Sitting in his barricaded house adjacent to the police station in Kuturu village in Bijapur district of South Bastar and surrounded by heavily-armed bodyguards, Madhukar Rao laughs when he says he is “waiting for death”.
Mr. Rao was one of the founders of the anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum in Bastar — “a people’s resistance movement” — which was begun under his leadership in Ambeli village.
“If they can kill Mahendra Karma [another founder and face of the Salwa Judum in Bastar], then we are small players,” Mr. Rao said, pointing out that other Salwa Judum functionaries had either been killed by the Maoists or forced, like himself, to live under tight security. “At times, police deploy Road Opening Parties (ROP) for me,” says Mr. Rao.
Following allegations of human rights violations, the Supreme Court in 2011 declared the Salwa Judum illegal and unconstitutional and ordered that it be disbanded. Members of the outfit have been regularly targeted by Maoists for its “anti-tribal” actions. Mahendra Sadgul, who headed Salwa Judum in Bhopalpatnam area, was shot dead in 2008. Budhram Rana, another leader in Bijapur area, was killed some two kilometres away from his house. Chinaram Gota of Faresgad village was killed along with his bodyguards in 2011.
“But the biggest jolt to Salwa Judum was the killing of senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma last year,” says Ajay Singh, who headed the outfit in the Bairamgad area and has now been provided Z category security cover. Mr. Singh and another senior Judum leader Vikram Mandavi managed to escape from Jiramghati attack last year.
“We threw away our mobiles and identity cards to escape identification, but we are named as the main targets in their meetings,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.
Chaitram Mattami, who actively participated in Salwa Judum activities in the Dantewada area, lives a secluded life and refuses to meet journalists. “He won’t meet you unless he is sure about your identity. He will be in Dantewada, but he would tell you that he is in Raipur or Jagdalpur,” said Bappy Ray, a Dantewada-based journalist.
Even Madhukar Rao has been attacked four times by the Maoists. The most recent attempt on his life was made on April 9 this year.
“ How long will we manage to escape? Only few of us are alive now,” rues Mr. Singh, who charges the Raman Singh-led Chhattisgarh government with being “opportunist”.
“There was a time when the CM shared the stage with us and said he would give complete support, but now we have been left to the mercy of God with a few bodyguards,” said Mr. Singh.