When Budru reported to the police station in Dornapal on December 8, he found an arrest warrant was waiting for him.
The previous day, the station house officer had sent word to Chintalnar, the village where the 25-year-old handpump mechanic lived, asking him to report to the thana in Dornapal. The town is located in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, part of the region of Bastar, which is witnessing a long-drawn Maoist insurgency.
Budru travelled 45 kilometres on a broken road, only to find that the police had dug out an old rape case against him from 2010.
He steeled himself for arrest but instead was told he could “surrender” as a Maoist. By doing so, he could walk out free and even get a monetary award.
Twenty four-year-old Ramesh, who runs a shop in Chintalnar, found himself in a similar fix. A warrant was issued against him for being accomplice in the murder of Nagesh, a special police officer from Chintalnar, allegedly killed by Maoists.
A similar case was made against another shopkeeper, Govind, who says he witnessed the murder which took place in front of his shop but denied having anything to do with it. He was given an option: either turn in as a surrendered Naxalite or face arrest.
Budru, Ramesh and Govind chose the first option. As instructed, they reported the next morning at the police station in Polampalli, between Dornapal and Chintalnar, where another 23 men had similarly lined up as “surrendered Maoists”.
The surrenders made headlines in local newspapers the next morning. The papers reported that 26 Maoists, including five “warranted” Maoists, had surrendered in the presence of the Inspector General of Bastar, SRP Kalluri, among other officials of the police and civil administration. The Times of India
called the surrenders “a major success for Chhattisgarh police in its fight against Naxalism in Bastar region”.
“This is the first time such surrenders have taken place,” said D Srawan, the police superintendent of Sukma, his voice brimming with pride. “The police will welcome all those who are willing to surrender the CPI (Maoist) ideology and are willing to join the mainstream democracy. It is not necessary they come with their weapons,” he added.
Chintalnar village falls in the middle of Maoist controlled territory, about 80 kilometres from the district headquarters of Sukma, located in the region of Bastar.
The village was once a bustling market hub, where traders bought and sold timber and forest produce, which was transported to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
It came into the spotlight in the summer of 2010 when in an early morning ambush, the Maoists killed 76 security personnel sleeping in a nearby village. Since then, the state has built more security camps in the area and rarely does a month pass without news of encounters, blasts, arrests from villages in about 20-50 km radius around Chintalnar.
In 2011, homes in three villages were allegedly burnt by security personnel during an anti-Maoist operation. An inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation based on the complaints of the villagers is dragging its feet even to this day.
In Chintalnar and its nearby villages, surrounded by newly set up security camps, almost everyone is suspect in the eyes of the state – local adivasis, non-adivasis from the trading community from UP and Bihar, the Bengali community that settled here in the ‘70s, and others.
People from the villages are regularly called into the thana and asked to divulge information on the Maoists, said Bhushan, one of the 15 young men summoned by the police.
According to the residents of Chintalnar, on December 7, the station house office of the local thana sent verbal orders to 15 young men, asking them to report at Dornapal thana the next day.
Most of these young men belonged to the local trading community with roots in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These migrant families either ran shops in Chintalnar, or were engaged in transport business, plying passengers from Dornapal to Chintalnar, a lucrative business in these areas.
Of those summoned, many like Sunil, Arvind, Budru, Govind, Bhushan, Ravi and others dutifully followed the orders. After a few hours of inquiry at the thana, the police asked the others to leave, except Budru, Govind and Sunil, who were asked to come back to take part in the ‘surrenders’, as the warrants has been issued against them.
While Bhushan was relieved that the police let him to return home, he feared that this was not the end of the troubles.
Govind, the local shopkeeper, returned home the next day after the surrender drama, but he was too traumatised to meet anyone. “Govind has been running this shop for the last 15 years when he came to the area to make a living,” said one of the villagers. “He has never strayed beyond his shop. He can’t even run half a kilometre, how can they cast him to be a Naxalite?”
Budru’s sister said of her brother: “He can’t stand straight, he drinks so much. What made the police think he could be a Naxalite?”
As people gathered in huddles to discuss the forced surrenders, many expressed shock, others voiced disgust. “The police finds innocent people to frighten them and trap them into doing as they wish,” said a villager.
Said one of the men summoned to Dornapal but allowed to return: “It was a tamasha put up by the police to earn some stars on their sleeves.”
The police superintendent, D Srawan, however, defended the surrenders and denied they were fake.
“We define Naxalism in the broad parameter of those having sympathy with or propagating banned Maoist ideology,” he said. “Therefore any individual, whether military cadre, sangam member, or sympathiser, who is willing to forgo the banned Maoist ideology to embrace mainstream democracy will be considered surrendered Naxalite.” Even if an entire village is willing to surrender the ideology, the government will incentivise them, he added.
Of the 26 men who had surrendered that day, he said 17 had warrants against them. Most of them featured in cases of murder, possession of illegal weapons, and some were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, he said. “But if they are willing to embrace democracy and surrender their ideology, the police is willing to look at their cases leniently.”
If the 17 men had not agreed to surrender, would they have been arrested? “Of course,” he responded nonchalantly.
What happens to the charges against them, now that they have surrendered? He said the cases against them would not be dropped, but “leniency would be exercised”. He did not define leniency.
Many in Chintalnar felt that it would be difficult for those labelled ‘surrendered Naxalite’ to live in the villages. The Maoists would suspect them to have become ‘gopniya police’ (secret police) engaged in gathering intelligence for the government. Wouldn’t the security of surrendered Naxals be a concern for the police? “Well, it’s a choice they have to make,” said Srawan. As part of the government’s rehabilitation policy, surrendered Naxalites are given monetary assistance of Rs 10,000 and also offered a house under the Indira Awas Yojana in places away from their villages, he said.
Living in fear
The police’s enthusiasm for surrenders keeps the residents of Chintalnar worried.
Anil was one of those summoned by the police in the first week of December. His father received the police summons on his behalf since he was not at home. This was not the first time someone from the family had been asked to appear in the thana. Five months ago, four people, including Anil’s father, were called by the police. They were later taken to Gadiras, about 95 kilometres away from Chintalnar, where they were confined, blindfolded for nearly ten days without any charges. After he came back home, Anil’s father, fearing for his son, advised him to leave Chintalnar to set up a business in Sukma town.
But even the move to Sukma did not help. The day the police summons came, Anil was boarding a bus to the state capital Raipur, from where he was to travel to Uttar Pradesh to attend a cousin’s wedding.
By the time, Anil changed plans, re-routed and reached Polampalli the next afternoon, where the surrenders were taking place, the show was over. “You reached late,” he was told. An arrest warrant had been issued in his name. But he was allowed to go home with the promise that he would reappear when called again for another round of ‘surrenders’.
“I will have to go,” he said, speaking of the possibility. “There’s no escape, after all I need to live here, can’t risk any antagonism with the police.”
The names of the villagers have been changed to protect their identities.