One week after Maoists butchered 76 security personnel in Dantewada, poor tribals in the Bastar region fear that their villages and forests they have called home for centuries will turn into India's deadliest war zone.
Thousands of security personnel deployed in the restive areas of Chhattisgarh's southern parts may be looking for revenge. The tribals fear they will bear the brunt as the Maoists too prepare for an intensified battle.
"Everyone in the forested villages of Bastar is horrified after the April 6 massacre. Living with family members in peace has been just a dream for us since the late 1980s when 'dadas' (Maoists) sneaked into Bastar from Andhra Pradesh. This was followed by frequent visits by police parties into villages to track them down," said Lokhan Sodhi, 58, of Bhusaras village in Dantewada.
Bastar comprises of five districts - Kanker, Narayanpur, Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada. Spread over 40,000 sq km, it is home to an estimated 3.5 million people of which nearly 80 percent are tribal.
"The Bastar interiors have turned into India's deadliest war zone now, about a million tribal people are caught between the police and Naxals (Maoists) in the interiors," said Manish Kunjam, based in Dantewada district and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of tribal groups.
"But the most unfortunate part is no solution seems to be in sight when you see the insurgency problem from the tribal peoples' viewpoint. After the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) men's killing, civilian suffering will touch a new high in the coming months."
The Bastar tribes live in a pathetic condition, traveling barefoot, living in huts and relying largely on forest produce for their livelihood. They are cut off from development schemes, roads, schools and health facilities. Around 25,000 sq km of Bastar is intensively mined.
"Life has become a nightmare for us, we are caught between the dadas and the policemen, we never seek any help from either the government or the dadas but just pray that they allow us to live in our huts in peace," said Poriam Boje, 39, from Jagargunda, one of the most violence-hit areas in Dantewada.
"But with things going the way they are, we fear the worst is in store. We are crying for help from both sides but no one is ready to rescue us," added Boje.
As per estimates of the Chhattisgarh police department, the region houses up to 50,000 Maoists, including village-level members and some 10,000 armed cadres in its thickly forested terrain.