Marking their first step outside Chhattisgarh,three Class IX boys of Kottaguda village visited Visakhapatnam on an education tour in January. Among the few selected by their school,they were the first students from the south of river Palteru to make the journey. They were awed by the mighty sea and ships in the coastal Andhra town. Two of them instantly dreamt of becoming mariners. The two,Kaka Nagesh and Madkam Ramvilas,were killed by security forces in the biggest Maoist encounter last Friday.
You talk to any teacher,they were among the brightest in our school,always scored first class. I was way below them and now they are gone, says Sandeep Irpa,the third. He was saved by sheer fortune,as he decided to sleep early that night and skipped the village gathering that the forces reportedly mistook to be a Maoist meeting.
It was 15-year-old Nagesh who was described as an important Maoist leader. His teachers and friends laugh. The three lived and studied in a government hostel less than 2 km away in Basaguda.
Ramvilas,also 15,was good at English,says his family. His notebook suggests the same. Even his Sanskrit notebook has a curious note written about the language. Thee,thou,thy and thine ka prayog adhunik angrezi mein nahin paya jata hain.
Yeh shabd kavita mein ya Ishwar ke liye prayog kiya ja sakte hain. (Thee,thou,thy and thine are not used in modern English. But they can be used for God and in poems.)
Nagesh,fondly called Rahul at home,was good at Mathematics,his notebooks tell. Being among the few literate people in the village,elders often asked him to do their counting. In fact,on the night of the encounter,they had called him to calculate the amount required per head for a village function. His body had two deep axe marks on the chest and back.
Relatives said they repeatedly pleaded that they were not Naxals but the forces continued firing.
In 2006,the villages that suffered casualties on Friday Sarkeguda,Kottaguda and Rajpenta were evacuated by the forces during Salwa Judum. The Maoists then ruled the area beyond Basaguda thana and Talperu river. Tribals returned to their homes only in 2009 and the situation gradually improved the administration reached out,especially since Rajat Kumar became collector in November 2010.
Schools and health centres were constructed by local contractors,including a 21-km road from Kodepal Chowk to Avapalli,gateway to Basaguda.
Rahul,Ramvilas and Sandeep were the offsprings of the emerging hope.
So is 20-year-old Kaka Sarita,the first girl of Kottaguda as well as many interior villages to study beyond Class XII and take admission in a professional course BSc (Nursing) over 220 km away in Jagdalpur.
First they kill us,then tell us we are Naxals. Search the entire village and see if you find even a single weapon. Cant they at least say sorry? says Sarita,whose brother Kaka Samiyya was among those killed in the encounter. She was in her Jagdalpur hostel and reached home on Saturday.
In Avapalli town,17 kilometres away,people agree. These killings may push the region back by a few years. Since Rajatji became collector,he took some major steps. Health centres opened,ration shops were set up in interior villages,construction contracts were given to locals and mostly first-time contractors all to gain the confidence of the people. But such incidents demoralise villagers, says Manish Kumar,a young contractor who completed several works in the area.
The morale of the people has suddenly gone down. Such open killings never happened. The administration must take steps to restore the confidence of tribals. Tribals take no time in switching loyalties, says Mukesh Sharma,a confectionary shop owner in Avapalli.
The government still insists that those killed were Maoists.