Jungle Terror 6
Sodi Masaiah, Refugee from Bejji village
It’s a slow walk through the village and there is a permanent expression of pain as he shuffles along. Ask him the obvious and he stops walking to consider the question. What is it that hurts? The memories that won’t go away, he says. Over 60 years of age, Masaiah is malnourished and lives with nine other members of his family in a shed that can fit two cots. It took Masaiah and his family two days on foot to walk from his village, Bejji, in Chhattisgarh, to Andhra Pradesh. He responds with a horrific account of events when you ask him why he left the village.
Our village was one of the bigger ones in the area and many Adivasis and non-Adivasis lived there together.
Four months ago, the Salwa Judum attacked our village in the middle of the night.
They shot dead four men. All the houses in the village were burnt down. Salwa Judum men also rounded up all the cattle, chicken and the goats and had a feast in the middle of the village. What they didn’t eat, they shot dead.
A lot of people from my village —as many as the Salwa Judum could find —were rounded up and sent to a camp close by. I heard later that they were also beaten up on the way to the camp. The Salwa Judum did not spare anyone —the older Adivasis were beaten up just as severely as the younger ones. My house was very close to the forest and so I managed to escape with my family members.
A day later when I returned to the village, I saw that my house was burnt down and along with it all the food grains stored in the house.
My youngest granddaughter was in my arms as I walked through the ashes. Seeing me cry, she started wailing as well. We sat there amid the ashes for a long time. What could we do other than cry? What would we eat? What would we do if the Salwa Judum came back? A week later, we still had no answers. We picked up our children and started walking.
Back home in Bejji, my family and I used to cultivate 20 acres of land. We would harvest 40 bags of rice, two bags of oilseed and a bag of green gram.
• WITNESSED 4 MURDERS
• LOST 20 ACRES OF LAND
• EARNS RS 25 A DAY
Today we have no food to eat. No blankets to keep ourselves warm, no clothes apart from the ones we are wearing. When we do get work, we are paid Rs 25 a day.
There is no way I can go back to my village. The Salwa Judum has established its camp there now.
This article was originally published in Tehelka, a leading independent news magazine in India, known for its investigative journalism.