Kottacheru is a village in pieces. There are fragments of it across the countryside – the anonymous, forgotten, cursed Muria people of Kottacheru can be found everywhere but at Kottacheru. It was a village born just 25 years ago when the adivasis from Nagaras migrated there to cultivate land. Then came the war.
‘It all started with Pandu.’ Laments Aitu (name changed), a refugee from Kottacheru in Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh. A few years before the Salwa Judum, Vanjam Pandu s/o of Maala (23) was a wanted man by the Maoists. They told him they would kill him for some alleged corrupt dealings and he fled his village of Kottacheru and built a shack right in front of the police station at Gadiras, far up north, hoping that he would be safe.
Eventually, he would be apprehended by the Maoists, then brought before the other villagers of Kottacheru and tied up. After a summary ‘jan adalat’, the Maoists slit his throat.
A while later, his good friend and Sarpanch of Kottacheru, Kovasi Bhime s/o of Idma was killed by the Maoists.
Then there was the infamous Oonga Madkam case. Oonga Madkam (35) s/o Madkam Admaaih was assassinated by the Maoists in 2004. He was travelling by motorcycle between Chetti and Konta – the bordertowns of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He was approached by four assailants on two motorcycles. Then shot in the head. And after he collapsed on the ground, one of the assailants crushed his head with a small boulder. The assailants, young adivasi youth, then shouted ‘Laal salaam! Laal salaam!’ repeatedly and disappeared.
Oonga Madkam left behind four wives, one daughter, seven sons and an unknown number of mistresses. He was also a ‘Janpath Adishak’, who the Maoists also killed for alleged corruption. The current leaders of the Salwa Judum in Konta had close ties to Oonga Madkam.
Then in 2006, the village of Kottacheru was attacked by the Salwa Judum and five persons, Madkam Deva s/o Bhima, Madkam Admaiah s/o Maasa, Madkam Admaiah s/o Linga, Madvi Deva and his father Madvi Bhudra were killed.
Madkam Admaiah s/o Linga was killed by the Salwa Judum as he tried to save his house from burning down. He was the father of the same Oonga Madkam whose head was smashed in by the Maoists at Konta.
Then on the 6th of February, 2006, the Maoists killed nine personnel of the Naga Battalion with the use of an IED near the village of Kottacheru.
And it still doesn’t end there.
‘Nine of our people were killed in our village,’ Said Maala (name changed), another IDP from Kottacheru. But when I asked him for the names of the killed, he only gave me five names – the five people who were killed by the Salwa Judum. Then another woman, reservedly gave me the name of ‘Kovasi Dhoole,’ a young woman who was coming home to Kottacheru. And she wasn’t clear about how she died.
‘Did she die when the Salwa Judum raided the village?’ I had asked.
‘Did the Maoists kill her?’
She was quiet.
Eventually, over the course of six months, after interviewing over 14 villagers of Kottacheru in three different locations in Khammam district, including Kovasi Dhoole’s sister, I managed to piece together the story of Kovasi Dhoole and the story of Kottacheru.
In 2007, Kovasi Dhoole was a young woman on her way from Nagaras to her village of Kottacheru. She was stopped at Errabor police station and allegedly detained against her will. She only reappeared two months later, as a SPO, married to another SPO, a ‘turrka’ or Muslim, according to the rest of the villagers of Kottacheru. They also alleged that she was forced to become a SPO, and there was no ‘consent’ in the marriage.
A while later, on the 9th of July, 2007, a combing operation was ambushed near the village of Gaganpalli by the Maoists. 25 security personnel were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kovasi Dhoole was one of the injured who was abandoned to the Maoists who found her bullet-ridden body. She was still conscious and breathing. Yet there was no mercy killing. For some reason, the Maoists took her injured body and left it at the road, hoping someone would take her to the hospital.
No one did.
Kovasi Dhoole from the village of Kottacheru, bled to death.
This is the short story of violence in the village of Kottacheru. Now what about the even shorter story of justice for the villagers of Kottacheru?
The National Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry Team held a public hearing at Cherla, Andhra Pradesh in 2008 with a few villagers from Kottacheru where they had alleged that their homes were burnt down and looted by the Salwa Judum, and they had given three names of people who were killed by the Salwa Judum and the security forces.
The NHRC team then visited Kottacheru, found the village partially destroyed and completely abandoned. It also could not find any villagers from Kottacheru in any of the Salwa Judum Camps. Thus, they could not ascertain as to who was responsible for the burnings, killings and lootings.
Thus, ends the story of justice for the villagers of Kottacheru. Now what about the shortest story of storytelling for the villagers of Kottacheru?
Anthropologist Nandini Sundar who started to realize the extent of terror and violence unleashed by the Salwa Judum in 2005 had gone to the editors of most prominent mainstream publications and channels and passed on report after report of burnings, lootings, killings and rapes that were taking place in Dantewada and Bijapur District.
‘They just couldn’t believe it was happening.’ She responds, ‘It is a bit unbelievable. The extent of violence.’
Six years after the Salwa Judum, a hundred Kottacherus later, things still remain invisible to the mainstream media. Instead about talking about forest rights, land rights, agricultural development, malnutrition, exploitation, hunger, drought, child labour, dispossession, displacement, rehabilitation, they talk about the Maoists. Instead of attempting to understand what is really causing the violence, they’re asking about the army. And what is the army really going to do?
Besides create a thousand more Kottacherus?