Even after the end of the anti-Maoist operation in Kumandih forest in Latehar,nobody told villagers in Jharkhands Barkadih panchayat to keep away from Beang,the hill on which they depend for their survival. Neither the state,nor the Maoists. Till Jaspatia Devi,45,had her legs blown off by a landmine when she went up the hill with her husband on July 14.
Jaspatia had stepped on one of the many pressure bombs planted by the Maoists to fortify their position atop the hill where they set up a training camp. After the June 25-July 11 operation by the state police and the CRPF,the Maoists had left this camp and escaped. Though the security forces scaled the hill and destroyed the camp,no demining operation was mounted. Hence,an unknown number and type of landmines lie over a 100-sq-km area,waiting to claim another life.
My parents had gone to Beang hill,10 km from our village Jobla,at five in the morning to pick dori (fruit of the mahua tree). As they were walking back at about 8 am,my mother was some three paces ahead of my father. She was suddenly lifted up by an explosion, says Jaspatias 20-year-old son Vir Kumar Singh. Jaspatia is at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences in Ranchi. Her right leg had to be amputated below the knee,the left may soon follow.
The importance of Beang hill,officially called Rajgarh hill,to the area is obvious from the urgency with which Jaspatia and her husband braved it less than three days after such a massive operation. Villagers go up to collect mahua flowers around March and to pluck tendu leaves by May end. The villagers also get their wood and bamboo from the hill.
The hill has grown in importance as the Rs 450-crore Sarju Area Development Action Plan covers 10 villages in the panchayat. The first significant action under the SADAP has been the allotment of more houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana. In the absence of construction material from the Beang,villagers are being forced to bring it from other,faraway areas.
Villagers of Barkadih panchayat,which falls in the plains,are now terrified of climbing up the hill,a site that used to be the cornerstone of their existence. All along the way from Kumandih railway station to Kurumkheta,people offered the same warning: Dont set foot on the Beang.
Vir says the Maoists have since warned villagers not to go up the hill: Someone from Hata village told me that after what happened to my mother,someone from the Party went to Hata village and prohibited people from climbing up the hill for the next two years.
The fate of a village locally known as Mudhar,which sits atop the Beang hill and which almost exclusively has people of the Parhaiya tribe,is unknown to those in the plains. There are nine families in Mudhar. They are all fine; they move about. Demining is not easy. The landmines cover a hilly area of about 100 sq km, said Latehars Superintendent of Police Michael S. Raj,who had reached Mudhar village along with Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar after the conclusion of the operation.
The police have no intention of clearing the mines till they have to do it for their own safety. We will demine when we go for operations in the region,which is what we usually do. The tactic exposes the ugly face of the Maoists,how they dont care for the people, he said.
But for the villagers,its a familiar narrative of being trapped between the forces and the Maoists. We are like a football. Either side kicks us about as they please, said Dinesh Lohra at Hata village while the pradhan of his village nodded in agreement.