He talks hesitantly about why the papers he clutches are dear to him. They are evidence of his father’s proactive leadership that dared to take on the Naxal writ. The papers are about a lift irrigation project Patru Durge wanted the government to construct on the confluence of the Indravati and Bandia rivers in Gadchiroli.
Durge had even visited the Mantralaya to get the project sanctioned. But on April 19, Naxals came to his Damrancha village around midnight and shot him as his family watched helplessly.
“He kept asking them what his crime was. They didn’t show any mercy and even hit his dead body on the head with a big stone,” said his son, Prithviraj.
Prithviraj refused to speak for long before mustering courage to tell his story.
“They left a note saying he was a police informer. They killed him within half a km of the police outpost,” Prithviraj said adding, “how could they tag him a police informer, when he was only working in the interest of farmers?”
A few days after the incident, Prithviraj, wife Hansa, mother Lakshmi, sister Sunita, her three children and his two children shifted from the village to a place they do not want to be identified. “They might kill us too. Before going away, they threatened that if I take police help, they would wipe out the entire family,” Prithviraj said.
They left behind a house and 20 acres of farmland. “We are making do with meagre income I get from a job provided by the government,” Prithviraj said.
The file of papers shows the hard work Patru did, collecting maps, forming farmers’ groups in both villages to provide legal standing to the project, taking gram panchayat resolution for the project and drawing a flowchart of how the scheme will operate.
“He met officials from district to Mantralaya to get the scheme off the ground. Nobody from Naxal affected areas can dare this,” said Prithviraj. “The scheme would have benefited farmers from the two villages and irrigated about thousand acres,” Prithviraj said.
“My dream is to fulfil my father’s dream. I am unable to return to my village. Only the government can help,” he added.
Arvind Sovni, who runs Bhoomkal Sangathan, an organisation opposing Naxal movement, said, “Durge was among progressive Scheduled Caste people that form majority population in many Gadchiroli villages. Dalits in this part are an aspirational lot. Naxals abhor the idea of people participating in government schemes. They claim to be espousing the cause of Dalits and adivasis but kill them brutally if they do not tow their line. They are clearly anti-Dalit.”
Sovni has moved the National Human Rights Commission against Durge’s killing and plans to build his statue at Damrancha.
“Naxals build memorials to their so-called martyrs. We want to raise a memorial to Patru Durge, a martyr of development,” Sovni said.