Khunti: The killing fields of Jharkhand

RANCHI: The murder of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) general secretary Vijay Mundu on Monday has sent shockwaves across the state capital and areas in the vicinity. Mundu was gunned down by two unidentified persons in broad day light while he was visiting a school he owned in Khunti district, which is barely 35km from Ranchi.

A spate of killings perpetrated by Peoples' Liberation Front of India (PLFI) and other Maoist-linked groups in Khunti over the last year has alarmed the police headquarters in the state capital. DIG (Ranchi range) Sheetal Oraon acknowledged that rebel groups were dominant in rural and urban areas of Khunti. According to figures available, a total of 88 persons have been killed in the district in the last seven months alone. In two major incidents this year, Maoists killed seven persons on January 15 and another four boys on August 16.

Even tough a 1,000-odd personnel of the police, CRPF and JAP are deployed in the area, the terror of Left wing extremists is palpable in all six blocks of the district. A local businessman, who sought anonymity, said: "Men walk around the smaller towns and villages with rifles hanging from their shoulders. No one approaches the police, who hardly bother to patrol the rural and semi-urban areas of the district. Maoists roam around the city freely after dark. Late at night, we can even hear their footsteps and whispers over the noise of the barking dogs," he added.

And it is not just the ordinary citizens or the poor tribals who are afraid - even MLAs here have demanded more armed bodyguards. Paulus Surin, JMM MLA from the Torpa assembly constituency, has written to deputy chief minister Sudesh Mahto seeking more bodyguards. While Surin earlier had two armed bodyguards in his security detail, five more commandos have now been added to the contingent.

Even though a few dreaded rebels of Khunti, including PLFI area commander Laka Pahan, have been arrested recently, no end seems to be in sight to the killing epidemic. In 2010, a total of 91 murders took place in Khunti and the figure rose to 128 in 2011. The number has already touched 88 this year and looks set to cross last year's figure. A local leader said that the majority of those killed had either refused to join the rebels or were branded as police informers.

Apart from the CPI (Maoists), several splinter groups like People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI) and the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) have made inroads into the district. Khunti SP M Tamil Vanam is clueless. "No villager speaks a word here. A man whose son is killed says he doesn't know anything. In such a scenario, it is very difficult for the police to operate," said Vanam. Meanwhile, JVM has demanded a CBI inquiry into the death of its general secretary. "The SPs office will be gheraoed on Wednesday. Khunti SP should immediately been removed," said JVM spokesperson Saroj Singh.


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