I, Neelamraju Muralidhar of Indian Express and Amarnath K.Menon of India Today, rushed to Indervelli the morning (April21, 1981) after the firing had taken place. We lost no time meeting people available in the ghostly town. The people and the administration alike appeared dazed by the happening.
We set out on that blistering April afternoon to find out for ourselves. This meant traversing through humid forests and negotiating hillocks, ignoring frequently parched throat. We could not believe that in our enthusiasm we had trekked nothing short of 15 km to reach Pittabongaram, peopled by 500 Gonds. We were greeted with stony silence by the villagers who lost three of their near ones in the firing. Unbelievable but true, the district administration could not identify the bodies or secure details of next of kin, and had them hurriedly disposed.
The widows of Mandadi Jangu, Madavi Ramu and Kotnaka Gagru stared blankly at us, their eyes emptied of tears. The village elder, Ganpathi Rao, said they were afraid even to cry aloud. It was through us that the administration came to know of the names.
Jangu had gone to Indervelli for the weekly shandy, unaware that prohibitory orders were in force. His wives were sitting for dinner when the bad news came. They rushed a cart to Indervelli to pick up the body, but it was too late. Same fate awaited Gagru who told his wife he was going there ‘just like that.’ The bereaved kin were not given opportunity for a last look of the dead.
Most tribesmen and women knew about the meeting called by the Rythu Cooli Sangham that day, but were not aware of the ban orders imposed at short notice. They were taken aback when police beat them black and blue. People who got down from buses at Indervelli were also beaten up.
What was disturbingly etched in my mind for long was the image of Isru bai, chained to her bed in the Government hospital at Adilabad. She was said to have overpowered a constable, grabbed his rifle and butted him. Badly injured and chained, she looked fearful – eyes red and flaming. I was afraid to look her in the eye, even from a safe distance.
The official figure of the dead – 13 Gonds and a constable – was uniformly disputed with claims of sixty or even 100 people killed in the firing. I had quoted a shop owner who claimed that he had seen a truckload of bodies emptied into a well. This report rattled the police provoking the SP to use a highly objectionable expression to criticize me.
PS: This post is based on a fading memory, aided by a single clipping I salvaged from my professional garbage. Please appreciate the spirit and not the letter here.
Dasu Kesava Rao is a seasoned journalist who has worked, among several newspapers, with The Hindu and served as its Bureau Chief in Hyderabad.