The villagers remember how the Greyhounds swooped down on the Maoists. It was 5 a.m. On October 24, the day had broken and as they prepared for the day’s farming activities, the still air resounded with the cracking sound of firing of rifles.
These were not the rifle sounds they were used to, the one or two rounds of fire Maoists occasionally let off. This was different. It was loud, insistent, as though a hundred rifles were firing at the same time.
“We immediately rushed back to our homes and lay sprawled on the floor and did not move for the next five or six hours, as the cold fear of death gripped us," said a Ramgarh villager.
He did not wish to be identified; neither did the other villagers who are still recovering from the Greyhound blitzkrieg 10 days later.
What happened that day and the following day remains a blur. As the firing began, Maoists, those who had not been shot or injured by the withering fire, scattered in all directions, up the hills, into the forests, into the fields with the Greyhounds swooping from the hilltop, picking out the fleeing people.
Some ran into the village seeking refuge. A villager recalls how they cowered prone inside the mud hut, with the Greyhounds in pursuit.
The latter called out to a mother, her eight-year-old son and her toddler to move out, and when they did, started firing into the house. Some of the bullets struck the mud wall. A person believed to be a Maoist slipped out through a small mud hole in the back. Ten days later the bullet marks remain like pock marks on the face of the mud walls.
The shooting, chasing, and shooting continued on and off till around 11 in the bright sunny morning. When the killings finally stopped, a hundred and fifty meters away where the Maoists had been camping, the villagers saw the Greyhounds tie up the dead Maoists and carry them to the edge of the Balimela reservoir. A helicopter would later come to take the bodies away. That day, 24 Maoists died in the firing.
In the combing operations the next day, four more were found hiding in the hills. They were killed as well.
When this reporter and photographer, along with the Human Rights Forum team reached this village, ten days after the incident, signs of the bloodbath still lay strewn around in mute witness: vegetables were strewn around and cooked rice that was rotting, half-burnt caps, tiffin boxes, plates, raincoats, shoes, the smell putrefaction rising above the flies and the ants. The tree line stood silent 50 metres away. The scared villagers were reluctant to even point to the site where the shootings occurred.
They recalled how on the evening of October 23, the Maoists went calling on the neighbouring villages, seeking about half a dozen able-bodied men, to provide provide logistical support. The underlying hope was that the adivasis would later sign up as well. Fifteen or 16 men were taken to the camp.
No one had seen the Greyhounds. They had come through the forests, not taking the narrow, beaten path unusable in the rains, and reached the hill overlooking the Maoist camp which was set up where the gradient began. The forces took up positions, and waited for the day to break. From up the hill they had a clear line of fire. They could pick their targets, take them out one by one. Some of the dead must have been brushing their teeth when the bullets started flying.
While the police declared that 30 Maoists were killed, the latter in a letter identified 27 of them. According to local villagers, about 17 locals had been taken away by the Maoists for support. While nine were from Dakapadar village, six were from Bachilipadar and two from Kajuriguda village. Of these, only three from Bachilipadar have returned. One was accounted for as dead. His body was found in a culvert five days after he had died, when Maoists came to the village to do an aftermath assessment. The dead man was identified as being from Bachilipadar. The whereabouts of as many as 13 villagers is not known.
Five days after the shooting, on October 30, villagers from all the surrounding villages met to discuss the missing men but decided not to inform the police. “We are in a state of confusion. We do not know whether they are alive or in police custody or the Maoists have taken them,” said a villager from Beijingi, where the meeting was held. Not surprising, for in these parts where bullets can come from any direction, and sometimes you can’t tell who is doing the shooting.