Out of Sight, Out of MindFebruary 1, 2010
On the 18th of March, 2008, 14 Maoists of a Dalam (armed squad) were killed by security forces near Dareli, at Pamed, Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. The security forces claimed no casualties in the alleged gunfight while the Maoists claimed that they were poisoned after the police came to know of a meeting. It was a well-publicised local incident that was reported yet what was neither reported nor investigated was the retaliatory killing of at least five villagers deemed ‘informants’ by the Maoists.
Rava Oonga (30), Badse Masa (50), Kovasi Hidme (35), Madkam Durva (70) and Madkam Idma (21) were returning to their villages in Bijapur District from Hyderabad after an election rally for the CPI (ML) New Democracy. They were hacked to death by axes in front of other villagers by a mixed squad of Sangam and Dalam members as suspected informants. Their previous visit to Hyderabad seemed too suspicious to the Maoists who quickly organized a ‘Jan Adalat’ or ‘People’s court’ to condemn them to death.
One villager was from Pallagudem, two from Jeerlaguda and two from Dareli. When their relatives and neighbours were asked about the identities of the assailants and the Maoists who were present during the killing, they replied: ‘Agar hum aapko bol denge, phir woh log humko marne bhi aajayenge.’ (If we tell you who killed them, then they will come to kill us also.)
A majority of the villagers do not reside in their villages anymore. They left without lodging an FIR against the Maoists at Pamed Police Station for fear of being detained by the police as suspected Maoists, and are now, not eligible for compensation. They had initially moved to Andhra Pradesh where their shacks were broken down by Forest Officials. And as it is, it’s not just the Maoists, or the Forest officials they’re afraid of. The neighbouring village of Thadmetla was raided by the Salwa Judum and one man, Sodhi Nando (30) was burnt to death along with his house.
Similarly, as it was previously reported by the Express, the village of Tatemargu in Konta block was raided by the security forces on the 10th of November, and seven villagers (four from Tatemargu, two from Doghpar, one from Pallodi) were allegedly killed by the security forces while more than 60 buildings were burnt down in Tatemargu and 30 homes in Pallodi. Some villagers of Tatemargu had lost around 40 quintals of rice to the fires that consumed their homes.
There were even some allegations of rape that were investigated yet there were no women willing to come forward to give their testimonies. Yet recently, at least, three women from Tatemargu claim to have been raped on the day of the raid, allegedly by members of the security forces who dragged them into the jungle. One woman claims she was held down by two men, and raped by a third who spoke ‘Koya’ – the tribal dialect.
She has neither lodged a complaint at Kistaram Police station for fear of being apprehended by the police as a ‘Maoist’, nor has she any access to a lawyer.
Previous incidents of rape from Samsetti, Bandarpadar and Arlampalli that were investigated and then taken to court led to nothing but the mental and physical harassment of the victims by their assailants. None of the accused SPOs or members of the Salwa Judum have ever been arrested even as warrants have been issued by the courts.
Yet even before the cases of rape are tried as criminal cases, witnesses and victims of all incidents of violence perpetrated by the state, have a tendency to disappear.
Both Katam Suresh (20 months) and his father Katam Dulaiah (20 years) of the village of Gompad are still missing. Katam Suresh lost three of his fingers during an attack on his village on the 1st of October, 2009, when nine villagers were killed. He was last seen on the 14th of January, 2010 at Konta Police station.
Similarly, Rava Jimey (17) and Madkam Sana (22) from the village of Boorgam were traveling to Kuakonda in Dantewada on the 25th of January, 2010. They disappeared somewhere between Konta police station and Dornapal police station and their relatives haven’t heard of them since. They were residing in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh and were going to meet relatives at Kuakonda. The tribals from Chhattisgarh often travel incognito from Andhra Pradesh to South Bastar, claiming to be from other villages and other districts. Many of them travel around 70kms through the jungle to Andhra Pradesh for the regular ‘saptaah’ – market day. Their local markets are often out of bounds to them out of fear of being apprehended by the security forces for questioning.