Operation Tribal Hunt?November 28, 2009
‘Witness accounts from the villagers who escaped the recent upsurge of violence in Dantewada’
18 month-old Madvi Mukesh lost three of his fingers during an attack on his mother, allegedly perpetrated by the security forces.
According to witness accounts, nine people were killed by the security forces at the village of Gompad at Konta Block, Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh.
Madvi Yankaiya (age 50) was hacked apart with an axe, according to his brother Madvi Joga.
Madvi Bajaar (50), his wife Madvi Subhi (45), their daughters Madvi Kanama (20) and Madvi Mooti, (8) were killed, as their home was the closest to the approaching forces.
Their neighbours, Soyam Subaiya (age 20) and Soyam Subhi (18) were only married for a year before they were killed.
Two more people were killed from the neighbouring village of Bandaarpar on the same day.
The Adivasis of Bastar have little to no use of the Roman calendar and for this very reason it is hard to calculate the exact date of the attack, or the exact age of the victims. However, there is a consensus amongst the surviving witnesses that this event took place around the first week of October – around the same time, Operation Green Hunt commenced.
Meanwhile, the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada had not announced that an encounter had taken place at the village of Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009. Yet it was announced that an encounter had taken place at the neighbouring village of Nukaltong and Velpocha. The police brought no bodies of the ‘Naxalites’ of Gompad to the police station, but brought two bodies (one from Velpocha, another from Nukaltong) along with 12 bore guns to Konta police station.
On the said day of the attack, most of the villagers of Gompad ran away, hearing sounds of gunfire and screaming, few looked back to see what was happening. They did manage to see that the attackers wore ‘punjaar gadu’, which when translated from Koya to Hindi, means ‘phoolwale kapde’ – an adivasi way to describe jungle fatigues.
Many villagers left with the clothes on their back and the few items they could have carried for the Andhra Pradesh border. After the security forces left, a few villagers returned to their homes to assess the damage. Two homes were burning. And lying before one of these burning homes was one-and-half year old Madvi Mukesh (named changed), covered in blood, crying next to the remains of his mother, Katam Kanama.
Madvi Mukesh was missing three of his fingers. His mother lay in a pool of blood – a fate shared by his maternal grandparents and his eight year old aunt Madvi Mooti.
The villagers who returned to bury their bodies claim they saw numerous stab wounds on the bodies of most of the victims. According to a witness, the one-and-a-half year old boy lost three fingers during the violent attack with a sharp object on his twenty-year old mother. He was, fortunately, spared.
His father was in another village on that day and would only meet his firstborn again when they’d all cross the state border to enter Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. More than half the villagers of Gompad are now Internally Displaced Persons in Andhra Pradesh, living in fear of the Andhra authorities with no intention to return to their village in Chhattisgarh. Interestingly, only the villagers of the Dorla tribe left for Andhra Pradesh, the villagers from the Muria tribe have stayed back at Gompad.
Understandably so, as all the dead are also Dorla whose ‘para’ or section of the village bore the brunt of the assault – hearing gunfire, the rest of the village had enough time to escape into the jungle.
At Gompad, the villagers also claim that there is an equal number of Muria families and Dorla families. The first Muria family started to live at Gompad around twenty-five years ago and now the ratio is almost equal. There have been no intra-tribal tensions between the two in this village.
‘We go to their festivals, they come to ours.’ Said one IDP from Gompad in an undisclosed village in Khammam district.
‘What about the Naxalites? Have the Naxalites done anything to you?’ I asked.
‘Have they done anything good for you?’
‘Sometimes they come and take us for meetings and sometimes they come and ask for food when we barely have enough, but they mostly leave us alone.’
Gompad is an interior village – which means, it is a village off the road, devoid of any government services and is always seen as a ‘Naxalite supporting’ village, by the state.
Villagers never say anything bad about the Naxalites openly for there are fears that there are informers in their midst. However, I often interview villagers alone. I asked another villager.
‘Have the Naxalites ever beaten anyone in the village?’
‘Once, when a man didn’t want to go to a meeting.’
Home Minister Chidambaram might be right when he says that Operation Green Hunt is a media creation – for what is believed to be Operation Green Hunt has been happening in Chhattisgarh consistently over the last four years.
There have been indiscriminate killings of non-combatants taking place in areas that are not under government control by the security forces. All of those killed are termed as Naxalites. Because the press in Chhattisgarh is often harassed and imprisoned for talking to villagers, there were few reporters willing to enter these areas. There are even reports that villagers were punished for talking to reporters and outsiders. Yet the pattern remains – the security forces comb an area, claim they killed Naxalites, and the villagers speak of atrocities – provided someone comes to listen.
Meanwhile, villagers have consistently tried to escape violence and migrated to Andhra Pradesh where their new settlements are often burnt down by the Forest Deparment. However, many villagers do not leave Chhattisgarh and begin to live further into the jungles. Those that escape to Andhra Pradesh do tend to return back to their homes, after further harrasment from the Andhra authorities and the local populace.
Meanwhile, there are 315 new families from Chhattisgarh who have migrated to Andhra Pradesh since October of 2009. Each police station carries a list of local tribal residents and anyone who is not on the list is seen as a suspected Naxalite. Intra-village tensions often take place on the issue of land – a recent event in the village of Maamillavaye at Khammam District, saw the native tribals burning the settlements of the new arrivals from Chhattisgarh. At the same time, they also burnt the settlements of the IDPs who have been living there for the last four years.
At another village of Kamantome in Khammam district, a recent encounter of a Naxalite, would also see nine people of the village detained by the police for six days. Seven of them were released without being charged. Two of them, Madvi Hidma and Sodhi Oonga, are still in Warangal jail, booked under the Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act. Kamantome is a village of the Muria tribe and most of them have been living there for the last four years – escaping the Salwa Judum-Naxalite conflict. They have no ration cards or voter IDs and each villager possesses around two to three acres of land that he is constant dispute over, with their neighbouring native Muria villagers.
Names of the witnesses have been changed or withheld to protect their identities.