Dantewada: Terror and Counter-terror
‘When the adivasi picks up the gun and becomes a Maoist does he really cease to be a human being? Or just as human as us?’
The killing of 73 security personnel is unprecedented in South Bastar. The previous major attack took place in Ranibodli on the 15th of March 2006 when the Maoists had attacked a police camp in the dead of night and literally butchered 55 policemen. The word ‘butchered’ would be used as there was no fair fight. The policemen were caught surprised and many of them were too inebriated to fight. By morning, the camp lay in cinders, the bodies mutilated and all the weapons had disappeared. Only three CRPF personnel had survived as they hid in the nearby tribal girl’s hostel. When Maoists inquired if anyone was there, the girls claimed there was no one with them. That was all that saved them – young tribal girls, not their guns.
Tuesday’s attack has taken place in the dead of the jungle during a combing operation at six or seven in the morning. While there have never been so many killed during encounters or ambushes in one incident, history can tell us that Maoists have consistently inflicted casualties on security forces over the last few years.
On the 19th of July 2009, 29 security personnel including the Superintendent of Police were killed in an ambush in Rajnangaon, Chhattisgarh. In Dantewada itself, 25 security personnel including SPOs were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire in Gaganpalli on the 9th of July 2007. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades.
Around a year ago, on the 10th of April 2009, 10 security personnel were killed in the forest near Chintagufa. 19 more were wounded, while only three Maoists were killed. The Maoists were soon announcing the attack as revenge for the Singaram massacre when 19 innocent tribals were allegedly killed by the security forces. But it never stops. 12 more policemen were killed in Dhamtari on the 11th of May, 2009. 12 more were killed when their truck was hit by an IED near Tongpal in Dantewada on the 20th of June, 2009. The list is almost endless.
Ambushes and IED blasts are routine affairs yet casualties can range from anywhere from 10 to none. At Koyras on the 2nd of May, 2009, an IED blast followed by gunfire left three CRPF personnel with a few scratches, while an IED blast a few days earlier near Bijapur town had killed three personnel who were traveling by an anti-landmine vehicle.
And the one thing no one (but the security personnel) want to admit, is that the Maoists are a very capable guerilla force and every time the forces enter the jungle, the PLGA or the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army have the upper-hand. Across rough hilly terrain, across thick jungle, over a hundred security personnel tend to move at a snails pace, hoping to avoid IEDs or Maoist ambushes. The Maoists may be barefoot, but they are mobile and hidden and they know the terrain in-and-out. They always have the first shot, hidden deep within the jungle. The security personnel on combing operations can only return fire, or counter-attack, but by the time they’re aware of what’s happening, the PLGA disappears.
How are they going to militarily deal with the Maoists is beyond one’s imagination.
Of course, no one would want to admit that the adivasis gain absolutely nothing from Maoist attacks on police personnel as well. The Maoists would probably refer to the killing of 73 CRPF personnel as a major victory, but would the adivasi care? Does the killing of police personnel stop displacement? Does it protect his home and his village? Will the 700 villages that were burnt down or emptied by the Salwa Judum be rebuilt? Will it bring back the countless adivasis who were killed in fake encounters? No. Every attack that takes place, in whatever part of Dantewada or Bijapur district has only one direct consequence – the counter-terror unleashed onto the local populace. And the Maoists are fools if they believe that they are not responsible for the terror that would be unleashed onto the local population by the state.
I can imagine the numbers 73-74-75-76 repeating themselves, over and over again in the minds of the CRPF soldier manning a machine gun nest, or interrogating Muria men during combing operations. Fear breeds violence. Blood follows blood. Terror and counter-terror.