On the 21st of February, 2016, two Koya adivasis who were a part of a traditional hunting party were killed when Andhra Pradesh’s Greyhounds mistook them for Naxalites.
Adivasi hunters Ganga Madkami (50) and Podiami Madkami(40) from the village of Balikota, Malkangiri, were instantly killed when Andhra Pradesh special forces Greyhounds opened fire mistaking them for Maoists
On the 2nd of May, 2016, a fifty year old adivasi man recovering from two bullet wounds fired by the police, asks that in all the days since his friends were killed and he had been shot, did those who shot them get punishment?
Irma Kawaisi s/o Joga from the village of Tumsapally in Kurukonda block of Malkangiri, Odisha is a sole witness and survivor to a case of unwarranted and lethal firing, an incident portrayed as ‘a fierce exchange of fire’, ‘a fifteen minute exchange of fire’, with ‘members of Galikonda Area Committee’, who were on their way ‘to incite locals on the bauxite mining issue.’
Yet what really transpired was that 22 adivasis from the villages of Balikota, Tumsapally, and Nemelguda had set out for their yearly traditional hunt, armed with bows, as well as licensed homemade guns, and had ventured deep into the Puttakota forests in Vizag agency, referred to them as Jantamamri jungle. They were already in the forest for eight days, it takes a whole two days alone to walk to Puttakota. Four of them, including their expert tracker, Podiami Madkami, had set out alone to track a wild buffalo when a burst of lethal firing, instantly killed Ganga Madkami (50) and Podiami Madkami (40) both shot repeatedly in their head and chest.
Irma was shot twice and he managed to escape and hide in a church near the village of Puttakota, while Mukka Madkami, who managed to escape without injuries rushed to inform the rest of the group that scattered back to the village in fear. (Tragically, Mukka Madkami had died of snake bite on the 30th of March: the lack of adequate healthcare and transport in the Kurukonda area is implicit even though the villages are well connected by road. Note to policy-makers: you can build roads, but what do you build them for?)
Yet after the firing, an injured and delirious Irma was found by the police who took him to the hospital where he received treatment for his serious injuries and was released on the 16th of March.
45 days later on the 2nd of May, he is making preparations to go back to the hospital to get the external fixation rod removed from his upper arm.
Irma Kawaisi remembers the first time he had gone on a hunt with his father Joga. He was fifteen years old and had managed to kill a ‘lupi’ with an arrow with the help of another hunter. He has gone on hunts every year since then after the Wijja Pandum (seed festival) or the Aam Pandum (Mango festival). They can be out in the forests for eight days or more, sometimes not encountering any of the animals they pined for: the lupi (cheetal), or the ghoil, the majestic wild buffalo or bison, a beast that can be as large as 600 kilograms, as aggressive as a bear, and as lethal as the hunter. It can take over sixty people sometimes to find and kill a ghoil, yet big or small an animal, the villagers must bring back to the village, the story of success. They will not hunt small animals, and they will not hunt animals that they don’t eat, for instance the bear.
There can be hunting parties as large as ten to a hundred people, in the strange ironies of adivasi history, they hunt as ‘a combing operation,’ scattered in groups, they would try to draw the animal out into a killing zone. Irma recalls how the most memorable hunts were when there were more than a 150 people who would go into the forest.
It’s called veta. The hunt.
Yet on 21st of February, Irma saw two of his friends being shot apart by Greyhounds: it was the first time he had ever seen a human being die. He broke down in sadness, knowing that he could do nothing to help them.
‘How can they fire,’ He asks, ‘We’re not Naxalites, how could they fire without warning? We were in an open area. They did not ask us anything, they could have asked us, and we would have told them we were there to hunt.’
Irma had raised his hands when the firing had started, yet at a distance of mere twenty feet, a Greyhound shot him twice on his upper arms, shattering the upper humerus bone in one arm, and the other now has a metal rod through it. The external wounds may have healed, yet the lack of any physiotherapy has almost led his arms to be listless. Irma feels pain within his bones, he has been sitting upright with his left arm with external fixation rods for 45 days.
