IN AUGUST LAST YEAR, Kadti Sukka’s world came crashing down around him. It had been raining heavily in Bastar at the time. Sukka, a middle-aged Adivasi farmer, was growing increasingly anxious because the police were repeatedly visiting his village, Gompad. His 14-year-old son, Ayata, was spending a lot of time at home because he had not been admitted to the sixth standard in the ashram school he attended. “Every time they come, they beat and harass people,” Sukka told me. “They especially target young people and pick them up if they can find them.”
On the evening of 5 August, news spread that the police were circling close to the village. Around twenty young men, including Ayata and the village sarpanch, Soyam Chandra, ran towards the fields of Nulkatong, a neighbouring village about four kilometres from Gompad. They headed to a laadi—a thatched structure that villagers build close to their fields during the monsoon for refuge—to spend the night there.
Fearing for his son’s safety and wanting to protect him, Sukka followed him to Nulkatong. He recalled that there were around forty people in the laadi that night—young men from other villages had also heard of the police closing in. Early the next morning, he woke up to the sound of gunfire. “The forces attacked suddenly,” Sukka recalled. “Everybody was running, I too ran.” A bullet hit Sukka’s leg, but he continued running. In the terror and confusion that followed, he lost track of Ayata.
The next day, pictures of a long row of bodies in black polythene bags, which had been tied with green and yellow plastic ropes, were splashed across local newspapers in Bastar. The security forces, the papers declared, had had resounding success in a major encounter in Nulkatong village: 15 Maoists had been killed. State officials called it “the biggest success of anti-Naxal operation in Chhattisgarh”—a significant achievement in their Operation Monsoon. Ayata and Chandra counted among the dead.