In Bastar, the un-sanitized war is brutal, unforgiving and uncompromising. And it’s impact on families has been specifically devastating. Battles aren’t just fought in the jungles – this a war where villages are the battlefields, homes are the trenches and your family is a weapon and a target.
Kosa Mangli was a Special Police Officer from the village of Hirapur in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. The Maoists killed her father Mangoo with an axe soon after she became an SPO during the first few months of the Salwa Judum. They then threw his body a kilometre from the police station where she was posted. A year later, they killed her mother Lakhi too. Kosa is no longer a SPO. She was taken into the regular police.
Such incidents are not isolated, nor are families of combatants, only a target to the Maoists.
Padmakka w/o Balakrishna, resident of Ramnagar, Hyderabad was arrested in August 2007 in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh and was booked under section 302, 149 of the IPC, and 27 (1) of the Arms Act. No evidence was produced against her and she was acquitted of all charges on the 10th of August 2009, and the Bilaspur High Court had ordered her to be released from Central Jail, Raipur.
She then disappeared from custody.
Her lawyer would wait the whole of 11th August for her and the jail authorities claimed she was released on the 10th of August, 2009. He would file a Writ Petition (Habeas Corpus) against the State of Chhattisgarh, fearing for her life, and demanding she be produced.
But in reality, two days after she was acquitted of all charges, she was re-arrested from Central Jail, Raipur, and booked under section 147, 148, 307 of the IPC, and section 25 and 27 of the Arms Act, and remanded to judicial custody.
Padma w/o Balakrishna, was now identified as Padma w/o Rajana, a resident of Bhopalpatnam, Bijapur, who was shot dead in an encounter on the 15th of October, 2006, in the Ballampalli forest. Padma w/o Rajana was a Mangi squad commander and was a known Maoist, and a warrant for her arrest was issued on the 4th of October, 2001 by the Chief Judicial Magistrate A.S. Chandel and was executed by ASI Ravindra Yadav on the 12th of August, 2009, when he arrested the recently-acquitted Padma w/o Balakrishna from Central Jail, Raipur.
On the 20th of August, Padma had gone on a hunger strike in prison, to demand her rights to inform her advocate and her family of her situation. She also demanded to write a letter to the magistrate who remanded her. She was granted those rights, and continued to languish in prison on a case against a long-dead Padma.
Later on the 10th of March, 2010, her new court date drew nearer. Yet Padma w/o Balakrishna, was not produced in court, as ‘the authorities said there was no escort’, according to her lawyer V.V Balakrishna, who was carrying evidence of the death of Padma w/o Rajana – the testimony of her son and husband, their photos in telegu dailies speaking about their Maoist-mother. But it didn’t matter, two more Padma ‘cases’ were now attached to Padma w/o Balakrishna.
And why all of this? Was this just a simple case of mistaken identity? No – Her husband Balakrishna AKA Bhasker Rao is a known Maoist and the member of the Andhra-Orissa Border Committee.
Treatment meted out to family members of known-Maoists has had a long history in the Red Corridor, especially in Andhra Pradesh. Padma being just another instance in the abuse of a legal system that neither protects one’s rights nor does it establish any Rule Of Law, as instances such as these give the Maoists arguments to challenge the legitimacy of the Indian state.
And you don’t need the mainstream media to tell a Maoist-husband how his wife is kept in jails. Even then, every instance of state terror, they use frequently and vocally, to justify counter-violence.
Senior Maoist leader Ramanna, one of the masterminds of the Tadmetla encounter, in a recent telephone interview with Tehelka magazine had stated, ‘The security forces are now torturing and raping innocent tribal women and girls.’ (Referring to the recent allegations of rape committed by the security personnel in the villages around Chintalnar.)
‘I know most of them (the forces) are from poor families.’ He had continued, ‘Some of them are also tribals. But that is no excuse for atrocities they are inflicting on women and girls. We will conduct a similar ambush like the one we did at Chintalnar and Chintagufa and teach them a lesson ’
And to avenge rapes allegedly committed in Dantewada district, 27 jawaans die in Narayanpur District on the very day Ramanna had issued his statement.
