Next to the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border, in the village of Wala in the forests of Abujhmarh, Mungeli Mandavi cannot stop crying. Naxals abducted his 18-year-old son, Chainu, on 12 December. However, the next morning, her son was killed in a police encounter. Mandavi doesn’t know whether to blame the Naxal or the police for her son’s death.
Anger against both the Naxals and the police is palpable in the villages along the border, in Paralkot region of north-Bastar, after the Naxals forcefully started taking away kids for arms training recently, following which the Kanker police undertook an operation against them on 12 December 2012 and arrested those kids as Naxals.
The police operation code-named 12/12/12, started with 250 policemen entering the forests of Abhujmarh on 12 December and destroying a Naxal camp being held somewhere between the villages of Wala and Sitram on the morning of 13 December. Police claim that they were able to kill eight Naxals and arrest nine of them. However, body of only Chainu Mandavi’s was recovered and was show to media as evidence along with an IED (improvised-explosive device). While police claims the operation to be a big success, TEHELKA’s investigation show that the tribal villagers have become victims in a cat and mouse game between the Naxals and the police.
Kanker’s Superintendent of Police Rahul Bhagat says that according to the materials recovered it is clear that there was an IED training programme going on in the forests and claims that those arrested were wearing Naxal uniform over their regular clothes. However, according to him, most of those arrested are less than 15 year old and have been sent to juvenile home.
Six of the nine arrested are from Sitram village. Villagers say that four of them, Shanti Nureti, Mukeshri Yadav, Raje Kawasi and Sachin Mandawi, are not more than 13-14 year old, while two others, Ramsu Nayak and Aman Singh Thakur, are both 20 year old.
Villagers allege that the Naxals forcibly took a person — mostly kids — from each house for arms training on Wednesday, 12 December, and on Thursday morning they heard heavy firing from the forests early in the morning. Later, it was found that police had arrested most of the kids who were forcibly taken by the Naxals for arms training.
A 16-year-old kid who was taken away by the Naxals says that the Naxals ran away as soon as the police came. “When police encircled those left behind and asked Chainu to drop his gun, he refused. The police then shot him dead,” he said. The boy alleges that firing happened only from police’s side and not a single shot was fired by Naxals.
Villagers say that Naxals had earlier threatened those who refused to send their kids for arms training and a fine was also imposed on them. Sunita Mandavi says her son Sachin Mandawi, a Class VIII student, who was arrested at the campsite, was the only earning member of the family after his father died few years back. When police arrested him after the alleged encounter and brought him to village for identification, she rues that she was not even allowed to see him. However, two days later when she went to Pankhajur police, she found him dressed in a Naxal uniform.
Sachin’s grandmother Mauni Bai says that Naxals always take the kids away forcefully, the same happened with Sachin. “While we were sleeping in the farms, Naxals forcefully took Sachin away,” she says.
Raje Kawasi’s father Judu corroborates this fact. According to him, Raje used to stay with her uncle in Narayanpur and had come to meet him a week back.
“She has never stayed with Naxals before, but she was caught,” he says.
Shanti Nureti’s father Sanku Nureti says, “My entire family was sleeping in the farm as this is the paddy harvest season. That is when Naxal took Shanti away.” The same story is repeated by others in the village too.
Nine kilometers to the east of Sitram, Wala village in Abujhmarh forests is a part of Paralkot panchayat. Masuram Usendi, father of Samko, who was also arrested by police, finds it hard to believe that her story would ever be told to anyone. He says that Samko was engaged as a cook in the Aanganwadi centre for past two years and while she was having dinner at home on Wednesday evening, Naxals forcefully took her with them for training. Five more people were taken along with Samko from Wala.
Mungeli, Chainu’s mother says, “Chainu used to go with the Naxals out of fear and was asked to carry their rifle for them.” When Mungeli went to retrieve her son’s body to Pankhajur police station, which is 60 km from Wala, she was given Rs 1,200 by the police to perform his last rites. However, she could not bring her son back to village due to difficult terrain and buried him in Pankhajur itself.
Chaituram Nareti, a 16-year-old boy, who was also undergoing training with Naxals, but managed to escape from the police, says, “I was sent to nearby Konge village to get more young people for training. I wasn’t there in the camp when the police raid happened.” He confirms that there were six Naxals present in the village. Four held SLRs while two young women had no weapons. Chaituram says that the kids were being given physical training on the morning of the incident.
TEHELKA also meets Rukani and Simari Metami who are eight and ten year old respectively. They were both part of the training camp but are unable to describe what the training was about. However, they claim that when police raid happened, the Naxals ran away from the campsite following which the police opened fire.
SP Rahul Bhagat says, “Naxals were training small children in using arms. We took great care to not violate human rights during the operation. Both girls, Rambati Sori and Maslo Paralkot are Local Guerilla Squad member.” Bhagat also claims that they burnt lot of luggage belonging to Naxals, which was stored in an almirah. However, TEHELKA could not find any almirah at the site where the incident happened.
While police is congratulating itself on a huge victory, Naxals have been silent on the issue. The villagers however are puzzled about the fate of their children. They claim that police made them sign on blank papers when they went to meet their kids in jail.
The security of kids in the nearby villages has now become a cause of concern and a meeting has been called next Friday, where people from villages deep inside the forest have also been invited. The tribals are left between the devil and the deep sea, where on one hand they are forced to send their children for training with the Naxals, on the other hand they get arrested by police and are portrayed as hardcore Naxals.