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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Stories of the Dead

On June 28,17 people were killed in what police called the “biggest Naxal encounter” in Chhattisgarh. Who were the 17 killed that night?

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj |
July 8, 2012 2:39:07 am

On the night of June 28,three joint teams of the CRPF,Special Task Force and the district police moved from different spots in Sukma and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh towards Silger—a forested area where top Maoists from Orissa were supposedly camping. According to the police,none of the teams could reach Silger as they met with resistance from Maoists. The team that set off from Chintalnar in Sukma district had a brief encounter in which two alleged Naxals were killed. The second team from Jagargunda in Sukma district too met with some resistance but there were no casualties,say police. The third team,which set off from Basaguda in Bijapur and was led by S Elango,CRPF DIG (Ops),Bijapur,crossed Talperu,a river beyond which the police had hardly ventured earlier. Seventeen people were killed here in what police called “the biggest Maoist encounter”.

Once among the most prosperous and picturesque regions of Bastar,the villages here—Sarkeguda,Kottaguda and Rajpenta—were evacuated by the forces during the days of the Salwa Judum. Forces and Maoists openly laid sieges on either side of the Talperu until villagers returned to their homes in 2009. The recovery was gradual. The villagers—all tribal,BPL families who worked as marginal farmers—got a school,a ration centre,some shops. The bus service resumed. Still,beyond the Talperu lay the forest whose topography forces knew only through Google images.

That night,the security forces took a route they had never been onto before,they say. A few minutes from the Basaguda thana,from where they had set off,they reached Sarkeguda village and chanced upon a ‘Maoist meeting’. An ‘encounter’ followed,leaving 16 people dead (one person died in hospital later). The alleged encounter took place in the middle of the night,yet all bodies were recovered. (Naxals usually never leave behind bodies of their cadres.) And despite “heavy firing from Naxals for hours”,only three bharmars (country-made firearms) were found.

The next day,the police struggled with the crime records of the people they called “hardcore Naxals”. Of the dead,three ‘Naxals’ were initially named—Madkam Suresh,Irpa Somulu and Korse Bichham. Four more names were included later. All except Madkam Suresh were residents of Sarkeguda,Kottaguda and Rajpenta,the villages that fall under Basaguda thana,from where the team set off for the ‘operation’.

Among those killed were two boys who studied and lived in a government hostel adjoining the thana. Many of the others who died that night routinely crossed the thana and several CRPF camps in between to visit the nearest town Awapalli. Even two days after the incident,the policemen in the Basaguda thana were clueless about the Naxal records of the dead.

Kottaguda village

1Saraswati. 12 years. The youngest victim. No Naxal record. Never went to school. Stayed at home or played in the fields. Her family does not have any belonging of hers left. Mother Kaka Sinakka searches for her photograph,fails. They cremated everything along with her body a few hundred metres away. Father Kaka Rama is a marginal farmer,grows mostly rice and tamarind.

2Kaka Samaiyya. 35-40 years. No Naxal record. Survived by four children and wife Kaka Negi. His sister Kaka Sarita,20,is the first girl in many villages in the region to study beyond class XII and take admission in a professional course. She is studying for her BSc (Nursing) 220 km away,in Jagdalpur,and lives in a hostel. She returned home a day after the incident. She doesn’t know when or how she will resume her studies.

3Kaka Nagesh alias Rahul. 15 years. A class X student of a government residential school in neighbouring Basaguda,“he was the brightest among us”,says classmate Irpa Sandeep. Rahul,Sandeep and Madkam Ramvilas,another teenager who was killed in the encounter,visited Visakhapatnam on an education tour organised by the school in January. Awed by the sea and the ships in the coastal town,he instantly dreamt of becoming a mariner. He was good at mathematics and villagers say they had called him to the meeting that night to calculate the amount required per head for Beej Pundum,a village function. In his notebook were calculations he had made a month ago for the function.

In his press conference after the encounter,Home Minister P Chidambaram called Rahul an “important Naxal”. He faced two cases. One,on October 24,2009,when he was 12 and,according to the police,fired at the police near the Talperu. Second,for allegedly firing at a police party in December 2011 near Timapur,a nearby village. But for the past three years,Rahul had been living in a hostel adjoining the Basaguda thana and a CRPF camp,but the police never arrested him. Father Kaka Narain died years ago of tuberculosis. Mother Kaka Laxmi and Rahul’s three siblings show his newly bought books. Aunt Kamla is a mitanin prerak (midwife trainer) of the panchayat.

4Madkam Ramvilas. 15 years. No Naxal record. He was Rahul’s classmate. His family says he always got a first division,was good at English. His Sanskrit notebook has a curious entry on the second page: “Thou,Thee,Thy,Thine ka prayog adhunik angrezi mein nahi paya jata hai. Ye shabd ishwar ke liye ya kavita mein prayog ho sakta hai. (Thou,Thee,Thy,Thine are not used in modern English. They can be used for God or in poems).” His sister Ratna has kept the class X books he was to study this year. Another notebook has an NOC written by him in Hindi on behalf of his mother Nagamma before his Visakhapatnam school tour. “I have no objection in sending my son. The school will not be held responsible for any anhonee (unforeseen circumstances) during the travel.”

5Madkam Dileep. 22 years. Studied up to class VIII. His father Madkam Mutta says he went to Basaguda thana the day after the encounter to collect his body but the policemen there did not let him in. They allowed him to take the body only after he pleaded for hours. Police say Dileep had fired at a police party near Talperu river on October 24,2009.

