By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On September 6, 2021, five Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, two of them carrying a total bounty of INR 200,000 on their heads, surrendered to Security Forces (SFs) in Dantewada District. The surrendered Maoists, identified as Nahum aka Pojja Sodi (25), Masa Sodi (26), Sukaru Ram aka Dogal Kadti (21), Rakesh Madkam (18) and Bhupendra Sodi (19), were active in the Gangaloor and Bhairamgarh Area Committees of the CPI-Maoist. Nahum, a Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (DAKMS, a Maoist front), ‘president’; and Masa, a ‘militia commander’, carried a cash reward of INR 100,000 each on their heads.
On August 30, 2021, two CPI-Maoist cadres active in the Amdai ‘area committee’ of the CPI-Maoist surrendered to Police in Dantewada District. Pradeep Kadti and Ramji Kashyap, both aged 20, were members of the ‘Todma Militia Platoon’, and they carried a bounty of INR 10,000 each on their heads. The duo was involved in various incidents in 2021, including the killing of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper on March 4, 2021, in the Pahurnar area in Dantewada District.
On August 26, 2021, four CPI-Maoist cadres, carrying a collective reward of INR 600,000 on their heads, surrendered to SFs in Dantewada District. The surrendered Maoists, identified as Budhra Sodi aka Sodi Bhaskar (32), woman Maoist, Manki Alami (24), Sunder Padami (30) and Boti Mandavi (30), were active in the CPI-Maoist Katekalyan and Amdai ‘area committees.’ Sodi was the Katekalyan ‘area committee member’/ ’militia commander-in-chief’, carrying a bounty of INR 500,000 on his head, and was involved in 14 incidents of Naxal [Left Wing extremism, LWE] violence between 2012 to 2020, including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) explosions in which a total of 19 Security Force (SF) personnel were killed, the murder of two village Sarpanchs (head of the Panchayat, village level local self-government institution), a Panchayat member, a ‘militia commander’ and two villagers on suspicion that they were ‘Police informers’. Alami was ‘president’ of the Chetna Natya Madali (CNM), the CPI-Maoist cultural wing, and carried a reward of INR 100,000 on her head. Both Sunder and Boti were lower-rung cadres.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 153 Maoists have surrendered in Dantewada District in the current year, thus far (data till September 19, 2021). During the corresponding period of 2020, 105 Maoists had surrendered in the District. Another, 91 surrendered in the remaining part of the year, taking the total number of surrendered Maoists to 196 through 2020. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE in India, at least 560 Naxalites have surrendered in Dantewada.
This is a significant underestimate, as Police claim that 400 LWEs have surrendered since June 2020. Dantewada, Superintendent of Police (SP), Abhishek Pallava, thus disclosed on August 12, 2021,
We launched the ‘Lon Varratu’ campaign in June last year  which has yielded good results as 400 ultras have quit violence under the drive so far. Along with this drive, police have also been conducting a survey to assess the security situation, in view of the Maoist threat, in each and every village in the District. The villages are coded in three categories – red (hypersensitive), yellow (sensitive), and green (normal).
On June 12, 2020, the District Police, launched its surrender and rehabilitation drive “Lon Varratu” (a local Gondi dialect expression, meaning ‘return to your home/village’).
To make the drive successful and to ensure that more and more rebels quit violence, Chhattisgarh Police, with the help of some surrendered Naxals, started developing a township exclusively for surrendered Naxalites, where they will be provided accommodation for their safety as well as skill training to lead a better life in Dantewada District. SP Pallava thus disclosed on August 12, 2021, “For the first time, such a kind of township is being built for surrendered Naxals in the country. We plan to inaugurate it on January 26 next year .” The township, being developed on 39 acres in front of the Police Lines in Dantewada, will have 108 one BHK (bedroom-hall-kitchen) apartments, apart from a recreational centre, yoga centres-cum-gym, a primary school, primary health centre, transit hostel and Anganwadi. The township is being built from the special assistance fund given by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) and INR 25 million has been sanctioned as a first instalment, to enable construction in 21 acres of area, in the first phase. The total cost of the project would be around INR 90 million.
