Dantewada still burns, year after India`s worst Maoist strike

It has been a year since Maoist guerrillas killed 76 troopers in a single ambush but the forests of Dantewada are still burning, the passage of 12 months exacerbating the seething resentment of the tribals.

Dantewada: It has been a year since Maoist guerrillas killed 76 troopers in a single ambush, their deadliest strike anywhere in the country. But the forests of Dantewada are still burning, the passage of 12 months exacerbating the seething resentment of the tribals, caught between the security forces and the Maoists.

On April 6, 2010, hundreds of armed Maoists laid a trap for Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers returning after a three-day operation. They were resting after travelling all night in a jungle near Dantewada`s Tarmetla village, about 500 km from Raipur, when guerrillas, who were on tree-tops, fired bullets from every which way.

At the end of that bloody day, 75 CRPF troopers and one state police personnel were killed. A year later, tribals say the situation has become worse for them, with the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) emerging stronger than ever before in Chhattisgarh`s 40,000 sq km Bastar region that includes Dantewada.

The battle in the heart of India has intensified with the government putting in more forces and the guerrillas strengthening their fight against the establishment. The worst sufferers are the tribal population who have been mired in poverty for decades.

"If you want to know to what extent we are suffering, just visit any jungle area in Dantewada. There is a more than 90 percent chance that you will lose your leg walking on a forested road as all the roads in jungles have been littered with mines. You risk your life while using the hand pump too," said Moriam, 22, of Injeram area in Dantewada district close to the Andhra Pradesh border.

Moriam lost his right hand nearly two years ago in a blast when he tried to operate a hand pump in his village on a summer day. The explosive was allegedly put by Maoists to target a small squad of policemen who would use the hand pump to draw water in the scorching May heat.

Others echo his frustration.

"We are living under extreme terror-like conditions. I can`t even begin to spell out the suffering we have been going through. In the last year, the war in jungles between Dadas (Maoists) and police has worsened and so have our sufferings," Sori Hunga, a 50-year-old tribal of village Kasoli, said.

Police, he said, were killing people in the name of fighting the Dadas. And the Dadas were targeting the common people for spying for police and being in touch with Salwa Judum, the government backed people`s group set up to fight the Maoists.

"I don`t see our sufferings ending in a year or even two. It will end when the innocent tribals of Bastar land will be wiped out, both by Dadas and police."

Illustrating the point is the outrage over hundreds of huts being burnt, people being killed and women being raped as policemen allegedly went on the rampage in Tarmetla and other areas last month.

Leader of opposition Ravindra Choubey alleged in the assembly on March 28: "Dead bodies are still lying in Tarmetla and nearby villages in Dantewada. The killings of the tribals were executed under government protection..."

Said Manish Kunjam, who is based in Bastar and is president of the All India Adivasi Mahasabha: "The sufferings of over a million tribal people residing in extreme interiors of Bastar region is beyond imagination due to the escalating war between Maoists and police."

"Since the April 6, 2010 killings of forces near Tarmetla, the policemen have gone on offensive against civilians with the preconceived notion that they are Maoist supporters. The forces ran over three villages last month only because police thought they were Maoist supporters."

Chief Minister Raman Singh, Governor Shekhar Dutt, Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar and Director General of Police Vishwaranjan travelled to Dantewada on April 2, hoping to cool the situation.

The government has ordered a judicial probe into the alleged attack.

But for the many tribals of volatile Bastar, that might be scant comfort.