Armed with an axe, Rukmani Majhi, 45, of Gatibeda village in Sunabeda wildlife sanctuary area, takes a break from household chores every evening to take position on a “morcha” (a fortified platform), along with other men and women of her village, all armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows, to watch out for Maoists.
For the first time since 2008, when Maoists set up base in the area, two villages on the Orissa-Chhattisgarh border, Sunabeda and Gatibeda in Nuapada district — a part of the “liberated” zone — have taken up arms against them. The two villages together have a population of around 4,000, mostly belonging to the Chakotia Bhunjia tribe.
While no district administration official or local police would venture into the area earlier, the Central Reserve Police Force’s (CRPF) CoBRA and Orissa Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel have been camping in the Sunabeda forest rest house since December.
Officials said the change was due to the successful elections in Chhattisgarh. The Maoists had threatened to disrupt the Chhattisgarh polls. But other than some minor incidents, the elections were conducted successfully. According to officials, after the Chhattisgarh polls, people in the two villages started to stand up to Maoists, refusing them food, shelter or any other help.
“This is the first time that we are seeing such resistance against Maoists anywhere in the country. Not everyone wants to help them, but they were doing so till now out of fear. After the Chhattisgarh elections, we got information that locals were rising against the Maoists. It was a conscious strategy to set up camps there, they have to be protected too,” said Dilip Trivedi, DG, CRPF.
“When news of the successful polls reached other states, it was taken as a failure on the part of the Maoists. These two villages started resisting the Maoists and also put up a fight against them with bows and arrows,” said a senior officer.
“We had been going to these areas for combing operations, but this is the first time that we have set up a base there. This would not have been possible without local support,” said another official. Since the two villages are located on the border with Chhattisgarh, they have often provided a safe refuge for Maoists in the past. In fact, the top Maoist leadership reportedly conducted their fourth central committee meeting in February last year in a village called Kodinga in Sunabeda area. While there are 50 other Naxal-affected villages in the area, they are yet to put up any resistance.
Trivedi said the Maoists are now being seen as “outsiders”, as most of them hail from either Andhra Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. “The villagers don’t see any gain in siding with the Maoists. We are hopeful that there will be resistance in other areas too,” he said.
“One grouse among the villagers was that Maoists were taking their children away. This has given them enough reason to put up a resistance,” said an officer.
For Maoists, Nuapada is strategically important as it is the gateway to western Orissa districts of Bargarh, Sambalpur, Bolangir and Kalahandi. If they can dominate Nuapada, it will be easy for them to build a seamless red corridor in western Orissa that connects Bastar in Chhattisgarh to Saranda in Jharkhand. “When we first entered the area last month, we found several villages around the sanctuary that were not even on the Survey of India map. The villagers had no option but to support the Maoists,” said R Jaykumar, a CRPF commandant in charge of the area. The CRPF has sent a detailed report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on the new developments. “We have started by deploying a small team there. After reviewing the situation, we will deploy more men,” said an officer.