For the last two years, Divya Nureti has avoided going home.
Home is Kohka Meta village in Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur, carved out of Bastar in 2007. Two years ago, on a cold night in January, Divya’s father Mugulu Nureti was killed right before her eyes. He died at the entrance of her house, shot by Maoists on suspicion of being a police informer.
With his death, Mugulu joined a congregation of Adivasis in Chhattisgarh who were killed under the same suspicion. In the first week of September this year, four villagers from Pusnar and Metapal villages were murdered on suspicion of being police informers in the Dumli-Palnar forest in Bijapur district, a Naxalite hotbed.
In the ongoing clash between security forces and Maoists, the Adivasis have paid the price. In the last 20 years, 1,769 Adivasis have been killed on suspicion of being police informers, according to police records, even as have been on false charges of being Naxals.
Divya’s ordeal in 2018 took place at around 9 pm, when she and her parents were sitting down for dinner. That’s when “hundreds of Naxals” gathered outside their house, she said.
“They demanded rations from our grocery store, which adjoins our house,” said Divya, 19. “Then they asked my father to come out, saying they will give him money. They forced him to come out.”
Mugulu complied, and Divya followed him.
“I asked why they were calling him out; they could have handed over the money,” she said. “They asked me to go inside but I resisted. They tried to push me inside, they hit me with their shoes. But I didn’t want to go in. I stood there, crying.”
The group began calling her father a police informer, Divya said. “Suddenly, one of them shot him on his leg. When he fell, they shot two bullets in his chest.”
Even then, Divya said, the group did not leave.
“My mother was inside the house. They bolted the door,” she said. “They stayed there for an hour, at the entrance of the house, and produced pamphlets stating that he was an informer and used to take money from the police. After they left, we took my father’s body into the house. My mother cried the whole night over his body.”
Mugulu was not an informer, Divya reiterated. “He was a simple man who used to run a small grocery store. The police and Naxals both visit our villages and talk to villagers. That doesn’t mean the villagers are informers for either of them.”
Mugulu Nureti (right) was killed in January 2018.
The family with the body of Ashok Kunjam, who was killed in August.
In the morning, the other villagers reported the matter to the police. Divya herself moved to Narayanpur town, where she works as a labourer. There are two reasons for this: going home rekindles the memories of her father’s death; and she’s worried that the Maoists will retaliate because she reported her father’s death to the police.
“A week ago, three men came to my house in the village to inquire about me,” she said. “My mother has asked me not to come to the village.”
Maoists losing indigenous support: Police
Shubhranshu Choudhary, a peace activist and former journalist with the BBC, said these killings are a “clear indication that the discipline in the Maoist party is going downhill”.
“Political leaders have become old, and young Adivasi commanders are taking independent decisions,” Choudhary said. “The movement in Chhattisgarh is slowly moving from being a disciplined, violent political movement to a gang war situation. It’s happened in places like Jharkhand before. It’s high time to start a peace process here, to take the movement to its logical conclusion.”
Bela Bhatia, a human rights lawyer and activist, said: “The Maoist killings of ‘police informers’ must be condemned. Most of those implicated are from the same village or area, often the same ethnicity or class. The police puts a lot of pressure on locals for information and some people do succumb. The question is whether these villagers have a choice in the matter. Can they say ‘no’ to the police? Or the Maoists?”
P Sundarraj, the inspector general of police, Bastar range, told Newslaundry that “even pregnant women and children” have been killed by Maoists in recent times on suspicion of being police informers.
“In the present scenario, they are losing their ground as Adivasis are defecting away from that,” Sundarraj said. “They have started killing innocent Adivasis. Their acts will finish the organisation.”
He continued: “Over all these years, Maoists tried to project themselves as sympathisers of the indigenous population. But in reality, they have brutally killed thousands of innocent Adivasis just to create an atmosphere of fear and terror.” He added that “stronghold areas” have diminished, and the police is hopeful of “bringing an end to the Naxal menace with the support of the local population”.
