was from Kurigudem. “Comrade Raju” was from Kondapalli.

Kondapalli is a village in Andhra Pradesh known for the wooden dolls its residents make but probably made more famous by the founder of the erstwhile Peoples’ War Group, Kondapalli Seetharamaiah. The Maoists’ leaflet did not say if it was the same Kondapalli.

“Comrade Mangu” is from Rengam village, in Konta block, and “Comrade Ramal” is from Morpalli, a little distance into the forests from Chintalnaar, the market town where the CRPF company was based. It still has a camp full of the angry policemen who are raging at everything — from the quality of their Insas rifles (“that only maim and do not kill”), to the malaria that is taking a toll on them, to the denial of the existence of Operation Green Hunt (“are we then here for a picnic?”) and, mostly, at the Muria and Gond tribals in the villages around who they say are all Maoists.

The last named in the Maoists’ list of martyrs is “Comrade Ratan” of Jhadka village.

This is a strange list of non-people from non-villages that India will not count among its own during the census that the Centre has initiated. The Chhattisgarh administration has circulated a list of 108 villages in Dantewada’s Konta block where census volunteers will not venture into. Mukram, Regadgatta and Morpalli are on the list.

In mounting the attack on April 6, however, it was from among these non-people that the Maoists recruited their soldiers. Rukmati of Mukram is the first named in the list of “martyrs” or “murderers”, depending on your point of view.

Mukram today is desolate. The village has four hamlets — Pujari Para, Patel Para, Nadi Para and Boja Para. The first two are on the left of the road to Chintalnaar, on the same side where most of the bodies of the CRPF troopers were found. They are about 300 metres off the road.

Walking through Mukram, in search of a soul in the afternoon, shouting “koi hain?” evokes only the lowing of the cows, hungry because they have probably not been fed for two days.

The Pujari Para hamlet melds into the forest of sal, mahua and palm trees. Each of the 30 mudhouses and one brick hut here is bolted.

There are two tubewells, one of which tells a tale. On the cemented basin under the tap are two fading bloodstains. Was a bleeding Rukmati brought here to have her wounds washed? Was it an injured policeman? Did the person survive?

The other hamlets, too, are deserted. But in Muriapara of Chintalnaar, 3km from Mukram, one man says that over the years the tribals have built alternative shelters for themselves deeper in the forests among the hillocks. He’s never heard of Rukmati.

“When the police move in, we move out,” he says simply. In 2005, he says, the Salwa Judum, the vigilante anti-Naxalite force, came to Mukram, torched a hut and took a boy and two girls to their camp in Jagurgunda.

Saturday is market day in Chintalnaar. Chintalnaar has a mixed population, descendants of erstwhile Bengalis resettled in Dandakaranya, a few families from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

On Saturdays, the owner of a sweet shop says, the tribals come from the surrounding villages — Kottaguda, Raiguda, Tomriguda, Tadmetla, Narsapuram, Bhattiguda, Revalipara, Mukram and Tomguda — to buy weekly provisions.

Not one person turned up this Saturday, four days after the killings. “They are afraid the police are just waiting and will go after them,” a villager said.

Indeed, the police are. In the CRPF camp, the men are mostly out of uniform, in vests and shorts, bathing, trying to call home in villages in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal over mobile phones that have shaky networks from the state-owned service provider. It is five years since electricity supply to Chintalnaar was cut.

The men here are from the Alpha and Golf companies of the CRPF’s 62nd battalion. “We can’t go on like this. Sometimes I wish I come down with malaria or typhoid because then they will send me home,” one constable said.

Another shouts “you send us here with such little in hand and then you media-wallahs report that it is our fault we are getting killed!” So what does he want? “The air force. Without the air force, we cannot go through an ambush party,” he shoots back.

The soldiery of a non-people had suddenly become an army risen from parched red earth to craft India’s biggest insurgent strike.

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