Neelesh Oroan, 30, returned home in Gumla district of Jharkhand village after 18 long years in May this year with the sole purpose of getting married. A tribal festival celebrated from mid-September forced him to cancel plans of early return to Punjab where he worked. Days before the festivities, security forces shot him dead “mistaking him for a Maoist”
Neelesh and his neighbour Hiralal Oraon, 25, had died while two mine workers received gunshot wounds, when the truck they were travelling in came under a volley of bullets near hills of Netarhat, about 170 km north of Jharkhand capital Ranchi on September 3. Two others on board had escaped unhurt.
Neelesh was orphaned at the age of 12. Left to fend for himself, he fled to Punjab where he worked in factories.
“He was happy in Punjab and never wanted to return home considering lack of job opportunities and poor law and order here,” said Dinesh Oraon, Neelesh’s uncle.
His uncle and aunt are yet to come out of the shock.
“It took us a couple of years to convince him to come home for a few months and get married. We were so happy to find him settling down and raise a family. But the happiness did not last,” Dinesh said.
Neelesh’s widow, Sumati Devi, who will be leaving for her parents’ home, asks, “What was his fault?”
While waiting for Karma festival to begin, Neelesh had decided to work in a bauxite mine after running out of savings. He had been working the mine for only a week when he was killed.
His aunt, Digni Devi, said they were not allowed to go near his body for more than four hours.
“His mangled remains were handed to us after the postmortem at Gumla hospital,” she added.
In a state where at least 18 out of the 24 districts are affected by left wing extremism, people in the countryside are often caught in the crossfire between security forces and the rebels. Official records suggest at least 500 civilians have died in the violence since 2000.
Both police and Maoists trade charges against each other of resorting to atrocities and killing innocent people.
The murder of the duo, besides the near-fatal injuries to two others at the hands of the security forces, has become an emotive weapon for Maoist rebels trying to convince villagers to boycott the impending assembly elections in the state.
In meeting after meeting across the tribal regions of Gumla, Maoist workers are showcasing the shooting as an example of government apathy, telling tribal villagers that their votes would not end their life of misery but only keep those responsible for these deaths in power.