A series of shots rang out in the night far beyond the barricaded perimeter of the Central Reserve Police Force camp here in Chhattisgarh?s Dantewada district. For a few minutes, the sentries on duty returned fire before their guns, and the ones that sounded in the distance, fell silent.

By morning, the adivasi settlements around the camp had emptied, the villagers wary of being caught and questioned by the CRPF?s morning patrol. ?Everyone is hiding in the forests,? said a villager from Markaguda, a village about two km from the camp, ?I expect we shall be beaten up this morning.?

Two months after fighters affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Maoist) ambushed and killed 76 soldiers from the Chintalnar Camp on April 6 this year, adivasis from the villages in the Chintalnar panchayat told The Hindu that soldiers from the camp routinely assault them in the course of patrolling operations, especially singling out the women.

?Ten days ago, soldiers from the CoBRA [paramilitary] force came to my house and tried to steal my chickens,? said Sambo from Lachipara, Chintalnar, ?When I protested, a soldier grabbed my throat.? Sambo said that she struggled out of his grasp, ?But when I held his hands, he bit my right cheek,? she said. Nandi added that the soldier left when a crowd of villagers gathered at the spot.

?The force usually enters the village at about 11 in the morning when the men are out in the fields,? said Jago, another Lachipara resident who alleged that soldiers tried to rape his wife while she was cooking at home, ?When the senior officers are out of sight, the soldiers enter houses, steal livestock and attack the women.? Jago said that a number of women and children had left the village as they feared for their safety. His wife and children are currently staying with relatives in Konta.

Villagers told The Hindu that at least one woman in Lachipara had been raped by the security forces but was too humiliated to speak out. ?Madavi Mukki had stepped out of her house to gather cow dung when the forces caught her,? said her mother-in-law, ?She was stripped naked, beaten and left by the hand-pump on the outskirts of the village.? Mukki?s mother-in-law said that the incident occurred about two weeks ago at about 9 a.m.

Another young woman who was also assaulted on the same day said she saw soldiers tear away Mukki?s petticoat. She said the soldiers threw Mukki to the ground and ?pressed themselves onto her body?. Mukki has left Lachipara and is currently staying in a neighbouring village with her parents.

On May 20 this year, soldiers allegedly picked up a young anganvadi worker from Kottapali village while she was shopping at the weekly bazaar near the CRPF camp in Chintagupha. ?My sister was beaten up by the police and held in the Chintagufa thana all night,? said her brother. ?She has left her village and is living with me.?

At present, the Chhattisgarh police have sealed off the only road that leads from Chintalnar to National Highway 221. On June 3, The Hindu was prevented from visiting the affected villages. ?No outsiders shall be allowed into the area till June 11 as the Maoists have declared a bandh,? said Dornapal Assistant Sub Inspector S.K. Dhurve. However, other vehicles were allowed to pass without any hindrance. This correspondent finally reached Chintalnar via a forest route through Andhra Pradesh.

Acting Superintendent of Police Dantewada, O.P. Pal told The Hindu that he had no information regarding any of these incidents. ?No one has filed any complaints in any police station,? he said. Mr. Pal said that the police would look into the matter. ?There is no place for criminal elements in our police force,? he said.

[The names of the adivasis have been changed to protect their identities.]