This brutality and intensity of blind terror shows no sign of subsiding.
‘I may have never seen combat, but this, this is as bad as it could get.’ Said Head constable R. N. Bhairagi of Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur, ‘It just keeps getting worst.’
Over the last few months, every other wounded, dismembered and dying jawaan from Narayanpur, Dantewada to Bijapur District, would arrive at his hospital; the closest to the theatre of war. And there hasn’t been just one or two wounded men, who’ve stepped on landmines, or had their faces and limbs blown off whose last moments he has witnessed. 76 killed. 8 killed. 31 killed. 26 killed. That’s just been since April.
Of course, this brutality that shatters families, creates widows and leaves fathers and mothers without their sons, has been around for years and is an everyday part of life for the adivasis, especially since the fratricidal Salwa Judum-Maoist terror campaign turned friends and families apart.
‘Woh, mera bhai lakta hai,’ (He’s like a brother to me), said M, from X village in the ‘liberated-zones’, about one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum in Konta – Soyam Mukha.
‘We studied together.’
‘Do the dadas (the Maoists) know about this relationship?’
‘If they did, I’d never be able to live at home.’
Today, apart from the dreaded ‘encounters’, the adivasis are frequently subjected to beatings, interrogation and as they are released there itself, it is seldom reported. During combing operations, forces often interrogate villagers (out of procedure), beat, threaten, and force them to act as guides through the jungle (out of need).
To state the obvious that is not obvious anymore: one doesn’t seem to notice that these aren’t criminals we’ve gone to war against, these are families. These are people living to face a brutal police force with their mothers and grandmothers, daughters and infant sons. Farmers who till their land, parents who work to feed their children. Maoists themselves often constitute of husband and wife squad members, often eventually widowed to be then driven by more blind vengeance. Many who’ve gone underground even leave behind families, who’re constantly under surveillance and aware that every phone call and meeting place could mean a death-trap.
‘She made her choice, as a Gandhian I may disagree with her views, but I have to accept her.’ Says K, a husband of a Maoist, long underground who he hasn’t even seen in more than a year.
Adivasis, of course are all suspected Maoists, by a simple twist of fate, a weird matter of geography – you just happen to be living for centuries on the highest-value iron ore and the Maoists come and visit you once in a while, and refer to your village as a ‘liberated zone’.
‘The forces need to go comb further in the jungles,’ Said, Ajay Singh, a Salwa Judum leader from Bairamgarh in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh in March of 2009.
He was complaining that the government had abandoned the Salwa Judum and the police didn’t conduct their operations properly. But someone took his advice, and combing operations took place in September and October, 2009, further in the interior villages or the ‘liberated zones’ of Gompad, Nukaltong, Velpocha, Gacchanpalli, Pallecharma, Gattpad, Tatemargu, Pallodi, where numerous reports of innocent civilians being killed surfaced in the media.
For instance, as reported by the New Indian Express in November 2009, 18 month old Kattam Suresh of Gompad, lost three of his fingers, his 20 year old mother, his eight year old aunt, and both his maternal grandparents when the forces raided their village in the first week of October 2009. And as of now, he was last seen detained in Konta Police station along with his father on the 14th of January, 2010.
‘The DGP is not listening….The point is when you are given an assignment the first thing you need to do is become a part of the solution. The illegal killings have contributed to the problem. So if you are party to it then you become a part of the problem,’ CRPF Special-Director General Vijay Raman had told The Week magazine a few days ago.
The Director-General hadn’t mentioned where these ‘illegal killings’ took place. But do families permit a ‘legal’ killing of their loved ones?
Sadly, what should be the last option (an escalation of fratricidal violence), is the first opted by the government, and the Maoists themselves have shown no restraint.
Post-Script- Family Album