Death. And Dark Lies in Bas­tar

As the hazy pic­ture of the mid­night op­er­a­tion that killed 17 vil­lagers gets clearer, the para­mil­i­tary force is le with plenty to an­swer for. By and Pho­to­graphs by


AT 4 AM on 29 June, there was a loud bang on the door of K San­tosh, a lo­cal jour­nal­ist with Zee TV in Bi­japur dis­trict of Ch­hat­tis­garh. Taken aback by the dis­tur­bance at the odd hour, San­tosh asked, “Who is there?” “Po­lice,” came the re­ply, “Sir wants to talk to you.” De­spite be­ing a jour­nal­ist for al­most eight years, San­tosh was wary of open­ing the door and hes­i­tated. The im­pa­tient voice then in­formed him that “some­thing big” had hap­pened and the sta­tion of­fi­cer wanted San­tosh to ac­com­pany the po­lice team to the crime scene. Con­fused by this de­vel­op­ment, San­tosh re­fused to budge.

Fif­teen min­utes later, a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer ap­proached San­tosh’s door and said that 12-13 vil­lagers have been killed and 56 CRPF jawans injured in an en­counter and he wanted San­tosh to cover it. The jour­nal­ist, who knew the of­fi­cer, com­plied and fol­lowed the po­lice team on his mo­tor­cy­cle to Basaguda, a vil­lage lo­cated 50 km from the dis­trict head­quar­ters. Lit­tle did he know that he was go­ing to wit­ness the af­ter­math of one of the worst mas­sacres of the year, in which 17 trib­als from Sarkeguda, Kot­teguda and Ra­japeta vil­lages were killed in an al­leged en­counter by a 200-strong CRPF team.

“For the first time in my ca­reer, the po­lice, which has a his­tory of with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion, was so forth­com­ing and ac­tu­ally came to my house with in­for­ma­tion,” says San­tosh. And the most im­por­tant thing was the shift­ing nar­ra­tive: What be­gan as the “deaths of 12-13 vil­lagers” changed to “17 Nax­als killed” within the next 5-6 hours. How and when this change hap­pened is an in­ter­est­ing story.

This was the big­gest op­er­a­tion un­der­taken by the CRPF in the Bas­tar re­gion since 1999. So how did the op­er­a­tion, which was be­ing planned for al­most a fort­night, go hor­ri­bly wrong? Was it plain over­sight or just frayed tem­pers get­ting bet­ter of the con­ven­tional wis­dom of war?

What hap­pened at Sarkeguda was plain mis­for­tune, says a se­nior CRPF of­fi­cer. “We had re­ceived in­tel­li­gence that (Naxal lead­ers) Pa­parao and Ra­manna were go­ing to be in Sil­ger vil­lage and there was also a ma­jor Naxal move­ment near the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha bor­der. They seemed to be plan­ning a ma­jor op­er­a­tion,” he says.

On the ba­sis of that in­put, the po­lice and the CRPF de­cided to take two par­ties of 400 jawans from Basaguda in Bi­japur to Sil­ger. One party each from Ja­gar­gunda and Chin­tal­nar were also sup­posed to meet them at Sil­ger. At around 9 pm on 28 June, two CRPF units started from Basaguda camp to­wards Sil­ger. As a stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dure, the units gen­er­ally stay away from the main roads and avoid vil­lages in or­der to keep Naxal in­form­ers at bay.

“At around 11 pm, when we were about 300 m from Sarkeguda vil­lage, the 85th bat­tal­ion of the CRPF and CO­BRA unit de­tected some move­ment,” re­calls a se­nior CRPF of­fi­cer who was in­volved in the op­er­a­tion. “We moved to­wards the vil­lage

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