Belly bomb was meant to maximise casualties among security forces, says note from Maoists

Panic-stricken villagers continue to flee Nawadih and Amvatikar villages in Latehar district, where 11 security personnel were killed in an encounter with Maoists on January 7. Four villagers were killed in a blast triggered the next day when they lifted the body of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper on police’s instructions.

“The PLGA [People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army] had sewn a time-bomb with an ordinary circuit inside the jawan’s belly, not a circuit connected to the stitches, as the government claims. The bomb was set to explode at the site to maximise casualties among the security forces but did not do so because fluids entered the circuit. We condemn the use of villagers to lift bodies,” said a handwritten note signed by Bihar Jharkhand North Chhattisgarh Special Area Military Mission spokesperson Toofan and sent to The Hindu on Monday.

On Wednesday, villagers alleged that the CRPF used a tractor to demolish a house allotted to Babulal Bhuian under the Indira Awaas Yojana, accusing his son Mrityunjay Bhuian of being a platoon commander in the PLGA. Latehar SP Kranti Kumar denied the allegation. “We had a property warrant against his son and only seized their movable property on Monday night. The Maoists blew up the house on Tuesday,” he said.

The CRPF, the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), and Jharkhand Jaguar troopers camped in the deserted villages on Sunday night and Monday as they carried out combing operations in the Katiya forest along Jharkhand’s western border with Chhattisgarh. Villagers made their way out of the area in the darkness.

“I sent my daughter to Barwadih with my neighbours on Friday but I stayed back with the cattle. But now there is no option but to leave,” said Rani Devi as she carried two plastic bags full of clothes and grains on a mud trail leading to Nawadih on Sunday night.

Several other women and children walked behind cows in the darkness. “Eleven members of my family went out of fear when the police sent for us to look for their jawans’ bodies last week. If the Maoists come, there will be a fight again. The wheat and vegetables we planted are here, everything we have is here. How will we go?,” asked Anita Devi, the sahiya (health worker) in Amvatikar.

A majority of the households in both villages are Parhaiyas, categorised as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PTGs) i.e. tribes with less population which were dependent on pre-agricultural technologies at the time of a census in the 1970s. “I have not been able to go into the forest since two weeks to get bamboo for my work because if the Maoists come, the police will fire indiscriminately. Maybe the Maoists may kill us too,” said Suresh Parhaiya who earns Rs. 150 a week making bamboo baskets, brooms and fans.

Parhaiya says the CRPF troopers hit him with rifles and boots when he tried to run after a blast was triggered when villagers tried to lift jawans’ bodies after the encounter.

Nine kilometres from Amvatikar, villagers in Kuku, on the other side of the Bhaluwahi hill, where the encounter took place, said the Maoists warned them to not enter the forest still strewn with landmines.

On January 7 and 8, these three villages became the site of a confrontation between the security personnel and the PLGA in a chase that began near Gaya in Bihar on December 9, when companies of the PLGA’s military commission, led by their leader Arvind ji, started moving south of Gaya for Saranda forest in West Singhbhum in Jharkhand. Senior police officials supervising Operation Saamna say the CRPF intercepted the PLGA on Jharkhand’s border with Bengal and Odisha. The PLGA then headed north-west to reach Latehar in early January.

When the CRPF and the PLGA started exchanging fire a few 100 metres from Amvatikar in the morning on January 7, most villagers were at the bal samagam, where hockey matches and races were organised at the government school in Nawadih for children. “We heard shots all day. Next day, Pramod Sau from our village said I would have to bring my tractor to the police to carry bodies from Nawadih to Heregerha station. Some villagers were asked to sprinkle water on the school playground so that a helicopter could land there, other villagers, including women, were asked to walk to the forest to search for the jawans’ bodies,” said Mithilesh Sau. Five hours later, a blast occurred when villagers tried to lift a jawan’s body, killing four. “After that, the CRPF men abused me and asked me to look for the villagers’ bodies. I was scared to climb the hill. I spotted Pramod Sau lying with his face bleeding and carried him back,” he added.

Mr. Kranti Kumar said the villagers were making statements blaming the police under pressure from Maoists.