It is a point to note that the Andhra Pradesh police, while hushing up the matter, has been cooperating in the treatment of Irma. He was given Rs.5,000 initially as he was discharged by the hospital, and again 10,000 when he had come to get his rods removed. The police also gave Rs.10,000 to the family members of the deceased. The shoot first, ask questions later, ‘and then accuse of being Maoists’ policy seemed to have hit a roadblock in this case, maybe someone with a tinge of conscious realized the immensity of their mistake.
Family tragedies in slow motion
Chandan and Bijudi, the children of Podiamai, who refused to believe their father was killed and Irma Madkami, s/o Ganga who suffers from chronic osteomylitosis.
It was only two days after the firing that the villagers of Balikota knew something had gone wrong.
Hadme, the wife of Podiami Madkami, remembers there was something strange happening the days before the news had come: two ill omens, a cat that kept crying and a long imli branch had fallen on the roof. Eventually, the rest of the hunters from the hunting party had returned back home. The next few days were frantic, four of the sons from the families were taken to identify the bodies. Yet the bodies were not shown to them, the police would show them photographs of their fathers.
It was five days later when the bodies finally reached back to the village.
Soma, the eldest son of Ganga, recalls how his father would tell him about hunting lupis. He, himself has never been on a hunt, and was now returning with his father’s body in an ambulance from Andhra Pradesh, a journey that can take over eight hours.
Irma Madkami is a ten year old boy who moves swiftly with a cane to support himself, his left leg has bent inwards, wrapped in a thick dirty bandage over the knee. He is affable and curious and behaves like the man of the house. He doesn’t know why his leg is the way it is, it has been like that for over three years now, and it had slowly gotten worst by the year.
He is the third son of Ganga Madkami, who was shot dead in Puttakota. Five days after the killings when their bodies were returned back to the village, they would quickly mourn, burn the bodies, and then take Irma to Vishakhapatnam.
This fatherless boy would be diagnosed with chronic osteomyletosis, an infection of the bone or bone marrow.
He did not see his father’s body, nobody really did, they had been shot in their faces.
Chandan and Bijudi are the youngest of Ganga’s children who were studying in Bhubaneshwar at the time of the killings. They were informed by the headmaster about what had happened yet they refused to believe it. They asked that their father be put on the phone.
Nine adivasi children will be growing up without fathers because the state has no standard operation procedure in dealing with adivasi culture. Twenty-two adivasis armed to hunt, as custom demands of them, found in a forest which belongs to them, are automatically Naxalites and shot without warning?
The Human Rights Forum sent notices on the killings to the Odisha Human Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission on the 11th of April itself, yet all they find is a pindrop silence. The Ministry of Home Affairs doesn’t count how many innocent people the security forces kill, for these incidents are not meant to be recorded. Yet the adivasis will remember.
A portrait of Irma.
The Superintendent of Police Mitrabhanu Mahapatra would add later: ” He had a hairline fracture just below the knee two years ago. His parents thought it was better to consult a “disari” than to take him to a hospital. He contracted Bone marrow TB. After three years he was brought to hospital. Doctor said the only solution was to cause an amputation operation.
Just before the amputation operation, he was taken to Care Hospital at Vizag in an ambulance. All kind of diagnosis including a biopsy for possible cancer was done. Finally, one of the best doctors of the town opined it was a case of TB. He was advised to take TB medicine for three months. After three months a surgery will be done to correct his fractured leg. Meanwhile two surgeries were performed on his knee to make some corrections in the veins that supply blood below.”
“We, malkangiri police are taking care of him. Our police ambulance took him to Vizag. We got him into Care Hospital. We spent 56k to get him treated there. We babysitted him during his stay in the hospital.
Why? I have no obligation to his family. Even I don’t know who they are. But I think they have been wronged by fate and/ or otherwise . And MKG police took upon itself to set some wrongs right.”