Rumours swirling around Mukram suggest that this adivasi village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district may soon be abandoned. “There is talk of going to Orissa or Andhra [Pradesh],” said a prominent adivasi leader with familial ties here. “It could happen in as little as a week. Villagers say there is too much pressure from both the Maoists and the police.”
A mid-sized village of about 100 houses, Mukram shot to prominence as the site where an ill-fated company from the 62nd Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) rested on the night of April 5. At dawn the next day, the company was ambushed by about 300 cadres of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), resulting in the death of 76 security force members.
In a statement released after the attacks, the CPI(Maoist) praised the efforts of comrade Rukhmati, a Maoist commander and Mukram resident, who was killed in the ambush. On May 11, TheHindu reported the death of Kunjam Suklu, a Mukram resident who, his family members allege, was beaten to death by the CRPF in a fit of retaliatory rage.
At the time, Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra denied the claims made by the villagers.
In a recent visit to Mukram, TheHindu found the village still buffeted by the tailwinds of the extraordinary violence of the past two months. “Police came to our village on Saturday morning [May 22],” said Aimla Rame, “No one was spared. The CRPF beat every man, woman and child they could find and they took away my husband, Aimla Nanda.”
Aimla Nanda is the elected sarpanch of Mukram. In 2004, Maoists tied Nanda to a tree when he spoke against them for demolishing the village school. Now, villagers claim, Nanda is being illegally detained at the CRPF camp in Chintalnar, 3 km from Mukram.
Apart from Nanda, four other men are missing since Saturday. When combing operations began in September 2009, Kunjam Ganga (22) made himself an ersatz identity card to prove he wasn’t a Maoist, but his wife Nande said he never got a chance to show it to the police. “The soldiers burst into our house and dragged him away,” she said.
The wives of Nuppo Bhima, Nuppo Hidma and Madavi Kosa showed bruises that they said were inflicted on them when they tried to rescue their men from the police.
Madavi Deva (25) can barely walk. “Four policemen threw me to the ground, split my legs and kept kicking me in the groin,” he said.
Three women, Madavi Nandi, Madavi Pojje and Madavi Nande told TheHindu that adivasi Special Police Officers beat them up with sticks and dragged them to the CRPF camp in Chintalnar. “We were saved when a senior officer came out of the camp and shouted at the troops for their misbehaviour,” said Madavi Nande.
SP Mishra confirmed the presence of a large number of troops near Mukram on May 22, but denied picking up any villagers. “We were conducting a road opening operation to send supplies to the Salwa Judum camp in Jagargunda,” he said. “Not a single villager has been picked up.” The CRPF was not authorised to pick up people with informing his office.
Villagers struggled to explain the motives behind the alleged attack on their village. “On Friday [May 21], the CRPF sent money to buy fish from the villagers,” said Aimla Keshav, Aimla Nanda’s son, “We told them we had enough fish to eat ourselves, but not enough fish to sell.”
Keshav said he was cowering in the house when the CRPF allegedly beat his father in the courtyard. “The soldiers kept saying, is our money not good enough for you? Where is the fish? You have given all the fish to the Naxals,” said Keshav.