6Irpa Munna. 23 years. No Naxal record. His father Irpa Raju says he climbed up a tree to save himself during the firing at night. As he came down in the morning,cops saw him and fired at him. He tried to run but bullets hit him in the back. “They then followed him to his hut and beat him up with bricks,” he says. Blood stains are visible on the kachha floor of the hut.

7 Madkam Suresh. 35 years. He was arrested with his mother Shanta during the days of the Salwa Judum in 2007 when thousands of tribals were sent to jails. Shanta was released later. Suresh managed to escape during the Dantewada prison break of December 2007 with other 298 inmates. He then returned to his village,married and had two children. While the police call him a “hardcore Naxal”,his family says the earlier case was fake. His brother Satyanarain says,“If he was a Naxal,would he come to settle in the village,marry and have children?” Besides the jailbreak case,he has four cases against him—one in January 2007,three in April 2007. All have the same charge—firing at police parties with an intention to kill them.

8Madkam Nagesh. 32 years. A professional dholak player,he played his dholak during village festivals. He and Madkam Suresh were brothers. Their wives share the same name—Madkam Shammi. “Agar Naxali hota dholak bajaane shaadi mein jaata?” his sister Sushila asks. Nagesh’s wife is pregnant. He was booked in a September 2006 case for firing on a police party.

9Irpa Dinesh. 35 years. Police call him Irpa Somulu,a Naxal,and claim his identity is dubious as he was not a resident of any of the three villages. Villagers strongly deny this. They say he is Irpa Dinesh and that there was no Irpa Somulu in any of the villages. He lived with wife Janki and three children. The family says the police did not give them his body. “He was a uniformed Naxal. No one came to collect his body and so he was cremated behind Basaguda thana,” says SP Prashant Agarwal. “Why would we not give them his body? Why would we take the burden of cremating someone?” he says. Incidentally,both the Chhattisgarh police and the CRPF say that he was a prominent Naxal but he does not figure in the list of Naxalities that the Chhattisgarh police prepared after the encounter.

Sarkeguda village

10Sarke Ramanna. 25 years. No Naxal record. He is survived by his wife Somli and a two-year-old daughter. He was a marginal farmer. Somli has gone absolutely quiet since the encounter. She only stands still. Neighbours talk and narrate the incident.

11 Maadvi Aayutu. 33 years. Survived by his wife Kamli and four children. “How will I take care of my children?” says Kamli. Aayutu was a Naxal,police say. He was booked for two cases—killing a Special Police Officer in July 2007 and looting villagers in July 2010.

12 Korse Bichham. 18 years. His parents died years ago and he lived with his brother and sister-in-law Korsa Mangli. She remembers him as the boy who would sometimes help them in their tiny farmland and mostly idle away in the thickets. He has two cases against him—from October and December 2011—for allegedly attacking a police party “with an intention to kill”.

13Kunjam Malla. 17 years. No Naxal record. His sister-in-law Kunjam Nange gropes for words.

14Irpa Narayan. 45-50 years. He is survived by his wife Sita and four children. The family said their ox and a pig were also killed by bullets. “We survived the Salwa Judum days. This is worse. It will be difficult to overcome this,” she says. He was booked in a December 2011 case for attacking a police party.

15Apka Mitthu. 17 years. A school dropout,he was a marginal farmer. His uncle Apka Chinu,an eyewitness,survived to tell the tale. “After feeding our cow,I went to attend the village gathering. The firing began around 10 p.m. I did not run,I simply lay on the ground and remained that way until the police left.”

16 Irpa Dharmaiyya. 40 years. No Naxal record. Manjula,the youngest of his five children,is just a few months old. She sleeps in a wooden cradle. Dharmaiyya’s wife has gone to collect ration in Basaguda,leaving her infant behind. With Dharmaiyya gone,his family is left to fend for themselves. 17Irpa Suresh. 18 years. He was among the seven injured the police party took with them for treatment. Suresh was shifted to Bijapur district hospital where he died on Friday night. His relatives brought the body on Saturday afternoon. No Naxal record.

Meanwhile…

According to the police,the Chintalnar team of the security forces met with resistance from Naxalites and two ‘Naxals’,Sodi Dulla and Madkam Lachcha,were killed. A .303 rifle and a bharmar were allegedly recovered from them.

After the June 28 encounter,security forces brought with them seven of the injured. Two of them,Apka Sotu and Irpa Sinakka,were shifted to a Jagdalpur hospital and two others,Kaka Senti and Madkam,were moved to Raipur. With no news of them,their families had taken them for dead,until they saw their photographs on a reporter’s laptop. They now worry about their return.

Three of the injured remained at Bijapur. Of them,Irpa Suresh died on Friday night. Kaka Ramesh and Kaka Parvati,siblings in their mid teens,are in a Bijapur hospital. Both are residents of Kottaguda. The bullets scraped their arms. The siblings have recovered now and want to return home. Their account of that night is similar to that of the villagers—they had gathered to discuss Beej Pundum when the police attacked them; it wasn’t a Naxal meeting,they say.

At Kottaguda village,a pig is rotting. Two bullets stuck in the torso,one in the jaw. The village priest invokes deities to ward off evil. Tribals collect the bloodstained soil and the priest chants mantras. The soil will be deposited at the cremation ground,they say. They believe the ghosts will be buried and the villages purged.

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