March 29, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Sharat Pradhan

Lal Salaam!
Lal Salaam!

In the duel between law enforcers and the Naxalites, it was 15-year-old Hari Narayan, alias Kallu, who paid the price. With his life. Also killed were 15 Naxalites, five of whom were prominent leaders of the movement. Twenty days after the incident, the others are yet to be identified.

The encounter, which took place in Bhawanipur village in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, on March 9, only served to strengthen the belief that the Bihar-based Naxalites are now attempting to expand their base into UP.

Of the five who have been identified, Devnath Kol was rumoured to be the outlawed Maoist Communist Centre's divisional commander in charge of the Sinbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandaulu districts. Lavrat Kol and Tyagi Kol were both MCC area commanders. Sheshmani Pal belonged to the neighbouring Bhiti village. And Sushil Pal carried a price of Rs 2,00,000 on his head; the reward had been announced some time ago by the police of the neighbouring Bihar district, Palamu. All of them were based in Uttar Pradesh and had cases registered against them.

Most of the villagers refuse to speak or even acknowledge the incident. But a few hushed voices -- on condition of anonymity -- accuse the police of cold-blooded murder.

"Many of them had come out of their hiding places to surrender to the police," claimed a villager, "but they were lined up and shot dead." The administration, however, denied the charge. "The exchange of fire continued for hours. Can't you make that out from the bullet marks all over the village? Some Naxalites even tried to escape while continuing to fire at the police," says an angry police officer.

Local officials claim to have umpteen reports about a gradual build-up by the MCC, which has a strong base in south-west Bihar, an area that borders UP's Mirzapur, Sonebhadra and Chandauli districts. The Naxalites were apparently using Bhawanipur as a camp since the thick Sonebhadra forest, which spans the vast UP-Bihar border, was a safe cover for their movements.

It is not difficult for them to influence the large but poor tribal population of this region; they support a sustained indoctrination process with 'intellectual bombardment' and monetary aid. With the land being usurped by the powerful 'Kurmi' landlords and no alternative employment in sight, even the smallest pecuniary benefit attracts the poor tribals and Dalits.

Bags filled with written material -- including pamphlets, booklets like the Lal Pataka (Red Flag), posters and banners promoting self-empowerment messages -- were recovered from the slain ultras. All of them promoted violence as the only method that would "give the poor tribals and the downtrodden their legitimate right over every inch of the land in the region."

The Naxalites also offer them "protection against wrongs by the rich and powerful." A Kol villager, who had been deprived of his legitimate share in the harvest by a powerful Kurmi landlord, says, "It was only after a visitor (read Naxalite) from Bihar warned the usurper of my property with dire consequences that my share was returned to me."

Another Kurmi with huge land holdings in a neighbouring village describes how he fell victim to extortion. "One day, I received a written note, demanding I deliver a certain amount of money -- the figure was in lakhs -- within the next three days. Otherwise, it said, I would become eight inches shorter (his head would be chopped off)." He quietly handed over the money, too terrified to even think of seeking police protection.

Besides, the Dalit or tribal-owned lands are generally located on the fringe of the thick forests in this otherwise rocky terrain, making it easier for the Naxalites to contact them. "We have enough evidence that some small farmers are closely connected with the MCC, " says district magistrate Chandra Prasad. "Their activists are known to hide in these farmers' houses whenever the Bihar police turn on the heat. Besides, they also facilitate the initial interaction between the MCC and the UP tribals."

Marihan's sub-inspector, Ram Bali Saroj, says, "Naxalites are increasingly holding up people on the roads and extorting money and valuables from them. The two policemen who were murdered in the recent past are another testimony to the growing Naxal activity in this region."

A diary found in one of the seized bags contained a general account of how many houses have been formally inducted into the MCC cadre. While no names were mentioned, the figures listed against some of the villages is a clear indicator of the success of their methods.

The slain ultras were also armed with modern weapons; the police recovered one 315 and two 303 rifles, two double barrel 12 bore guns, one single-barrel 12 bore gun and half-a-dozen country-made guns and pistols. These were "sealed" in the Marihan police station. "It was only after gunning them down that we realised how well-equipped they were," said circle officer Vipul Srivastava, who was actively engaged in the day-hour long operation.

It took 450 policemen from three districts, led by Varanasi's zonal inspector general of police, B K Singh, and 400 rounds of fire to overpower the Naxalites. Neither the police nor the district administration, however, were able to convincingly explain the death of an innocent bystander, Kallu, who belonged to the Kol community. In fact, there are conflicting official versions. "You have been misinformed," said one police officer. "The boy was not 15, he was at least 19 years old." Another said, "He was informing the Naxalites about our movements."

An eyewitness, though, claims otherwise. "The poor boy was obviously petrified by the police's barbaric methods; they were hitting every villager who came out of his hut in response to the announcement that they line up in the open. He fumbled while giving his identity, so a trigger-happy officer shot him dead." Kallu, a class seven student from the neighbouring Khairpur village in Sonebhadra district, was visiting a relative in Bhawanipur.

The police rushed his body to the Mirzapur district headquarters located 73 kilometres away, where it was eventually handed over to his father, Khilawan.

The district administration has now set up a Provincial Armed Constabulary camp, strategically located between Bhawanipur and the long stretch of forests. Prasad adds, "We are also considering setting up a permanent police station, or at least an outpost."

Bhawanipur finds these change disconcerting. "This has always been a calm and quiet place. We are content with whatever little we have and have never indulged in any subversive activity," says Pappu, a petty shopkeeper who lives behind the house used by the MCC as their hideout that fateful March day. Another villager, Bansidhar, adds, "One rarely sees a cop in this village. The sudden convergence of 300- 400 armed policemen is a clear signal that some curse has befallen us."

Design: Uttam Ghosh

Part II: 'They will make me a widow'
Part III: Antidote to Naxal fever

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