Evening was turning into night, and darkness was beginning to drape Hurrepinjodi. Inside Anturam Hurre’s hut, where he lived with 12 others of his family, they cowered as they heard the hut being surrounded. Then, the Maoists in dark green liveries entered, and asked for Anturam. The family tried to fend them off, telling them he wasn’t home. However, the faces gave them away, and the 22-year-old, hiding in a corner of the small courtyard, was dragged away, along with two brothers.
The Maoists just went 50 metres, before making Anturam kneel down, his hands tied behind his back. They struck thrice, on the back of his neck, with a long knife.
That night on October 1 in Hurrepinjodi, two more youths — Manaklal Hurre (30) and Jayan Hurre (25) — were killed by Maoists.
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The villagers, who spread gobar on the spots, “to cover the blood”, say the Maoists gave no explanation, only telling them the three were police informers. While leaving, they also called out to say they would be back for 15 others. There were women among the Maoist group, as well as youths barely into their teens, the villagers say.
Till a year ago, the Maoists would come to Hurrepinjodi, a cluster of 40 homes in a valley of the Charre Marre hills in Kanker district, at least several times a month. “Then a BSF camp came up in Pinjodi, and they stopped coming… Honestly, we were happy. This was the first time since the camp came up that they returned,” a villager says.
Hurrepinjodi villagers now live in fear, while insisting that none of the three was a police informer. Anturam and Jayan were both temporary staff at the local school, where they cooked occasionally. “Antu was bright, and had applied for a police posting but failed in the medical test. He applied again last year,” a family member says.
However, close to year ago, Anturam and two others had heard that the Naxals suspected them of being police informers, and were looking for them. “The three of them went away to Antagarh for several months but returned because their help was needed in the fields,” a family member says.
The choices before the youth in these parts are limited, the villagers add. “There are areas like Sukma and Bijapur that have no electricity, no schools. We have all that. There is solar-powered electricity, and we have a primary school and a secondary school. Most of the people here, apart from the elders, are schooled. But what after that?” says a villager. “There are three, just three futures available to us — one, become a subsistence farmer like the generations before us; two, migrate for low-paying menial jobs; three, take up a government job, or join the police.”
“For the youngsters who want to get out of this life, it is this third choice that is the most appealing,” adds another villager.
Not sure who told the Maoists that the three youths they killed were informers, Hurrepinjodi villagers are nervous now about things they say being miscontrued. “If someone tells the Naxals we back the police, then there is certain death. If someone tells the police we are giving the Naxals information, there are arrests, surrenders, or sometimes death,” says a villager.
Two days after the killings, senior police officers visited Hurrepinjodi and offered help to the families of the victims. While Anturam was among the primary earning members of his family, Manaklal left behind a wife and six-year-old daughter. Jayan had got married five months ago. A member of Manaklal’s family says they were yet to reply to the government. “If we ask for something, can we also not be killed?” he says.
Police officials claim the civilian killings show the rising desperation of Maoists, especially in districts like Kanker where their “influence has waned”. Says D M Awasthi, Chhattisgarh’s top anti-Naxal officer Special DG Anti Naxal Operations said, “Earlier they would carry out attacks on security personnel to instill fear; show that if we can kill a policeman, we can kill anyone. But now they are being pushed back, and you are seeing them target innocent people…”