A tiny hamlet in the densely forested district of Jagdalpur, Jheeram carries a cross — it was in the Jheeram valley that Maoists attacked a convoy of Congress leaders killing 32 people on May 25.
Five and a half months later, when Bastar went to polls in the first of the two-phased elections on Monday, residents of Jheeram used the opportunity to defy the notion and allegations of complicity with the rebels in the gory attack.
Washing off the slur, locals disregarded the poll boycott call by Maoists, showing tremendous enthusiasm in casting their votes.
Since morning, long queues of men and women could be seen at the super sensitive booth number 223 at the middle school in Kankapal panchayat, which had 921 voters on its rolls. Jheeram falls in this panchayat.
Around 1 pm, when the HT team reached the village, 23 km south of Jagdalpur, more than 50% of its 300 voters had cast their votes.
Jheeram, which is part of the Jagdalpur assembly constituency, recorded 67% polling. Two companies of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were deployed for security in the valley, which connects Bastar’s divisional headquarters Jagdalpur with neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh. Assistant commandant Vijay Bahadur Soni said of the 110 jawans, at least 80 were deployed in the adjoining hills to foil the rebels’ plans.
After the massacre, there has been no end to the sufferings of Jheeram residents.
“The May 25 incident ruined us. People still look down upon us as suspects. There is no other way than this to prove that we are law-abiding citizens of this country and do not hobnob with the rebels,” said Marvi Hunga, 50, Jheeram’s sarpanch.
For several months, police and NIA teams probing the incident kept visiting them. Although there have been no formal arrests, residents were randomly picked and detained for questioning.
“We have extended complete cooperation to the various probe teams, but we still carry the blot of being Maoist sympathisers,” said Pandu Ram, sarpanch of a neighbouring village.