Sadaram Nag lost his life the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Dantewada in May this year to inaugurate two big development projects and reignite hope among Chhattisgarh’s poor tribals.
A village headman, Nag was killed by members of the outlawed CPI (Maoists) for helping the authorities with construction of a bridge.
His death found little play in the day’s news coverage dominated by Modi’s much-publicised visit. For that matter, killings of ordinary villagers have long ceased to be news in the state wracked by Maoist violence and Nag was just yet another addition to an already long list of civilians who have perished in the continuing conflict raging in India’s red zone.
Official statistics reveal the chilling reality: In contrast to 118 security personnel who have been killed while combating the Maoists since 2013, some 136 civilians have died in the corresponding period.
Police officials say the civilian killings are intended to terrorise the villagers. “The rebels are targeting civilians. They are murderous cowardly acts,” additional director-general of police (anti-Maoist operations) RK Vij told Hindustan Times.
A section within the state police feels the killings have intensified in proportion to the anti-Maoist drive launched by the government. “The Maoists are attempting to regain the lost ground by holding village meetings and Jan Adalats (People’s Courts) to spread terror and make their presence felt. They have been hit hard by a wave of surrenders by their cadres amidst sustained operations by security forces,” pointed out Brigadier (Retired) BK Ponwar, a jungle warfare expert (based in Kanker/Bastar).
A month ago, the Maoists kidnapped Lingaram Mandavi, a former sarpanch of Gadapal, and another panchayat member Mangu Ram Kashyap for building roads under the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana. They were brutally thrashed and released only after they arranged Rs 1 lakh in ransom money. Civilians are also targeted when the Maoists suspect them to be police informers.
The fear of violence has all but silenced the locals, who now want to stay clear of both the security forces and the Maoists. Most see themselves as victims of a conflict over which they have no control. “We don’t wish to be seen taking the side of either the police or the Maoists,” said Markam Eitu of Gudma in Bijapur.