“My daughter…that’s my daughter…Oh God, that’s my daughter…Sukki…” From among the women looking at the dead bodies, Bhime fell on top of one of the bodies and started weeping. She would be about 50 years old.

Everyone looked at her amazed. Then Adime came up and sat down beside her and said, “It’s not sukki, it’s kosi”. Adime was Bhime’s neighbour, of approximately the same age.

“No, no, it’s my daughter…it’s my Sukki” Bhime said, weeping inconsolably.

“No aunty, it’s not Sukki, it’s Kosi; look at her closely” said Kamli, who stays in the same lane as Bhime.

Bhime continued sobbing, in no position to listen to anyone.

“That’s right aunty, it’s not Sukki ”added Lakke. Few others joined in the chorus. But, Bhime did not heed any of their words.

“Sukki also looks the same. She also has a similar boyish haircut. Poor thing, that must be the reason she is mistaking her for Sukki”, said Somvari.

“The body is also swollen, and the facial features can’t be recognised” said Kamli sadly.

The twelve bodies were those of the revolutionaries killed in a police attack, in the tribal village on  Chattisgarh-North Telangana border. The village is part of Dantewada district under the Kunta block. So, the bodies were brought for postmortem to the hospital in Kunta block.

Of the twelve killed, seven of them were from north Telangana. Their relatives, members of Amaraveerula Bandhu Mitrula Sangham**(ABMS) and a few from other rights groups came across the state border to accompany the bodies back. Rest of them were from the nearby villages of Kunta block. But in reality, the situation was not conducive for those from Chattisgarh to go to claim the bodies because the government was treating all those who were not in the camps as naxalites and enemies. So, approaching the police was akin to voluntarily entering a lion’s den.

However, after coming to know that a lot of people had come to claim and accompany the dead bodies from Telangana, about 50-60 middle aged and old women from the nearby villages of Kunta block also reached Kunta to take back the bodies of their own kith and kin. They came to know exactly who the dead were because the neighboring villagers who carried the dead bodies told them about it.

It was three days since their death…and in addition to that, it was summer. The stench from the decomposed bodies was unbearable. The whole scene was pathetic, with the heartrending sobbing of near and dear ones and those consoling them. The situation was tense with the curses and slogans of the gathered people, who were incensed that the police would not even ensure safe storage of the dead bodies.

It was only after they reached the police station and recognised the dead bodies that they came to know who exactly was killed. Police did not make any clear statement about who died. Newspapers carried vague stories that it could be so and so, purely on speculation. So, many people traveled on suspicion that it could be their kith and kin. After seeing the dead bodies, some of them breathed in relief that their people were not among them. They looked sympathetically at others who lost their loved ones, looking tearfully, in compassion, at those who were inconsolable in their grief, feeling as one with them. It became clear only then that seven were from North Telangana and only five were from Chattisgarh. There was only one woman among those five. She was identified as Kosi. All except Kosi’s family were present. Some of the women from Chattisgarh could speak and understand a little Telugu. They spoke to the Amaraveerula Bandhu Mithrula Sangham (ABMS) and requested them to help them with the handover of the five bodies from Chattisgarh. So, the efforts were underway to claim eleven of the bodies.

At this juncture, Bhime started sobbing over the body of the woman claiming that was her daughter. She continued to weep pitifully and would not listen to anyone, or accept that it wasn’t her daughter.

Having heard that there was a dispute regarding the twelfth body, Ajitha, leader of the Amaraveerula Bandhu Mithrula Sangham, came along to inquire. Upon seeing her, Bhime appealed to her to handover the body as that is her daughter’s.

“Are you sure it is your daughter? Did you take a good look at her?”, asked Ajitha sympathetically, placing her hands around Bhime’s shoulders.

“Yes, it is my daughter, my daughter only…my sukki….”

“No, it’s not Sukki, it’s Kosi…Kosi is also from our locality. They used to move around like sisters. Sukki also had similar hair. So, my aunt is mistaking her to be Sukki. Also, the body is swollen now”, said Kamli.

“Shut up, as if I wouldn’t recognise my own daughter? And you would?” yelled Bhime. She turned to Ajitha and asked her, “ You tell me – wouldn’t I recognise my own daughter?”

