A ruthless bunch of outlaws, one of the dozen self-styled Maoist groups in Jharkhand, has unleashed a reign of terror in Gumla district, murdering, kidnapping and raping tribal villagers who oppose its illegal activities in this bauxite-rich region.
The Jharkhand Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (JSJMM) alias the Jhangud group’s sway over the Bishunpur block, around 160 km north of Ranchi, has tightened so much over the years that even police are scared to take it on, although the outfit has no more than 20 well-armed renegades and a network of informers.
Indeed, the group, which is officially proscribed, is said to enjoy the patronage of the local police for fighting more recognised Maoist rebels, a charge officials deny.
The group says these are fratricidal attacks on rival outfits.
HT recently travelled to the Bishunpur block, where locals warned its journalists against venturing into the interior villages. At Devragani village, barely five km from the Bishunpur police station where Jhangud members recently killed six people, an uneasy calm prevailed.
Those killed included Tahsil Tanabhagat, a member of a Gandhian sect that prays to the national flag. His house was found locked, and a local community leader, requesting anonymity, said since his murder, his wife and four children had left the village. The six bodies were never recovered.
The outfit’s chief Ramdeo Oraon’s name spells terror in the area. Marriages and social gatherings have virtually stopped. Families of those killed seldom go to the police who they accuse of being hand-in-glove with the outlaws. In Ghagra town, Sukhmani Devi, mother of two, recounted how Oraon and his men hacked her 65-year-old mother to death and buried her body in May.
“It was a contract murder. Following a family feud, relatives gave him money. He didn’t think twice eliminating my old mother,” she said. Several houses in neighbouring Cheda, Sato Nawatola, Chirodih, Ambatoli, Tendar Nawatoli and Jehangutwa villages, where the gang has killed more than 100 people over the last seven years, were also found locked, with its occupants having fled in fear of the Jhangud members.
HT could not immediately reach the Jhangud group for a comment.
Locals say Jhangud members kill young men on flimsy excuses and abduct and rape girls at their camps. They outlaws are armed with sophisticated weapons like AK-47 rifles, SLR, Insas, 303 assault rifles, carbines and 9 mm pistols.
They move around on fancy motorbikes and SUVs. The gang always buries those it kills, usually leaving behind no evidence of the crimes. It survives by kidnapping for ransom, extorting from local business and collecting “levy” from mining companies in the area. Villagers say police turn a blind eye to the group’s activities because it fights the real Maoist rebels — the police’s biggest enemy -- and checks their entry into the plains. The Maoists hold sway over Gumla’s hilly jungles.
But senior officials deny wrongdoing. “It is an old accusation on us. Like other left wing extremist (LWE) groups, they are also causing us pain. Local police have been directed to deal firmly with the outfit,” DIG Praveen Singh told HT.
A group of 30 youngsters, who are on the run following death threats by the outfit, submitted a list to HT detailing what they said were names of 66 people killed by Oraon’s gang in the recent past.
At the local police station, an ASI showed HT the case register where several murders carried out by the outfit were registered against unknown killers. He admitted the group’s involvement in wanton killings, adding that even the police feared the gang.