Sukma is caught in crossfire as security forces battle Maoists

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Sukma is caught in crossfire as security forces battle Maoists
Children attend a candle light vigil in memory of the police personnel who were killed in the Sukma Naxal attack in Chattisgarh, Patna.

New Delhi - The state government has been particularly active in building roads and bridges

By C P Surendran

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Published: Sun 30 Apr 2017, 11:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 1 May 2017, 1:23 AM

A bunch of villagers in Burkapal, a village in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh, are  caught in the war between government security forces and militants Maoists.
Last Monday, the rebels had shot down 25 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, and seriously injured 10 in an ambush.
Burkapal is located deep in the jungles of Chhattisgarh. Because of the inaccessibility of the place, Maoist party workers take refuge here. The government knows it. Which is why, no matter which party is at the Centre, there have been consistent efforts to build roads and bridges through villages like Burkapal and connect it to the big cities and towns.  The infrastructure development is meant to make policing and patrolling of the areas routine and safe. It is also meant to generate jobs and increase trade and traffic.
The state government has been particularly active in building roads and bridges between the jungle infested area of  Jagargunda with Dornapal in the east, Bijapur in the west, and Kirandul in Dantewada in the north, all rather remote places.
The stretch on which the Maoists ambushed a CRPF patrol team on Monday is one of those crucial under-construction roads in south Sukma, one of the most Maoist violence-affected areas, though incidents of great violence and mayhem have happened over the years in all these places where roads are being built.
Of the three under-construction roads, the first is a 75-km stretch of NH-30, connecting Sukma with Konta.
The second connects Injeram and Bhejji, which had come under attack on March 11, leaving 13 CRPF men dead. The third - the stretch where Monday's ambush occurred - is a road that connects Dornapal on National Highway 30, with Jagargunda.
The ambush was planned well. The night before the action, the village had emptied of people. The security personnel - 74th battalion of the CRPF- supervising the construction work of the road had failed to notice it, though. On April 24, they did see a truck dropping off a group of women in Burkapal earlier in the day. This was ignored. The women were armed.
Just before 1 pm, the 72 soldiers made their way back to the base camp for their lunch break. They were on either side of the road in two bunches, and moving forward when the bullets came. They tried to run back, but were cut down by the bullets from the women in the rear. 
Naturally, there are questions. How alert and prepared were the soldiers? Did they retaliate at all? The answers are likely to disappoint an interlocutor.
Later, the militants issued an audio statement, and said the Burkapal attack was " in retaliation to the sexual exploitation and abuse of the tribal women by the security personnel."
The CRPF leadership said this was just propaganda. And that the objective of  the Maoists were to disrupt the construction of the roads, and to access assault weapons and ammunition.
The villagers live in acute fear now of what the security personnel will do in vengeance. In 2011, a similar incident had resulted in the personnel putting to fire an entire village, Tadmetla.
" We are not involved with the Maoists," a group of villagers said to the media. "We are not violent people. It's not fair that we have to pay for the acts of one particular militant group."
The security personnel are not convinced. They believe, organised ambush of the sort that happened on April 24, is unlikely to take place without the involvement of the villagers. "Every time this happens, a few villagers will come and tell us how they are caught between the militants and us. This time, we will be questioning everyone."
It's possible at least a section of the villagers are speaking the truth. In 2016, when the police had secured the surrender of 26 Maoist supporters  in Burkapal, the militants had compiled a list of 'traitors' and went about persecuting their families.
"We are caught in the crossfire," a village woman said, "we don't have a normal life here. Our children don't go to school. Because of the militants, we are afraid to approach government for help, and our relatives and friends are rounded up and taken for questioning.
Often, they don't come back. And then we have ambushes like this once in every few months, which further worsen the situation. What do we do?"
The answer to that question partly explains the complexity of India's developmental politics.

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