Regrets, fears and gloom shroud Dantewada as jawans laid to rest

Families of slain personnel struggle to cope with sudden loss as colleagues say the sacrifice of the jawans has only furthered their resolve to take part in anti-Naxal combat operations

April 27, 2023 09:46 pm | Updated April 28, 2023 12:51 am IST - DANTEWADA

Mortal remains of police personnel who lost their lives in an IED attack by Naxalites on Wednesday, during a wreath-laying ceremony, in Dantewada, on April 27, 2023.

Mortal remains of police personnel who lost their lives in an IED attack by Naxalites on Wednesday, during a wreath-laying ceremony, in Dantewada, on April 27, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Reshma Kartam had lost her father and a policeman brother to Maoist violence in the past, but she still wasn’t prepared for the loss of her husband, Rajuram Kartam.

Kartam (25), a gopaniya sainik (secret soldier or informer) with the Chhattisgarh Police’s District Reserve Guard (DRG), had been active in anti-insurgency operations.

“After losing my brother Umakant, a DRG jawan himself, in an anti-Naxal operation last November, I had become more fearful. He [Kartam] understood, and even discussed the threats his job entailed, but it was a way of life for him. My worst fears have come true,” says Ms. Reshma, as she mourns her husband, one of the 10 security personnel killed in a Maoist ambush near Dantewada’s Aranpur on Wednesday. A civilian driver too was killed in the attack.

Seated a few metres away from her husband’s coffin, Ms. Reshma breaks down in tears holding her one-year-old son in her arms. Many more grieving people – mostly relatives of the slain jawans – surround her at Dantewada’s Police Ground at Karli, as they await the beginning of the wreath-laying ceremony.

And it’s not just families who find themselves struggling with the loss and uncertainty about their future in a conflict zone like Bastar. Friends and ex-colleagues have also assembled, as have families of jawans who died in Maoist attacks in the past.

R.R. Kunjam, a DRG constable who has accompanied parents of deceased jawan Lakhmuram Markam, says Markam’s death won’t be a deterrent for him and has only furthered his resolve to take part in combat operations.

The DRG, a locally raised force, comprises several veterans like Markam who was associated with the Chhattisgarh Police since the days of Salwa Judum (now-banned militia mobilised by police), and surrendered Maoists, who make up nearly 50% of the force. Joga Kawasi, one such surrendered Maoist-turned-policeman, was among the casualties of Wednesday’s attack.

Some families have immediate challenges to deal with amid the Maoist threat. Munglu Ram Mandavi, for example, has come to collect his brother Dulgo Mandavi’s body but unlike most others, won’t be taking it back to their village. “The sarpanch has asked us not to perform his last rites there because the Maoists won’t let it happen,” he says. The funeral would eventually take place in the Dantewada police headquarters.

Mangaldehi Yadav, the widow of civilian driver Dhaniram, expects a fair compensation to raise her two children, aged 15 and seven. The word shaheed (martyr) is written on Dhaniram’s coffin too.

As the day wears on, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel arrives for the ceremony. Amidst chants of Bharat Mata Ki Jai, he lays wreaths and later carries the coffins of the jawans. He condoles the deaths and says the fight against the Naxals will be intensified. Families, however, say that such assurances have been made many times in the past.

Reflecting the pessimism is another voice – activist Soni Sori - who has also come to attend the wreath laying.

“Whether it is the Congress or the BJP, there have been repeated claims about pushing back Maoists. But one incident and it’s all back to square one. Who will bring lasting peace to the region so that we don’t have to see grieving faces like these,” asks Ms. Sori, pointing towards the rows of chairs behind her that are occupied by friends and families of the slain men.

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