Sukma attack

Deadly attack

Print edition : May 26, 2017

CRPF personnel give a gun salute to Sub-Inspector Naresh Kumar during his funeral in Sonepat, Haryana, on April 26. Photo: PTI

Baljit Kaur (centre) with her son Amritbir Singh, carrying the coffin of her husband, Inspector Raghubir Singh, at his funeral in Sathiala village near Amritsar on April 25. Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh meets the family of CRPF constable Banmali Ram, who was killed in the Sukma attack, in Dhourasand village of Jashpur district on May 1. Photo: PTI

The Maoist ambush in Sukma in Chhattisgarh, which left 25 CRPF personnel dead, puts the spotlight once again on the troubled region.

THE seemingly never-ending cycle of violence in Chhattisgarh’s restive regions saw another flashpoint on April 24 when Maoists ambushed a police party in Sukma district in the Bastar region, killing 25 and injuring seven Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.

The nearly 100-strong 74th Battalion of the CRPF was providing security for road construction work near Burkapal on the Dornapal-Jagargunda road in south Sukma. When half of them broke for lunch, they were surrounded by Maoists and the two sides engaged in a gun battle that lasted for a while. According to police reports, 10-12 Maoists were also killed in the exchange. The Maoists decamped with the arms and ammunition of the killed security personnel and took away the bodies of their slain comrades.

The names of the deceased personnel are Inspector Raghubir Singh, Sub-inspector Krishna Kumar Das, Assistant Sub-inspectors Sanjay Kumar, Naresh Kumar and Rameshwar Lal, Head Constables Banna Ram, M. Padmanabham, K.P. Singh and Surender Kumar, and Constables P. Alagupandi, N. Sendhil Kumar, N Thirumurugan, Manoj Kumar, Binoy Chandra Barman, Arup Karmakar, Naresh Yadav, Saurabh Kumar, Krishna Kumar Pandey, Abhay Mishra, Abhay Kumar, Ranjeet Kumar, Banmali Ram, Ram Mehar, Ashish Kumar Singh, and Narayan Prasad Sonkar.

Jawan Sheikh Mohammad, who was injured in the attack, told reporters from his hospital bed in Raipur, that over 300 Maoists were involved in the attack. According to him, the Maoists first sent some village residents to check the location of the CRPF team. “Our unit was on road construction duty. Many villagers were also carrying weapons, and women Maoists were also present,” he said.

A video surfaced on social media showing that the majority of the Maoists who led the assault were women, but its authenticity could not be verified. In an audio tape released soon after the attack, the Maoists said that the assault was in revenge for the sexual violence perpetrated by the security forces on the tribal women of the area. The year 2016 was especially brutal in this regard. Nendra in Bijapur, Kunna in Sukma and Chotegadam in Dantewada saw mass molestations and gang rapes of tribal women by security forces who were out on combing operations. Earlier, reports of similar incidents were received from Chinagellur, Pedagellur, Burgicheru, Gundam and Pegdapalli. There is no saying how many more such instances may have taken place, as many of them do not get reported.

Tribal women are picked up from their homes in the dead of night on the mere suspicion that a family member has joined the Maoists. In early April, a minor girl was abducted from her home at 4 a.m. and allegedly raped by members of the forces as they believed that her elder brother was a Sangham member (village-level supporter). The sociologist Nandini Sundar wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the matter: “Three men dragged her to a distance and two of them took turns raping her. The other police/CRPF held back the family members who were trying to rescue her and beat them too. The victim was also injured on the neck during the rape (as photos reveal). Due to the darkness, she could not identify those who did the rape. But an enquiry with police/CRPF will reveal who was present at the spot.”

The police termed the accusations false and, in an apparent act of intimidation, questioned the local reporter who had met her.

Opposition to roads

Construction of roads has been another contentious issue between the state and the Maoists. While the state has vowed to build motorable roads, whether aimed at enabling military activity or bringing development, as it claims, or to support mining activity in other parts of the State, there is no doubt that the Maoists are not in favour of road construction as it interferes with their activities.

The area is littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and attacks on security forces are not uncommon. As recently as March 11, the Maoists killed 12 CRPF men who were providing security for the road construction work between Kottacheru and Bhejji, 28 kilometres from the scene of the attack in Burkapal. The area is near Tadmetla, where 76 CRPF men were killed in 2010.

When compared with other paramilitary forces such as CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) and the District Reserve Group, the personnel of the CRPF are an easy target and have suffered the maximum number of casualties.

Widespread condemnation

The Sukma attack was condemned by political parties across the spectrum—from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Raman Singh to Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori, who visited Burkapal and met members of the 74th Battalion to express her grief. She also met the residents of Burkapal, who told her that more than five men had been arrested and that the others had run away fearing police action against them. While retaliation is expected, the first people to be victimised in counter-insurgency operations will likely be the villagers and human rights activists.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) also condemned the attacks. It said: “This incident shows that the large numbers of surrenders and arrests (many of them challenged by villagers) boasted by the Chhattisgarh Police in the past few years have not led to a significant decline in the military capacity of the naxalites. A situation of civil war still prevails in Bastar although the Government of India refuses to declare this an ‘internal armed conflict’ to avoid monitoring by the United Nations.”

The PUCL fears that soon the security forces will “retaliate” through “search-and-cordon operations” in the area, which are only likely to hurt the local people. It also said that consequent arrests, beatings and killings will only intensify the cycles of violence and counter-violence.

Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “While the nation was shocked, so-called sympathisers and proponents of human rights have maintained a baffling silence.... These activists react violently if an extremist or a terrorist is killed by the police, but stay silent when [a] large number of jawans and innocent people get killed by those who kill and run.”

He also said that such acts of violence were being resorted to with the tacit support of human rights activists. “This is being done in desperation to derail the positive narrative emerging from the ongoing efforts by the Central and State governments to ensure that fruits of development reach the last of the poor by enabling rapid economic development.”

Some news channels went a step ahead. “Will the ‘Kanhaiyas and Khalids’ salute our Sukma braves?” Times Now asked on Twitter.

Incidentally, the post of the CRPF chief had been lying vacant for almost two months. Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar was appointed only two days after the ambush.

Condemning the attacks, the NHRC said: “It is expected that the state will take note of the sacrifices made by the personnel of CRPF in maintaining the rule of law and creating an environment of peace and security in the country, and the aggrieved families would be suitably compensated.”

While the deadly attack by the Maoists is highly condemnable, the state needs to introspect whether flooding the area with security forces is going to lead to a solution or keep the cycle of violence alive.

Most of the villages drifting towards the Maoists are among the most deprived in the country and the only face of the government they have seen is the gun-wielding security forces, many of whom have burnt their homes and raped their women. If the government is serious about development in the area, it needs to do more than build roads with CRPF personnel as sitting ducks for Maoist bullets.