Thursday, September 18, 2014
Javed Iqbal - A 'Maoist' encounter: The (un)accidental death of an adivasi
Death to the directly affected is not a minor incident but in the larger political arena it becomes an insignificant event relegated to the yearly statistics released by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The number of security personnel killed, the number of Maoists killed and the number of civilians killed: the ordinariness of it all, the banality of outrage, and yet the question of the structural violence that leads to this is never weighed by the numbers or the cost of life.
At 3:30am on the 3rd of September, 2014, six villagers from Marowai in Narma Panchayat of Gumla district of Jharkhand, were just starting to leave their village for Hindalco’s Bauxite mine at Gurderi in a Tata L-Series truck. All of them are farmers who supplement their income by loading and carrying bauxite to the railway station of Tori. They get paid Rs 600 amongst themselves, and on this particular morning, they left early to beat the rush at the mine and stay ahead in the queue.
The CRPF and the local police had meanwhile been informed that the Maoists were going to cross the village and had positioned themselves in the dark foliage, the fields, and the abandoned panchayat building, mere 200 metres away from the village. As a classical case of an occupying army that doesn’t know how to be the security of the populace: its intelligence was more concerned with killing Maoists than paying attention to how the civilian population behaves. Why were they not aware that civilians take their trucks early in the morning to Gurderi to collect bauxite ore and take it to the railway station at Tori Junction?
Thus, within the next 15 minutes, two of them would be shot dead, another two left with serious bullet injuries, and two would run back to their homes covered in blood. The entire village of Marowai awoke to the thunder of gunfire, as panic and rumour spread,‘mela jaise ho gaya tha’ said one witness, the aunt of one of the killed. The CRPF didn’t allow any of the villagers near the truck, the injured lay there for the next 3 hours before their injuries were tended to, and they were airlifted to Ranchi’s Apollo hospital.
The timeline of the narrative that travelled to the capital of Ranchi (but never made it to the national mainstream) along with the two injured who were airlifted was as such: first, that the Maoists had shot them, then that they were caught in a crossfire between the CRPF and the Maoists, and finally as an accidental firing by the CRPF. The state government was quick to announce a compensation of 10 lakhs to the families of the deceased while the question of justice floated in the village like gunsmoke.
Both the witnesses and survivors who were free to speak without droves of policemen and government officials around them tore more holes into the official version than the CRPF tore into their truck. Samir Oraon (18), had only managed to save himself by ducking into the truck’s legroom. He jumped out of the vehicle and described three soldiers lying on the ground with machineguns asking him to get down, yet Samir, threw his slippers at them, escaped and returned home crying to his own visibly shocked mother, who would keep repeating how much blood was on her son.
Upender Oraon (24) had leaped out of the moving truck as the firing started, ran back home and collapsed on his bed.
Both assert the firing had started from the their right, which instantly killed the driver of the vehicle Hiralal Oraon (24), the father of a three month baby Astha.
Ashok Oraon (22) was shot in his stomach and 17 year old Suneshwar Oraon, Hiralal’s brother, was shot in the back, and his lower back.
‘Gaadi ke andar khoon ka holi tha,’ said Upender, who had managed to escape unhurt and would not get any compensation for his luck.
The firing had gone on for around 15-20 minutes in three short bursts according to both witnesses and the villagers nearby. The truck itself reveals that it was fired upon by all four sides but neither witness said that there was a crossfire: the barrage came from their right, after two shots, that made Hiralal speed the vehicle. (Did the CRPF expect people they fire upon in the middle of night, where there is always a fear of Maoist squads, to stop or speed up? Gumla has a considerable Maoist presence owing to its proximity to Chhattisgarh and has seen its killings of informants, policeman, rival militant groups, burnings of trucks, etc. The villagers would of course be frightened of being fired upon, and would try to escape. And even then, without any return fire, why did the CRPF fire more than a 100 rounds at a truck in a populated civilian area? And that too with lethal ammunition?)
Nilesh Oraon (24), an orphan, who had just married Sumati Devi four months ago, had his head blown off, his aunts and his wife were all requested not to see his body: the next day the truck was taken to Bishanpur police station and left outside its gate, where young children vicariously kept staring at the vehicle that still stank of death, where blood seeped out of the door and collected in the monsoon mud, and flies covered brain matter interspersed with broken glass. The tomb, the evidence, was the freak attraction of the day for the villagers of Bishanpur, while politicians from the right to the left flocked to the village to offer solidarity, to investigate, to gain political mileage or to placate the villagers fears and their rage.
The district president of the Bharatiya Janta Party Vijay Kumar Mishra was quick to point out how poor adivasis die in the middle with the police on one side and the Maoists on another, in what is described quaintly as the sandwich theory. The ABVP’s Alok Oraon and the CPI- ML’s Vijay Singh were both present as I was collecting a testimony from Upender Oroan, and would have a minor argument in jest about the working of the prime minister’s office, much to the amusement of Upender himself. A rumour spread that an official from the Zilla Parishad had released Rs.10,000 to all the families, almost all who demanded that the government properly compensate them.
Samir Oraon, whose own brother Kamleshwar Oraon is in the CRPF, felt that the CRPF posted around 5 kilometers away from their village should be replaced and that they must get ‘insaf’. Nilesh’s aunt, Soramani Devi who brought up her nephew, who arranged his marriage, was stronger in her manner, and asserted that this must not happen again. To anyone.