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'Where's the Proof They Were Maoists?': Ask Widows of Bastar Ahead of Elections

Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

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"How can someone who had been married for decades, had an Aadhaar card, a bank account, and ran a kirana shop suddenly be branded a Maoist and killed?" asked 37-year-old Rava Sodhi, outside her home in Tadmetla village of Chhattisgarh's Sukma district. She recounted the events of the day her husband Rava Deva left home and never returned.

Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

Widows such as Rava Sodhi ask why should they even step out and vote.

(Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint)

Ahead of Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, widows such as Rava Sodhi ask why should they even step out and vote.

Inside the lush forested area of Bastar lies Tadmetla where a tragedy unfolded on 5 September 2023 when Rava Deva and Sodhi Korsa were allegedly forcibly cremated, leaving behind grieving families and widows. They were both purportedly killed in a fake encounter over their alleged links to Maoist activities.

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But why were they allegedly forcibly cremated?

The answer to this question lies in the history of Bastar – a region marred by the tussle between the security forces and the Maoists.

Stuck between the State and armed left-wing extremists, the tribals are stuck in a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go. The allegations of excesses by the police and security forces on the native residents have a long history.

The most recent one, which gained widespread attention, happened on 17 May 2021, when three tribals – Kawasi Waga, Uika Pandu, and Korsa Bhima - were allegedly shot dead by security forces during a protest against a security force camp which came up on 12 May in the Silger village of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh.

Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

Sandwiched between the state and armed left-wing extremists the tribals in Bastar are stuck in a rock and a hard place with nowhere to go. 

Photo: Raunak Shivhare/The Quint

After this incident, Bastar saw an upsurge of protests against the security forces. Even as the protests continue, incidents of encounters of Maoists and allegations of them being staged keep emerging from Bastar.

Rava Sodhi, the widow of Rava Deva, recounted one such incident:

"My husband and Korsa left the house at 8 am to get some money owed by Korsa's brother-in-law who lives in Timmapuram. However, the brother-in-law did not pay them so they asked him to bring the money to Tadmetla and borrowed his bike to go to the market. They were in Chintalnar, getting their borrowed bike refuelled at the shop of Gaya Singh when the police arrested them and took them to Chintalnar police station."
Rava Sodhi
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Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

The police claimed that Rava Deva and Sodhi Korsa were Maoists with bounties on their heads, deeply involved in Maoist activities and were killed in an exchange of gunfire on 5 September. Their widows, however, contest this claim. 

Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint

The police claimed that Rava Deva and Sodhi Korsa were Maoists with bounties on their heads, deeply involved in Maoist activities and were killed in an exchange of gunfire on 5 September. 

However, villagers and family members vehemently deny these claims, asserting that both were victims of a staged encounter.

Contradicting the police's claims, Sodhi added, "My husband was killed on the night of 4 September 2023, not on the 5 September".

Merely 200 meters from Rava Deva's house lives Sodhi Nande the widow of Sodhi Korsa who maintains that her husband was falsely accused and killed in a staged encounter.

Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

Merely 200 meters from Rava Deva's house lives Sodhi Nande the widow of Sodhi Korsa who maintains that her husband was falsely accused and killed in a staged encounter.

Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint

"the day my husband was killed, he left home in a black shirt and half pants to collect money from his Jija (brother-in-law). He never went anywhere else, he used to work at home. How could he be a Naxalite?"
Sodhi Nande

Korsa is survived by his wife who now face the challenge of raising their four kids alone.

"We have a small rice mill, and besides that, he used to do tailoring work. Despite all this, how could he be a Naxal? He never went out at night and was always occupied with his work. A month has passed since his death and now I only think of how to raise my children all alone."
Sodhi Nande

Rava Sodhi, Sodhi Nande and hundreds of women bear the brunt of this long-drawn conflict with little to no redressal from the government.

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Multiple Allegations of Fake Encounters in Bastar

Somlu Kohrami, labelled a Naxalite by the police and killed in an encounter in July 2023, left behind a grieving widow and three kids. 

This reporter during the Chhattisgarh assembly elections coverage, met with Kohrami's family in an abandoned home outside the forests of Keshkutul village, in Bijapur district. 

Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

This reporter during the Chhattisgarh assembly elections coverage, met with Kohrami's family in an abandoned home outside the forests of Keshkutul village, in Bijapur district. 

Photo: Raunak Shivhare/The Quint 

Nande, Kohrami's widow recalls how her husband went to find oxen and never returned, only to be labelled a Maoist.

"At 6.30 am, my husband left to find our oxen and asked me to meet him in the fields for ploughing. I waited until 9 am, but he never returned. Worried, I returned home, fed the children, and began searching for him. A villager informed me that he saw my husband heading into the forest that morning and heard gunfire sometime later and the security forces carried away a dead body. My heart raced due to fear. I went to Bhairamgarh to enquire and found that the police had shot him, falsely branding him as a Maoist,"
Nande.
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No Actions in Previous Cases of Fake Encounters

Bastar has witnessed various police encounters that were initially claimed to have been Maoist operations and later ruled out as fake encounters by judicial commissions.

Earlier, in September 2021, a judicial probe was conducted into one such encounter from Edesmetta village of Bijapur, where, in the year 2013, eight people were gunned down and labelled as Maoists. But the probe revealed that the deceased persons were, in fact, not Maoists.

The findings of yet another judicial probe into an encounter that had occurred at Sarkeguda, Bijapur, in 2012, had also revealed that those killed in the encounter were not Maoists.

Talking to The Quint, a senior journalist reporting from Bastar said that the governments avoid actions on security forces so that they are not demotivated on the ground but it's not necessarily the correct move.

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Widows Call For Justice, Boycott Elections 

The Chhattisgarh Police, however, refuted claims of fake encounters and said that such protests are Maoist conspiracies peddled by the banned outfit.

Bastar's Inspector General of Police, Sunderraj P said:

The allegations against the police in the cases of Tadmetla and Keshkutul are baseless. We have also conducted investigation; no such facts have come to light based on which suspicion can be raised on the soldiers or the police. This is a conspiracy of Maoists, their support base is dwindling, that is why they are peddling these things. A magisterial inquiry into this matter has also been ordered.
Why are widows in Maoist-hit Bastar calling for boycott of Chhattisgarh assembly elections 2023?

The widows of this ongoing conflict advocate for an election boycott as they feel the government has done little to address their concerns.

Photo: Vishnukant Tiwari/The Quint

The widows of this ongoing conflict advocate for an election boycott as they feel the government has done little to address their concerns.

These widows also call for justice, and compensation to ensure their children's names do not get falsely labeled as Maoists in the future.

Breaking down in despiar, Rava Sodhi said:

"My husband frequently visited Dornapal and Sukma, and he had entry at every police camp. Yet, he was falsely accused of being a Maoist and killed. If he was a Maoist, would we have so many documents?"

Sodhi Nande adds, "My husband was caught in the market and encountered; how can we trust such a system? How can we vote for them? We will not vote at all."

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Topics:  Chhattisgarh   Bastar   Fake Encounters 

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