But this doesn’t help Adivasis who are simultaneously targeted by security forces. And it doesn’t alleviate the fears of Rupesh Mandavi, 20, who worries that he’ll be killed by Naxals, just like his father.
Murdered, and then denounced as a ‘police informer’
Rupesh’s father, Lakhmaram Mandavi, was killed on August 30 last year inside his house in Chote Gudra Chalkipara village in Dantewada’s Kuakonda tehsil, reportedly by Maoists.
“They entered our house at around 11-12 pm,” Rupesh told Newslaundry. “My father was lying in bed. They slit his throat as he lay there, using knives and axes. My mother was blindfolded and taken outside. They said my father was an informer, that he didn’t pay them money.”
Rupesh wasn’t present at the time; he was studying in Bhilai. He heard about it later from his mother.
Lakhmaram had been the sarpanch of his village. “He was not an informer,” Rupesh said. “Nobody in these areas wants to be an informer, either of the police or of the Naxalites. Our family has been shaken. Our financial condition deteriorated after my father’s death, and we were mentally disturbed.”
He added: “Sometimes I feel scared that I will also be killed in the same way as my father.”
Many families have stories of losing relatives in the same way. Ramesh Kunjam, 25, said Naxalites killed his brother-in-law and his nephew after denouncing them as police informers.
At the time, his brother-in-law, Mittu Markam, 44, had been working in Bailadila for the National Mineral Development Corporation. His nephew Ashok Kunjam, 23, was killed soon after his wedding.
“My brother-in-law used to live in the NDMC quarters in Bailadila,” Ramesh explained. “He was killed on July 1 this year. He had a holiday that day so he went to the market at around 7 am.”
That’s when Mittu received a phone call from the sarpanch of his village of Markamiras, telling him that Naxalites had directed him to attend a Jan Adalat, or a , in Iroli. Mittu went to Iroli but no court was taking place.
“Instead, the Naxalites questioned my brother-in-law about a discussion among NDMC officials about a mining site that is supposed to be given to Adani at Nandraj Pahadi,” Ramesh said. “He told them he doesn’t know much about it; that officials are afraid of visiting the place. After a few hours, they killed him in the afternoon and threw his body on the road.”
But how does Ramesh know that the Maoists suspected Mittu of being a police informer, and killed him?
“They issued a press release saying so,” he said simply.
Examples of the posters and pamphlets released by the Maoists.
Similarly, Ramesh said, his nephew Ashok died in the last week of August.
“He used to live in Kirandul. He went to Tumnar to get married,” Ramesh said. “About four or five of his friends accompanied him. When they were returning with his newly wed wife, Naxalites killed him and one of his friends. They also killed the bride’s brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law. They hanged them and threw their bodies on Malangiri road near Bailadila.”
He claimed that the bride was kidnapped by the group.
Soon after, posters appeared in the area, stating that Ashok had been killed because he was a police informer. The posters blamed the superintendent of the Dantewada police for his death.
“They are killing people without any reason and tagging them as police informers,” said Ramesh. “They defame people after killing them. Any educated tribal boy or girl roaming in towns can be declared as an informer by them.”
Lakhma Hemla, 18, told this correspondent that his uncle Ayatu Hemla had been killed by Maoists on November 6, 2018, in Bijapur’s Gangaloor village. Ayatu, 55, had been picked up by a group from his house.
“They tied his hands, blindfolded him, and took him away,” Lakhma said. “Two days later, his body was thrown on a road near our house.”
Ayatu had been working to get the village electrified, Lakhma said, after electric poles were destroyed by Maoists. “He used to go to the collectorate to submit applications to reinstall the poles,” he said. “He was killed for his efforts. He was no police informer.”
He added: “We live in constant fear of being termed as informers and getting killed. We are fed up of all this. We just want to live in peace.”
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