First Person

Where the Gun Is a Limb

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Ten days after the Dantewada ambush in which 76 CRPF jawans were killed, Open photographer Ishan Tankha travels to Chhattisgarh to meet the chief architect of the biggest Naxal attack so far. In the dense forests, he catches glimpses of the life of Maoist guerillas.

Here, they refer to the  Dantewada ambush as Chihatar (76), nothing more, nothing less. And here, inside the Maoist guerilla zone, it is business as usual.

Armed squads move around, working, as they have in the jungles of Dandakaranya for the past 30 years. There are meetings to be held with villagers. Ration has to be procured. Food has to be cooked. Political and military classes of the cadre have to be conducted. Propaganda literature and press statements need to be written and sent out through human couriers. The guerillas work silently—men and women, doing jobs assigned to them. But between all this, there is one thing they are very particular about now, in the wake of Government’s anti-Naxal offensive: carry a gun no matter where you go. Like your limb.

We have been called this time to meet the man the Government badly wants dead: Ramanna alias Ravula Srinivas, a senior Maoist leader and the chief architect of the 6 April Dantewada attack on the CRPF party. He claimed that the Maoists had wanted to lay the ambush somewhere else, but were forced to attack after the CRPF soldiers spotted one of Maoist squads and fired at them.

“We had planned to ambush them deep inside the jungle but we realised that they were patrolling the areas near the Chintalnar-Domlur road, so we decided to ambush them near the road instead. Around 5:30, the CRPF jawans returning from Mukram village spotted a smaller squad of Maoist fighters (who had come down from the hillock where three companies of Maoist fighters had decided to lay in wait),  and opened fire. We returned fire with the one and only LMG that we had from the base of the hillock.  Under cover of the LMG fire, two groups of Maoists moved to cut the CRPF on the main road, forcing them out in an open field next to the road. The CRPF did not realise that another company of Maoist fighters lay in wait on the other end of the field. Flanked from both sides and under fire from the hill in front as well, the CRPF personnel had no chance of surviving. They fought a good battle but we had the upper hand, ” Ramanna says.

At the same time, two smaller groups lay in wait at both ends of the road to stop reinforcements from reaching the site. “ They managed to hold them ( CRPF) off for two hours, but by then, it was all over.”

Refuting official claims that they had three LMGs and had planted numerous pressure bombs, Ramanna asks, “If there had been IEDs exploded, won’t there be any debris left? We had carried IEDs with us but didn’t have the time to plant them. Except for the one IED that we had laid on the road (which blew up the anti mine truck)  to stop reinforcements, no other IEDs were used.” He laughs out loud  when asked if they had three LMGs and if two were atop trees . “It was a battle of rifles and bullets.”We returned the same way we had entered, following a guide in absolute darkness, in single file. At  a short distance, light shone from a hillock. “CISF camp,” our guide whispered.

Ishan Tankha