Although Maoist presence in this area of Bihar first surfaced about a decade ago, their terror peaked only around 2004.
By that time, they had established their network in Nauhatta and Chenari blocks of the district. For general and administrative consumption, it had also become obvious that they had links with the weaker sections of society - mainly Dalits, tribals, OBCs and also people from backward castes.
The obvious conclusion was that the youths or people from upper castes could also be their sleeping partners in the impregnable base areas in the three blocks that form parts of Kaimur hills.
In the end, it threw up a trend that is as sinister as had been the "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, or, as morally reprehensible as the segregation of people who constituted the Maoists’ support base. By implication, a decade of unrelenting terror leading to nowhere has augmented the coffers of the Maoists. But, in a different way, it has also strengthened the conservative forces.
This is apparent in the Rajput-dominated Tipa village of Nauhatta block. Here, after the Maoists killed a person, Rajputs called a meeting where they concluded that killing of their clansman was possible only because the Maoists found support among people of weaker sections. They, in turn, decided to donate a part of their land for the resettlement of these sections outside their main village so that they could live at a distance from them.
"The people of weaker sections also agreed to this arrangement," a police official said, adding that these people have been living in the segregated village ever since.
The Rajputs, in the meantime, took to arming themselves with licensed firearms to take on the Maoists.
"They sold their jewellery and pooled in money for the purpose," a villager said referring to the unhealthy trend that unfolded. The district police force was not immune to the trend. Their conclusion was: break the backbone of the Maoists not by violence, but by arrests. The Rohtas police station itself became a test case for that. The police built their own parallel network of informers by addressing the problems of the weaker sections and the poor, cutting across all castes.
In two years since 2005, six hardcore Maoists were arrested from six different places: zonal commander Nawal
Mishra (30), commander of Bal Dasta (Children’s Squad) Babban Thakur, area commander Suresh Yadav, apart from influential Maoist leaders Ram Vachan Yadav, Arvind Kumar alias Kaushal and Leelawati (22).
The Maoists reacted with venom. This led to garrisoning of police stations. The Rohtas police station is specially provided with a mine-clearing armoured vehicle called Vajrapat. Moreover, four sentries are on 24-hour vigil from atop towers in every police station.
"The slightest lapse on their part, and we will be sitting ducks," a police official said, adding: "We are on the high alert 24x7."
Chill of killings in summer heat
Tipped by the chaukidar from the area, a contingent of Rohtas police reached Dhansighat where the six bullet-riddled bodies lay.
The spot was an unfamiliar one to the police. It was the bank of the Haulia Dhodha hilly nullah in the vicinity of the temple that was dedicated to Baghaut Baba (a tribal who had died fighting a tiger). Around 25 feet from the spot was the abandoned mud-thatch of Jameer Ahmed alias Jameer Babu.
Jameer had purchased the plot at the base of Kaimur hill around five years ago. But he had to flee within months of building the house. "Some mysterious men had threatened and roughed him up," a local inhabitant said.
Following the incident, Jameer had left in a hurry. And he hadn’t returned since.
The only other house in the vicinity is around half a kilometre away. This mud-thatch belongs to one Deera Bhuiyan. He was home on Wednesday evening and most of Thursday but had not heard the shots. "Not that I would have been able to do much," he said in a panic-stricken croaky voice.
The invisible Maoist strike had sent a chill through the villagers in this summer heat.
The policemen glanced at the bodies and began counting the empty cartridges. Altogether, they found 10. One of the cops spotted a scrap of paper jutting out of a victim’s pocket. The handwritten leaflet dated April 9, 2008, explained the ghastly killing.
Seizing the words Bhakapa (Maowadi) or CPI (Maoist), the police deduced it was internal rivalry that had led to the slayings. The cops were visibly relieved that innocents had not been killed. There was even a hit of jubilation at the realisation that cracks had emerged in the ranks of the seemingly invincible Maoists.
Around 1 pm, the bodies were loaded on a tractor and taken to Rohtas police station. They were then re-loaded on a van and transported to Sasaram, 45 kilometres away, for post mortem. The journey was a deserted men.
Men, women, even curious children, stayed away from the convoy. "These men are dead. But the terror isn’t over. It will stay as long as these hills remain," said one Ajimuddin (name changed) who works in Kalyanpur Cements.
His fears are not misplaced. The invisible Maoists seem to be omnipresent. They lurk around plains, hills and valleys.
"Only four days ago, we had combed the hills following a tip off. We had information about Maoists planning something," a police officer said. The tip-off had hinted at a camp of 150 Maoists. But the police didn’t find even one. And then, the killings happened.