Constable-driver Sukhlal Kudada, the sole survivor in the attack on Friday in which five policemen were killed by suspected Maoists in Jharkhand, believes he survived only because he was not in uniform.
“I was in civil dress and sitting inside the vehicle and I think that is why I survived. I saw my colleagues being stabbed and their throats slit, one by one. In less than five minutes, the ambush was over,” says Kudada.
Five policemen of the Tiruldih police station — two Assistant Sub-Inspectors and three constables — were killed in the ambush at 4.45 pm on Friday at Kurku market in Saraikela district.
Chaibasa DIG Kuldeep Dwivedi said police have launched a “sustained operation” to arrest the Maoists involved in the attack.
Kudada, who has been posted as driver at the Tiruldih police station for the last nine months, says that an hour before the incident, he had driven the team of policemen to Ichakdih village to attend to a call regarding a dispute. While returning, he says, they stopped at the Kurku market and all the five policemen stepped into different shops to buy water, cold drinks.
Kudada, who claims he was seated in the car when the ambush began, says, “Suddenly, some people emerged from the crowd and started stabbing (the policemen). They all had bhujali (daggers). I rushed out and tried to save one of them, but one of the attackers swung his bhujali at me and I ran.” He says there were at least four attackers for every policeman who was targetted.
While Kudada says the attackers were armed with bhujaali, Saraikela SP Chandan Kumar Sinha said the policemen had sustained both bullet and stab injuries, and that the Maoists fled with the weapons of the dead policemen. Asked if the Maoists had come without any firearms, he said, “We cannot say so for sure as cartridges, apart from those from police guns, were recovered from the spot.”
It was outside a utensils shop in Kurku market that one of the policemen was killed. Bhagwat Mahto, whose relative owns the shop, says he had come to the market on Friday to buy a goat when the attack happened. On Saturday morning, he has returned to take home the goat which he kept locked in the shop all night. “I first saw blood… people were screaming. I could not understand anything and I ran for my life. Soon, the attackers were screaming ‘Maowadi Zindabad’ and waving guns. A few had towels wrapped around their faces.”
Kudada, however, says he never heard any slogans. He claims that minutes after the attack, he heard gunshots. “The Maoists took three INSAS rifles and two pistols from the policemen and they appeared to be firing from it. They also seemed to video record the incident. This time, I ran for my life,” he says.
Kudada claims that he ran for 10 km, called Bobby Jha, munshi at the Tiruldih police station, and informed him about the attack, after which he took a lift and reached the police station in Tiruldih.
At the station, the munshi, who received a call from Kudada at 5.49 pm, informed his superior, Sub Inspector Dayanand Ram. “I called up senior police officers and a team was sent to the spot. When we reached there, there was complete silence and blood everywhere,” says Ram.
The police station runs with 40 per cent of its sanctioned strength. “Of the sanctioned police strength of 35, we had 15. Now, we have lost five of our colleagues. Our station house in-charge is under suspension and a few others are on leave,” says Ram, now the most senior officer at the police station.
“It could have been any of us… Our jurisdiction was never thought to be unsafe,” he says, worrying that since driver Kudada was the lone survivor, he will now face a lot of scrutiny. “Who knows if he ends up as the suspect…”
DIG Dwivedi, however, said, “The driver is not a suspect as of now. But as I said, we are investigating all possible angles.”