Caught between the gun-wielding rebels and the commandos of the state police, the impoverished residents of Markegaon are in a dilemma.
The Maoists will not spare them if they collaborate with the police and the police will give them hell if they are suspected of helping the left-wing rebels.
A few have disappeared into the jungles and made their stand clear to the Naxalites of the Communist Party of India-Maoist.
The 40-odd families that remain have stationed themselves near the village square.
In the dense forests of Dandakaranya — an area the Maoists call the “liberated zone” — it is clearly the left-wing rebels who call the shots.
On Sunday morning, they gunned and hacked down 15 police personnel at Markegaon, a village about 75 km from Gadchiroli. Even a C-60 commando, who requested anonymity to prevent his name from getting into the Maoist hit list, admitted life for those living in the village was tough.
“They face an imminent threat from both the Naxals and us,” said the commando of the special force set up to tackle Naxalism. “They get sandwiched.”
The fear was palpable on Kunwarsinh Simpli’s face when he said he had hardly slept since the incident. “If we don’t follow the Naxals, they will slit our throats,” said Simpli, a daily wages labourer who along with other villagers thought it safer outdoors.
“And when it comes to the police, they will not even listen to our pleas or bother to check if we are associated with Naxalites. Police officials have picked up seven of our men.”
Ramilabai Useindi was among those sitting near the village square. “Since then (the attack), we have decided not to move from this place. Whether it is Naxalites or police, we will not move,” he said. “Let them do whatever they want to in front of us.”
Narendra Sakru said eventually the police would go and the Naxalites return. “The Naxalites can come anytime. It can be within a month, two months,” Sakru said. “It is not that we want to cooperate. But we have little choice.”
The brutal methods used by Maoists to eliminate police informers are well known.
The villagers said while they would not support the Naxalites, they would also not side with the police.
“We will beg both the parties to let us live our life,’ Simpli said. “We should not be dragged into this bloody battle.”