Ajitha was puzzled. She asked Kamli, “Did Kosi’s parents not come?”

“No, they do not stay in our village anymore”, Kamli said, and was about to continue when Bhime interrupted her. “No, no, please believe me, it is my daughter only. I carried her in my womb and brought her up with my own hands” she said tearfully.

“Ok, we’ll handover your daughter’s body to you” Ajitha got up, convinced.

“But everyone is saying that it’s not her daughter. Maybe the old woman is making a mistake”, said Sajaya, Civil Rights activist, walking along with Ajitha.

“So what if it isn’t? If it is Kosi, her parents have not come till now. And they won’t dare come after we leave. Even if they do come, the police will definitely not hand over the body to them. They will bury her somewhere. Instead, it’s much better if Bhime takes her back to her village where, among the revolutionary people and with revolutionary fervour her cremation will be completed. If her parents come later, at least they will be able to visit her at the place of her cremation. Otherwise, her parents will be deprived even of that” said Ajitha thoughtfully, looking at Sajaya.

“You’re right. Already the bodies are decomposed. We can’t request that her body remain till her parents show up…”

Five bodies tied to yokes were being carried by women. They have to be taken to five different villages. But since the villages are closeby, they were all going together. There was a heavy atmosphere of grief. Some mothers were still crying, unable to control their emotions. It was summer, so even though it was evening it was still hot. And that was adding to their fatigue. Some of them had tied cloth to their noses, to escape the stench from the dead bodies. But, it was still revolting to the stomach. In a situation of such heart rending tragedy and grief, there was also contentment. They were content that the bodies of their loved ones were not left unclaimed, like orphans. 

The women stopped for a short rest. They carefully put down the yokes with the bodies, wiped their faces and drank water from the containers they brought. Kamli, Lakke and others’ minds were in turmoil…was Sukki safe somewhere? Why does Bhime have to go through this trauma in case she was alive?

Since Bhime was incensed with anyone saying it was not Sukki no one dared to say anything further. But, Lakke couldn’t help herself. “Don’t worry aunt, it is not Sukki…”, she said to Bhime.

“You poor things…how can I not recognise my own daughter…I know it’s not Sukki…”

Everyone looked in wonder at Bhime. Two or three of them said in unison, “then why did you say it was Sukki?”

Bhime said, “if I didn’t say it was Sukki, do you think they would hand over the body to us? I kept insisting it was Sukki and you dumb things kept saying it was Kosi. I was terrified in case the Judum thugs heard you. If they did, wouldn’t those thugs go to Kosi’s parents to verify?”

“What if they had verified?” asked Lakke. Few others had opened their mouths to ask the very same question but were now waiting eagerly for the answer.

It seemed as if some of them understood.

“How can you ask such a foolish question? However evil they may be, any parent would come to claim the body. And they would take Kosi and throw her in the cremation place. Do you think anyone who knows her would gather at her cremation? Will there be any well wishers of hers in that place? Would they cover her body with the red flag? They would dispose of her body as they would a dog. Did she die like a dog to deserve that kind of treatment? She died a valiant death like a tiger cub. That day how she had pleaded with her parents and brothers not to join the Judum!  How she had cried! Don’t you people remember?  What did she say that day? “I am not your daughter anymore if you join the Judum. If I die, do not lay hands even on my dead body”. Did she not say that? But, they didn’t pay any heed to her. They joined the Judum. Her brothers turned into thugs, raided the villages and started spying on the villagers. Do such people have any legitimacy to claim her body? She grew up right in front of us, roamed hand in hand with Sukki…it is for our sake that she gave up her life. So, let’s only take her. Let us only give her the final farewell in the place where she played, sang and learnt to be a fighter.” Bhime’s voice became hoarse with emotion. Overwhelmed with emotion, others too blew their noses and wiped their tears.   

** ABMS – Association of the Families and Friends of Martyrs

Judum – Salwa Judum (literally meaning “peace march”), a vigilante force that was mobilised and deployed as part of counter insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, India, aimed at countering Naxalite activities in the region. The force, consisting of local tribal youth, received support and training from the Chhattisgarh state government and was criticised for its violations of human rights and its criminal activities.

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