Odisha: Malkangiri: Retreating Disruption

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Odisha: Malkangiri: Retreating Disruption

Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management | @indiablooms | 07 Nov 2017

On October 22, 2017, the dead body of a civilian, identified as Sama Pangi (45), was recovered from Spillway Ghat (bank of a water body) of Balimela reservoir in the Chitrakonda area of Malkangiri District in Odisha. On October 15, 2017, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres had hijacked a motor launch boat and taken Sama Pangi, its driver, hostage in the "cut-off" region of Chitrakonda in the District, when the vessel was on its way to Kunturpadar carrying grocery items for Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) forces deployed in the region. The Maoists killed Pangi suspecting him to be a 'Police informer'. According to Police, Pangi had been attacked two years earlier as well, but had survived. Following the attack, he had left his native village Janti and was staying at Pilobai village in the Chitrakonda area. He had sought protection from the District Police.

On October 6, 2017, CPI-Maoist cadres shot Dambaru Nayak (40) dead at Kurub village under Kalimela Police limits in Malkangiri District. According to reports, nearly 20 to 25 armed Maoists had come to the village and dragged Dambaru out of his home. They held a Jan Adalat (People's/ Kangaroo Court organized by the Maoists) where they accused him of being a 'Police informer' and shot him dead in the presence of the villagers.

On October 5, 2017, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a villager, identified as Imra Kabasi, in the Bapanapalli area under Padia Police limits in Malkangiri District. The Maoists dragged Imra to the nearby forest and slit his throat. The Maoists suspected that Imra was a 'Police informer'.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least nine civilians have been killed in Malkangiri District in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in 2017 (data till November 5, 2017). Significantly, out of five Districts across Odisha from where such civilian fatalities have been recorded in the current year, Malkangiri has the dubious distinction of being the front-runner, with Kalahandi and Koraput both standing distant seconds, with two fatalities each. Kandhamal and Rayagada have recorded one such fatality each. The total number of civilian killings in such violence across Odisha in the current year stands at 15.

Out of 31 Districts across seven States from where Maoist-linked civilian fatalities have been recorded in the current year, Malkangiri was the worst, with nine fatalities; followed by Jamui (Bihar) and Gumla (Jharkhand), with five fatalities each.

Since the formation of the CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2004, Malkangiri has recorded at least 116 civilian fatalities and is ranked 1st among a total of 18 Districts in Odisha from where civilian fatalities have been registered over this period. In terms of all-India data, out of 116 Districts from where civilian fatalities have been recorded since the formation of CPI-Maoist, Malkangiri ranked 6th. The Districts which recorded a greater number of civilian fatalities included West Midnapore (West Bengal), 464; Dantewada (Chhattisgarh), 337; Bijapur (Chhattisgarh), 174; Gadchiroli (Maharashtra), 153; and Gumla (Jharkhand), 121.

After registering a significant dip in civilian fatalities, on year on year basis, in 2016, the surge witnessed in the current year is worrying. The escalation may primarily be due to declining engagement with Security Forces (SFs) on the ground, as is evident from the data: just one Maoist killed in the current year as against 31 Maoists killed in the corresponding period of 2016, the highest Maoist fatalities in the District since the formation of CPI-Maoist. Civilian targeting is a low risk effort to restore a measure of dominance in areas where the Maoists have suffered major reverses, and to inflict penalties on those who are perceived as aiding the State's operational successes.

Indeed, since the two successive encounters in the Bejingi Forest area between Ramgarh and Panasput in the Malkangiri District on October 24 and 27, 2016, the Maoists have been struggling to retain their hold in the District. Since September 21, 2004, Malkangiri District has recorded 86 SF fatalities, as compared to 85 fatalities among the Maoists, establishing a kill ratio of 1:1.01 in favour of the Maoists. Out of 69 Districts across 14 States of India from where fatalities in both these categories were recorded, the kill ratio has been in favour of the Maoists in just 25 Districts. Significantly, the kill ratio has veered sharply in favour of the SFs since 2013.

