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The Elusive truth of an encounter

Posted by Admin on August 23, 2010

On August 4, for several hours, national television beamed news of a gunfight in the forest near Kutrem, 50km from the town of Dantewada. Chhattisgarh police claimed its men were engaged in a ‘fierce encounter’ with the Maoists. By evening, the policemen – local adivasi special recruits called ‘Koya Commandos’ – returned to base, unharmed, carrying a victory trophy. The body of a young man. They said he was a Maoist. His name was Kunjami Joga.

But Joga was not one of us, and the encounter was fake, now claim the Maoists. Exactly a fortnight later, they have left behind hand-written pamphlets in Kutrem, not stealthily, but with loud impact, blasting and breaking down government buildings. A school, an anganwadi and the panchayat office.

“When we arrived next morning, we found tables, chairs, books, and cupboards lying outside. They first emptied out the building and then brought it down,” said M R Tandiya, the school headmaster.

Just a day before the blasts, TOI had visited Kutrem, green with paddy and maize, nestling in an undulating forest.

Joga’s old fragile parents could barely speak. A small crowd gathered. A young man narrated in broken Hindi: “Joga had gone to his didi’s house in the next para (hamlet) for food, when the force (koya commandos) arrived. They found him on the way and shot him dead. Two days later, they came back and distributed biscuits and namkeen. They also gave the family money.”

At this point, Joga’s father became alert. He looked up with moist eyes, nodded, and said, “Do Hazaar”. Two thousand rupees for a dead son.

Villagers said Joga’s cousin Urra was also beaten up by the police. “They beat him so badly, he could not bear the pain, wo phaansi lagaa liya”. Urra’s wife gestured agitatedly. She pointed out the homestead where her husband was beaten, held her spine to indicate the nature of his injuries, and finally led inside to show where he eventually hung himself.

Another young man said similar killings had taken place in the next village Madkamiras. He offered to show the way. But on arrival there, villagers said `force’ had arrived in Kutrem.

Back in Kutrem, within minutes, the village had transformed. Homes were locked up. Armed men in green camouflage and black bandanas swarmed the place.

This was a party of Koya Commandos. "No, this is not the same party that engaged in the encounter a few days ago, although some fighters were common," said one of them. When asked what had brought them back, another answered, "churching," in the common mispronounciation for `searching’.

Soon, their leader, police inspector Nagavanshi arrived. “The encounter took place seven kilometres from here inside the forests,” he said, pointing towards a distant hill. “That’s where we recovered the body of a uniformed Maoist, a boy from this village, Kunjami Joga.”

Later, in a private conversation, one of the Koya fighters admitted the body was not in uniform. “But he was a Maoist and we found a black uniform in his kit”. So why did they distribute biscuits and money in the village? "We wanted to convince people not to help the Naxals. And we gave Joga’s family money because the dokra (old parents) were so poor, we felt pity. After all, Joga was from the same caste. He was adivasi like us.”

Next morning, in the debris of the school building in Kutrem, sribbled in red and green sketch pen ink, signed by the CPI Maoist Darbha Divisional Committee, a pamphlet said: "Like Kunjami Joga, 18 other innocent villagers have been killed by the security forces and Koya commandos, all in the name of eliminating Maoists, as part of Operation Green Hunt. We will give them a fitting response". TOI

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