All the houses in this village in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, are locked. Cows, chickens and the odd pig roam the empty pathways in search of water and shade. Since the April 6 massacre of 76 CRPF personnel by Maoists in an open field about two kilometres away, the villagers have moved into the forests. They return only for a few hours a day to tend to their animals and the Mahua trees.
“Everyone is terrified that the police will take revenge by attacking the village,” said a villager who came out of the forest to check on his house, “They have already killed one person.”
A small village of about 50 houses, Mukram is of great significance in the context of the April 6, 2010 Maoist attack. CRPF soldiers and villagers confirmed that the patrol party of 82 men ate dinner here on the night of April 5, a few hours before it was attacked.
CRPF soldiers interviewed by The Hindu are convinced that the villagers tipped the Maoists off about the location of the force. “If they hadn't stopped at that village, this would never have happened,” said a soldier who was part of a reinforcement party sent from Chintalnar.
A Maoist statement soon after the attack praised Rukhmati, a Maoist section commander from Mukram, who was killed in the attack. However, villagers insisted they had nothing to do with Tuesday's ambush. “We knew nothing of the attack or of Rukhmati,” said a villager.
“A large group of policemen from Chintalnar camp came to our village the day after the incident,” said Kunjam Mangadu. “We all ran into the forests. But when we returned, we couldn't find my elder brother, Kunjam Suklu.”
Villagers said their search for him ended the second day with the discovery of his corpse in a field just adjacent to the April 6 massacre spot. They cremated his body on Saturday.
The Chhattisgarh police and CRPF deny these allegations. “No such incident has occurred,” said a senior CRPF officer based in Bastar, “It is possible the villagers are pointing to the body of a Maoist killed in Tuesday's encounter.”
However, villagers say Suklu's body bore no bullet marks. Kunjam Mangadu says his brother was beaten to death. “He had been beaten so badly that the skin was peeling off his arms.”
“We have received no information regarding the incident,” said Amresh Mishra, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. “No one has approached us with any complaints.”
According to villagers and soldiers interviewed in Mukram and Chintalnar, adivasi villages in a 10-kilometre radius of the Chintalnar CRPF camp too have been abandoned.
On Saturday, Chintalnar village bore a deserted look as well. “Chintalnar has the biggest bazaar in the area,” said a Chintalnar resident. “Usually thousands of adivasis from more than 10 villages come for the bazaar. Today is market day but no adivasi has come. Not one.”