Located in the southern part of the State, Malkangiri also shares its borders with Sukma District (carved out of Dantewada) in Chhattisgarh; Khammam District in Telangana; and East Godavari and Vishakhapatnam Districts in Andhra Pradesh. The District population is 613,192 (Census 2011), and it occupies an area of 5,791 square kilometers. 2,321 square kilometres of its total geographical area, about 40.08 per cent, is under forest cover. Terrain and geographical proximity to contiguous Maoist-affected regions in neighbouring States (Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), have made Malkangiri a perfect area for a guerrilla stronghold.

Significantly, the Maoist diktat runs across the District, despite their progressive loss of geographical control in Malkangiri. Disruptive dominance is maintained through the creation of an atmosphere of terror in the region through the targeted killing of civilians, as well as other acts of intimidation.

On September 18, 2017, the Maoists forced a family from Paparmetla Palem village in Malkangiri District to leave their village. Ten members of the family of Kamal Khila were forced out, as the Maoists had branded their son, who was working outside the State, a Police Informer. Earlier, on September 17, 2017, a youth, Pilku Khara, belonging to Luchapani village in the Chitrakonda Block of the District, fled home after a Maoist kangaroo court held on September 9 told him to join their organisation or face 'punishment'. Further, around 20 armed CPI-Maoist cadres had barged into Murelguda village under Chitrakonda block on September 14, 2017, in search of their 'convict' Ramachandra Sisa, who had been 'awarded death sentence', by a kangaroo court on September 9, 2017, for defying the Maoists. As the Maoists failed to extract any information about Sisa, they set his two-wheeler on fire. They also terrorised the villagers while enquiring about Sisa, who is reportedly running for his life after he escaped from the kangaroo court. Sources indicate that he has moved to an undisclosed location along with his wife, leaving behind his frail mother to fend for herself in the village. Similarly, on September 1, 2017, a family in the Jantri village in the Chitrakonda Block had to leave their home after the Maoists threatened them.

Meanwhile, on October 15, 2017, CPI-Maoist posters and letters were found at Badatekguda under the Kalimela Block of the District, in which the rebels demanded that at least 10 people from each village of Malkangiri District must join the Maoists at the Helkanur Hill on October 25, 2017. A violation of the 'order', the Maoists warned, would attract the 'death sentence'. No further information is available about the incident. In the same letter, the Maoists had asked surrendered cadres to return to the outfit, else they would 'not be spared'.

Apart from the increased civilian fatalities in Malkangiri, other patterns of violence in the District have also seen a rise. A total of 15 persons were abducted in four incidents in 2017 (till November 5), while there was no such incident in the corresponding period of 2016. The Maoists have carried out three incidents of arson in 2017, as against none in the corresponding period of previous year. Further, at least 11 families have deserted their homes in 2017 due to Maoist threats, as against seven families in the corresponding period of 2016.

On October 26, 2017, the State Government decided to intensify its drive against the CPI-Maoist, with a focus on joint operations by Police and Central Forces in Malkangiri and Koraput Districts, which were considered to be Maoist strongholds. On October 26, 2017, during his first visit to Malkangiri and Koraput, State Director General of Police (DGP), R.P. Sharma, since taking charge as the State Police Chief on August 31, 2017, reviewed anti-Maoist operations and stated, "Our emphasis will be on joint operations and better co-ordination between the forces." DGP Sharma, also reviewed the ongoing work on the Gurupriya Bridge, which would connect the six Gram Panchayats (village level local-self government institutions) in the "cut-off" area located across the Balimela reservoir, with the District's mainland.

Earlier, on September 28, 2017, Border Security Force (BSF) Additional Director General (ADG), Arun Kumar, had informed,

We are planning to fill security gaps in the cutoff areas of Malkangiri and Tulsi Dongri of Chhattisgarh to cause maximum damage to the Red rebels. Accordingly, we are planning operations in those particular areas. Communications in the cutoff areas is a major problem. Recently, the Central Government has allotted Rs 25 crore for upgradation of infrastructure in these areas. This has boosted the morale of the forces..

The Maoists persist in their effort to retain a hold in Malkangiri, and the security challenge refuses to die. Time bound efforts - both from the Centre and State - are quintessential for the District to consolidate the tremendous gains that the SFs have secured, and to ensure that the Maoists find no remaining place to hide, despite the difficulties of terrain and location that have long favoured them.

 

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Odisha: Malkangiri: Retreating Disruption

Deepak Kumar Nayak Research Assistant; Institute for Conflict Management
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