Shortly before dawn two months ago, six men were preparing to leave for work at a bauxite mine close to this tribal hamlet at the foot of the misty, blue hills of Netarhat, about 170 km north of Jharkhand capital Ranchi.
They boarded a truck, and as soon as they hit the high road, came under a volley of bullets that shattered the stillness of dawn. When the firing stopped, the bodies of Hiralal Oraon, 25, and his neighbour, Neelesh Oraon, 30, lay in a pool of blood, riddled with bullets.
Two of the mine workers received serious gunshot wounds, the remaining managed to escape under the cover of darkness.
Since then, the murder of the two innocent villagers, 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.
“Their scars are fresh and their never-ending woes have just begun,” top Maoist commander Deenbandhu told Hindustan Times, referring to the families of the victims.
“Unfortunately neither the guilty police nor the media is fulfilling their responsibilities towards the three families (of the victims).”
Sensing the mood in the rural hinterlands, the state government awarded compensation to the families of the dead in a record one week, although the survivors are yet to receive payment for their treatment.
Police initially said they fired in self defense. But later DIG Praveen Singh backtracked in an official report, saying the forces had information of a Maoist squad being present in the area and had resorted to panic firing, a charge the rebels denied.
Under fire, police in the end termed the shooting a ‘big mistake’.
Last weekend, HT travelled to Marwai to track the three families that either lost a member or had a member crippled in the September 3 shooting.
In the first of a three-part series, here’s the story of Lalit Oraon’s family, the worst hit in the security goof-up:
A tribal farmer and father of four sons, two of them adolescent, Lalit Oraon, 45, led an impoverished but happy life.
Oraon’s eldest son, Hiralal, 25, who was driving the truck, was one of those killed. His third son, Suneshwar, 20, was hit by several bullets, forcing the amputation of his right leg.
Even so, Oraon is too broken to accuse the police of destroying his family.
“I now have a widowed daughter-in-law, Sarita, with an infant in her lap and a young disabled son to look after. I will not be able to even die in peace now,” he said.
Back from hospital last week, Suneshwar recounted the incident.
“Hiralal was driving and rest five of us were seated next to him in the cabin. Barely 500 metres from the village we came under heavy gun fire from all sides,”he said.
“Initially, we thought that the Maoists have attacked. But later in the hospital, we got to know that the attackers were police and CRPF.”