Maoists have demanded release of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) activists in exchange for Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka. While the CMAS is believed to be a Maoist front fighting for tribal land rights in Orissas Naxal belt,at the heart of its rise lie allegations of strong-arm tactics by security forces.
The tarred roads that snake up the hills on way to Narayanpatna block in Koraput district are smooth but treacherous. Ringed by mountains stripped bare of trees,Narayanpatna is a photographers delight. But Suresh Nachika,a youth in Bhaliaput village,says he knows better than to relax his guard about strangers on that road. A CMAS member,he has many cases against him.
Talking about the frequent combing operations by BSF,he says: We cant collect firewood from our own forest. Several of my neighbours have been thrashed by the jawans who accuse us of siding with Maoists.
One person the BSF,camped about 1 km from Bhaliaput,desperately wants is Nachika Linga,the CMAS Narayanpatna block head.
Rubbishing allegations of high-handedness,IG (anti-Maoist operations) Y B Khurania says if anyone has any complaint,they could lodge a complaint with authorities like the SP. No one will be spared if such cases come to our knowledge.
It is in the past four years that Narayanpatna emerged as one of Orissas biggest Maoist hubs,with attacks on policemen leaving scores dead. Authorities say the turning point was the November 2009 firing on CMAS activists at the Narayanpatna police station that left two tribals dead. A group led by Nachika Linga had gathered to protest against police harassment. However,an inspector saw it as an attack on the camp and ordered firing.
As police slapped cases against 89 tribals,including CMAS men,it brought the CMAS closer to the Maoists. Almost all CMAS activists named in the case have since been acquitted,but 40-odd continue to be in jail. Their release is one of the demands listed by the Maoists for letting off MLA Hikaka.
Among those behind bars is Ulaka Singana of Basnaput village. His daughter Sashmi is reluctant to talk but a villager speaks up: Here people have been picked up up from their fields while tilling. At night no one feels safe.