Under the initiative, the surrendered cadres belonging to ‘red coded’ villages will be provided housing facilities in the township. Once their villages get rid of the ‘red code’ and are categorised as ‘yellow’ or ‘green’, and the situation becomes conducive for them to live there, they will be allowed to go back. According to SP Pallava, the Maoists were found to be active in as many as 75 villages in the District: of these, 45 fell in the ‘Yellow zone’ (sensitive) and 33 in the ‘Red zone’ (hypersensitive). The District has a total of 239 villages.
Moreover, upon realising that only 32 of the 400 surrendered Naxalites since June 12, 2020, have Aadhaar cards and bank accounts to avail benefit of Government facilities, the State Government started the ‘Lon Varratu Abhiyan-2’ under which Aadhaar cards have been issued to 250 Naxalites.
Meanwhile, an August 15, 2021, report revealed that 15 villages in Dantewada District had been declared free from the influence of the Maoists. Significantly, the Dantewada Police, in collaboration with the District administration, carried out a door-to-door survey and found that 15 villages that were once known to be Maoist strongholds reported ‘zero’ Naxalite activity in the preceding year or so.
In another positive development, the Tricolour was unfurled at Masapara school in Dantewada on August 15, 2021 (India’s Independence Day), after a long hiatus of seven years. The school was demolished by the Naxalites in 2014, and has now been rebuilt by the surrendered cadres. Remarkably, the former Naxalites who once opposed Independence Day celebrations and raised black flags in protest, themselves hoisted the Tricolour at the school premises. Moreover, on the special occasion, the former cadres appealed to the Maoists to surrender and join the mainstream.
Further, on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan (Hindu festival dedicated to brothers and sisters) on August 22, 2021, several surrendered Maoists, many of them carrying cash rewards on their heads, got rakhis (sacred threads) tied on their wrists by their sisters. Speaking on the occasion, SP Pallava, stated,
Around 80 surrendered rebels celebrated rakhi for the first time. There are around 20 naxals, who couldn’t return to their remotely located villages owing to perceived threat to their lives or their relatives’, celebrated the festival in the district headquarters. There are over 650 naxals who also have their rights despite (being) lodged in District Jail to get opportunity to be part of celebration with the relatives within the prison premises.
Dantewada falls within the troubled ‘Bastar Division’ of Chhattisgarh, and shares borders with Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar, and Narayanpur Districts – all of which are listed among the ‘25 Most Affected (LWE) Districts’ in eight States of the country. The District has been the epicenter of LWE-linked violence in Chhattisgarh. Seven Districts in Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon and Sukma) are listed in the ‘25 Most Affected Districts’. Further, Dantewada, along with 13 Districts [Balrampur, Bastar, Bijapur, Dhamtari, Gariabandh, Kanker, Kondagaon, Mahasamund, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon, Sukma, Kabirdham and Mungeli] in Chhattisgarh, are covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, to fund focused operations against LWEs.
Dantewada has recorded 1,164 fatalities (344 civilians, 411 SF personnel, 403 LWEs, and six Unspecified) in LWE-linked violence, since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on such violence. Dantewada is the worst LWE-affected District in terms of overall fatalities in Chhattisgarh, followed by Bijapur (802 fatalities) and Sukma (494). At its peak, the District recorded 273 fatalities (155 civilians, 45 SF personnel, 73 LWEs) in 2006. In the current year 16 fatalities (three civilians, one SF trooper, 12 LWEs) had been recorded, so far (data till September 19, 2021).
The surrender and rehabilitation drive “Lon Varratu” is encouraging Maoists to return home in Dantewada. Sustained SF pressure, combined with aggressive developmental initiatives, particularly in infrastructure and communications, will be necessary to bring Maoist violence in Dantewada in particular, and the State at large, to an end.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management