The government’s interlocutor escaped an attempt on his life while on a relief mission to Dantewada. An account of his experiences
HEARING A gun-toting man say he wanted to kill me was a very frightening moment in Dantewada on 26 March. Equally traumatic was the attack by SPOs and members of the Salwa Judum, despite the presence of the police and CRPF. They smashed the windows of my vehicle — with many of us trapped inside — jumped on the roof and stomped on it, pulled me by my turban, beat my co-travellers, dragged us on the road and hurled rocks at us.
My only sin was that I wanted to take relief material to the victims of the five-day-long anti-Maoist operation in the villages of Tarmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli in Chhattisgarh on 11 March. The tribals had told the media that the CRPF’s elite COBRA battalion and the police’s Koya commandos (corps of surrendered tribal Maoists and local youth) burnt down more than 300 huts, sexually assaulted three women and seized three men whose bodies were later found dumped in the forest.
Before I prepared my schedule, I called the Director General of Police Vishwaranjan from Delhi on 24 March, informing him of my plans. The police officer not only brushed aside the validity of the news but he branded the news of this attack Maoist propaganda full of anti-national rhetoric. However, he agreed to allow our vehicles to pass through the district on 26 March.
We left our rest house in Shukma, 38 km from Dornapal town, before dawn. I had prior information we might be targeted but I had full faith in the police. As I left the premises, I noticed a videographer standing at a distance. As soon as he realised he had been spotted, he packed his camera and left.
The reality of what was happening dawned at 6.30 am when we reached Dornapal and I saw a mob of hundreds of people waiting for us. They started shouting slogans against our visit, demanding we turn back. When we got closer, they gheraoed the Scorpio I was travelling in and dragged me out. They hurled stones and eggs at us. We had to run to our rest house.
At 10.30 am, I called Chief Minister Raman Singh informing him about the incident and my desire to return to the capital Raipur. But he wanted me to take the relief material to the violence-hit villages and promised tight security. I agreed to do that.
The security came at 3.30 pm. This time, when we reached the same spot, the crowd had swelled to more than 3,000. Salwa Judum cadres and SPOs brandishing guns, lathis, stones and iron rods had positioned themselves to attack us. In a span of six hours, another attack was to be mounted on me. They beat up all of us. One of the stones they threw hit my head from behind and I fell down. They also took off my turban and pushed me around. Colleagues and media personnel rushing to rescue me were also roughed up. The relief material was looted. The information that the SSP SRP Kalluri — who has now been transferred — had been instigating the mob against us for many days turned out to be accurate. It was all pre-planned.
More than the humiliation, what irks me is the police going back on their word. When I had helped in the release of five policemen from Maoist custody recently, the CM had promised that talks would be held with the Maoists. But he did nothing.
I may be the Centre’s interlocutor for peace talks with the Maoists but what is the use of this effort when I know that the State orchestrated a murderous plot against me? I have no animosity towards the state government but I want a judicial inquiry by a retired Supreme Court judge into the violence meted out to poor villagers since 11 March. And I want the CM to assume moral responsibility for these events.
If he can’t do that, he should retire.
As told to Baba Umar