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 police and CRPF,they left this camp and escaped. Although the forces scaled the hill and destroyed the camp,no demining operation was mounted. As a result,an unknown number of landmines lie over a 100-sq-km area.
My parents had gone to Beang hill,10 km from our village Jobla,at 5 am to pick dori (fruit of the mahua tree). As they were walking back around 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 was 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 the 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.
Villagers of Barkadih panchayat,which falls in the plains,are now terrified of climbing the hill. 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 the hill for the next two years.
Demining is not easy. The landmines cover a hilly area of about 100 sq km, said Latehar SP Michael S. Raj. 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.