The conflict in Bastar is claiming more lives than will ever be known. 24-year-old Hurre Kartami’s name will not feature in any official record but this is her story.
In the early hours of 13th April 2016, villagers from Badegudra village were out hunting in the hill adjoining their village. They had laid a trap for the porcupine or shahi-murga as it is locally called and were lying in wait. Suddenly police forces pounced on them and caught three people. They fired at the others as they tried to run. One got shot in his leg and the others escaped to the village.
During this time, Hurre’s husband Hunga Kartami had taken their five-year-old daughter Raje who had fever, to a healer, or vadde in the next hamlet, Kankepara, a few hundred meters away. Hurre, eight months pregnant, had gone home to rest and was on her way back. By this time the police force had come to Kankepara and according to several villagers, was ransacking houses, drinking all the locally brewed liquor and grabbing chickens and pigeons. Villagers say the force included police from the Tottepara CRPF camp nearby, Kuakonda and Dantewada police stations and were about 300-400 in number.
They name Kiran, Badru and Pardesi among those who came as part of the police force. These three were Naxal commanders in this area who surrendered and now lead police operations as part of a force called the District Reserve Guards (DRG) into villages that used come under their command. “They used to come and eat in our village and now they bring the police here to beat us up,” says one villager angrily. Accounts of police operations in other villages regularly feature these names.
Some men from the police force barged into the vadde‘s house where Hunga was sitting with his sick daughter in his lap. “I tried to tell them that his daughter was very ill but they dragged him away.” says the vadde. When Hurre saw the police taking her husband away, she along with several other women ran after them. “They hit us all with sticks, rods and rifles,” describes Rame whose husband Katti Podyami was also taken away. “Hurre was hit on her back and legs with a rod. They even poked her stomach with the pointed end of the rifle.”
“They would point their guns at us, pretend to shoot us and burst into laughter when they say the terror on our faces.”, narrate the women. “Hurre was complaining that day that her whole body was hurting,” says Lakmi, her sister-in-law. “They would drink and then hit us and then drink more”, says another villager. Rame still had bruises on her thighs a whole month after the incident.
Those arrested are Kati Podyami S/O Hadma H/O Raje, Hunga Sori S/O Deva H/O Hungi, Aitu Podyami S/O Hadma H/O Raji, Hunga Podyami S/O Masa H/O Pande, Raju Mandavi S/O Ganga H/O Budri, Hunga Kartami S/O Sule H/O Hurre and Pandu. Pandu was shot in the leg but managed to escape from the hospital. He is still missing. The men have been charged with orchestrating the Mailawada attack that left 7 CRPF jawans dead.
From here began Hurre’s ordeal to locate her husband. In her advanced stage of pregnancy, Hurre, along with families of the other men, would walk four kilometers to the main road and take a bus to Dantewada, the district headquarters an hour away. In Dantewada, they went to the police station, the jail and the court, but no one was telling them anything.
The next night, the 15th of May, at about 9pm, Hurre delivered a baby boy in the village. A few days later, without having healed completely from the delivery, she was back to walking four kilometers to the main road to take a bus to Dantewada and going from police station to jail to court, this time with her newborn baby.
On the 24th of April at Dantewada court, they met Soni Sori, a tribal who after spending three years in jail on fabricated charges, has been helping other tribals in their fight for justice. Together, they were able to trace the families to Dantewada jail.
Hunga broke down when he saw his wife and the tiny baby. A wire mesh separated them and he could only look at his baby on the other side, not touch him. He was worried about the house that he had started to build for his family. The walls were up but there was no roof. Hurre had consoled him saying they would manage something and before leaving gave him a handful of gram that she had tied into a knot in the end of her saree.
Suki, wife of Kosa Podyami, who had been picked up along with Hunga says that her husband is being beaten up in jail every day and can’t walk because his foot is broken.
All of this had taken a toll on Hurre physically and on the 11th of May, her family rushed her to Dantewada Hospital. At Dantewada she was immediately referred to Jagdalpur Hospital, 70 kilometres away. At Jagdalpur she was diagnosed with Septicemia, Meningitis and Encephalopathy.
The doctors spoke no Gondi and Hurre’s family spoke no Hindi so for two days until they got in touch with Soni Sori again, the family could not understand what had to be done. A nurse admitted that most patients at the hospital were Adivasi and it was very hard to communicate with them.
On the 13th of May, an unconscious Hurre needed to have a CT scan done but the machine in the hospital was broken. The nurse on duty said that the doctors have been complaining regularly, it had even been reported in the local papers but for three months, the machine has been in a state of disrepair.
Patients would have to go to a private diagnostic centre, BSR for tests for which BSR is supposed to send an ambulance free of cost. On the day that Hurre needed a scan, the 13th of May, BSR claimed their ambulance was out of order. For several hours, the family tried to arrange for an ambulance but none were available. By the time one was found, there was a storm in Jagdalpur and all electric supply in the town was cut. BSR didn’t have power back-up so no scan was possible that day.
The next day Hurre began to convulse periodically and doctors warned that removing her mask and IV line during the scan could be fatal. By ten at night, it was the only option. Again, BSR which is supposed to be open round-the-clock was shut. The technician whose number was on the board outside said he was out attending a wedding and gave the manager’s number which was unavailable.
The doctor on duty at the hospital that night was a woman who spoke a little Gondi. Hurre had nearly no chance of recovery, she told the family. Her brain was damaged and this hospital, even though it is such a large district hospital has no facility for intensive care. The family was considering moving her to the nearest city, Raipur, an overnight journey. “The government should airlift her. All these politicians are always flying in and out. Why can’t they take someone like her who really needs it?” asked the doctor wryly.
By the next morning the 15th of May, Hurre’s breathing had become shallow. “Uski badi jaan chali gayi, sirf choti jaan baaki hai” (Life has almost left her), her father-in-law Chula said, wanting to take her back home. A few hours later, Hurre breathed her last. Her three-week old son lay next to her, fast asleep.
The hospital refused to do a post-mortem unless the police station ordered it. The police station declared it a natural death and so no post-mortem could be done.
Hurre’s last wish was to see her husband and her family was adamant that they would not cremate her without him. Hunga had been implicated in cases in Dantewada as well as Jagdalpur courts and so the family rushed to one court and then another, 70 kilometers away. The Jagdalpur court gave an order that Hunga be taken to the village the next day and brought back after the cremation.
The next morning, Hunga was brought to the village under heavy security and in chains (a violation) and was only allowed to see Hurre from a distance. A few minutes later without having cremated his wife he was taken away.
The police announced at about 12pm that day that there was an exchange of fire between Naxals and police near Hunga’s village while they were taking him to the funeral and so they had to return early. No villagers in or around Kankepara had heard a single gunshot. Several people had predicted the previous day that the police would do something like this. Hurre was finally cremated at 4 pm, a young life lost for no good reason, her last wish unfulfilled.