The ghastly end of the Bastar Tiger

The post-mortem report of Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma (62), who was killed in an ambush by Maoists in Chhattisgarh, reveals gory details that would send chill down the spine. His body bore 78 stab wounds and was riddled with several bullets as Maoists pumped in many in glee. Besides, the body bore injuries inflicted by a blunt object.

According to eyewitnesses, the Maoists, mostly women, danced around his body after ensuring that he has bled to death.

But many industrialists, real estate agents and even some BJP leaders, though rather slyly, mourned his death as they had lost a “leader” who had used strong-arm tactics and floated literally private army Salwa Judum (SJ which in Gond means purification hunt) to check growing Maoist threat in Central Indian state.

Karma, who had survived at least four attempts on his life by suspected Maoists, is loved and hated depending on who is speaking about him.

What made the Maoists to mutilate Karma’s body and do the dance of death in a manner that the people will never forget--he used his own clan to rise and fall. “He was stuck in the vicious circle of revenge and violence and he knew that he will never come out of that alive,” said Chhattisgarh SC/ST Development Minister Kedar Kashyap at the funeral of Karma in his village Farsapal. The anti-Maoist outfit SJ that he founded also completed a circle, starting from the most favoured anti-Maoist movement, pampered by the government and the opposition to its ban by the Supreme Court in 2011.

“The Congress used him for its advantage as a party mascot and sidelined him in the recent years. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, while addressing a Parivartan Rally in Bastar two days before the ambush, addressed him as a slow tiger. There were hundreds of Gonds at that meeting and the face of Bastar tiger turned red,” recalled veteran CPI leader Chittaranjan Bakshi.

Because of his background and popularity, he had made a name for himself and could win the elections even as an independent. However, around 2005, he started armed civilian vigilante movement first to save his farmland from the Maoists. Then, it came to be known as SJ. Initially, it was named as Jan Jagran Abhiyan comprising mostly traders and businessmen. However, the movement collapsed after sometime. In later years, Karma utilised the need for protection to mining firms that invested heavily in the tribal areas of the state by launching SJ.

“The state government in 2005 was looking for protection from a local hand as it strongly believed that poverty in tribal areas could be alleviated only through establishment of major industries. Karma came into picture as Tatas couldn’t acquire land,” Maoist Dandakaranya spokesperson Gudsa Usendi had said in an interview. Karma was leader of the Congress Legislative Party at the time when the SJ unleashed a rein of terror in Dantewada.

 With the connivance of the state government, SJ activists used to burn the houses of Maoist sympathisers. Special Police Officers (SPOs) appointed by the SJ were paid Rs 2,000 as an honorarium by the state government and they used to burn down houses of the Maoist sympathisers and resort to abductions and killings. The government also provided training to the SPO s and armed them with ammunition. By 2007, the SJ ranks swelled and the number stood at 4048.

There was no control on the SPOs and they became a law unto themselves. They were raping women and burning down villages for sheltering Maoists. In two years, more than 644 villages in south Chhattisgarh were evacuated and the three lakh residents become homeless and at least one lakh took shelter in the camps organised by the SJ. Karma realised that there is big money in the anti-Maoist business.

Human rights activists vehemently opposed SJ’s dubious activities as the death toll in encounters between the SJ and the Maoists mounted year after year. They sought the intervention of the Supreme Court in 2008, beginning the downtrend of the anti-Maoist force. With the dressing down by the apex court, the government stopped funding SJ activities. On July 5, 2011, while banning the SJ, the apex court directed the Chhattisgarh government to probe the alleged atrocities of the SJ.

Despite Karma belonging to the opposition party, his efforts were never criticised by Chief Minister Raman Singh. Because of his role against Maoists, Karma was on their hit-list. Owing to the threat posed to his life by the Maoists, he was given Z plus security.

Earlier, Maoists had killed his brother Podiyaram who was president of the Bhairamgad Janpad Panchayat. Karma lost 20 of his relatives in the hands of the Maoists in subsequent years.

In a statement, the Maoists said Karma was “a rapist, dacoit and corrupt leader”. Karma’s killing was a revenge for the indiscriminate killing of thousands of tribals, women and children by para military forces and the hired goons of Karma.

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