Mother, shall I put you to sleep?


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Shahina KK

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By Shahina KK

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Maariyamma is likely to be killed by her children because they cannot afford her. They will give her a loving oil bath. Several glasses of coconut water. A mouthful of mud. Perhaps a poison injection. She is just one of many old parents in Tamil Nadu dying in this way. But no one blinks at these ritual murders.

IN TAMIL, it is known as thalaikoothal. A leisurely oil bath. An exercise in love and health when given to newborn children, a ceremonial beginning to festivals, and the universal answer to pitiless summers. In Tamil Nadu’s small industry hub of Virudhunagar, however, it is the beginning of slow murder. The marker of the devastating poverty that makes a son kill his own aging mother.

Maariyamma

Maariyamma – After her friend’s son turned mercy killer, Maariyamma left her village. (Photo: G. Karthick)

Young family members of this district in southern Tamil Nadu have been pushing their infirm, elderly dependents to death because they cannot afford to take care of them. When 65-year-old Maariyamma suspected this might happen to her too, she moved out of her son’s house two years ago. “I’m not well enough to live on my own, but it is better than being killed by them,” she says. Amazingly, there is no bitterness in her voice. Or anger. “They’re struggling hard to take care of their own children,” says Maariyamma, of her sons. She places no blame. Her two sons and two daughters are farm labourers who travel to different villages every sowing and harvesting season. Seeing her children at pains to run their house, and feed and educate her grandchildren, Maariyamma knew she was a burden. She knew how it would end if she didn’t leave.

Maariyamma had seen it happen to other men and women of her age. Her neighbour, Parvathy, had been paralysed at the age of 76. “She had only one son,” says Maariyamma. “And he was working in Chennai, surviving on some menial job there. How could he afford to look after his bedridden mother?” One day, Maariyamma says, Parvathy’s son came, “did it” and went back to Chennai. “What else could he do?” she asks. Again, in place of anger or fear, there is helpless resignation. And a strange empathy for the person who might elaborately plan her murder.

Thalaikoothal works thus: an extensive oil bath is given to an elderly person before the crack of dawn. The rest of the day, he or she is given several glasses of cold tender coconut water. Ironically, this is everything a mother would’ve told her child not do while taking an oil bath. “Tender coconut water taken in excess causes renal failure,” says Dr Ashok Kumar, a practicing physician in Madurai. By evening, the body temperature falls sharply. In a day or two, the old man or woman dies of high fever. This method is fail-proof “because the elderly often do not have the immunity to survive the sudden fever,” says Dr Kumar.

OVER THE years, other methods have evolved too. The most painful one is when mud dissolved in water is forced down; it causes indigestion and an undignified death. Velayudham of Help age India says the families often take the mud from their own land, if they have any. “It is believed that this makes their souls happy,” he says.

Dorairaj, a farmer in Satur, confesses that Muniammal, a distant relative, had been killed four months earlier. She was 78, and too weak to fend for herself. She was given an oil bath, but somehow survived. After a few days, she was given the ‘milk treatment’. “When the milk is being poured, the nose is held tight,” says Dorairaj. This ‘milk treatment’ is often preceded by starvation. The household stops serving the parent solid food. “When milk is poured uninterruptedly into the mouth, it goes into the respiratory track. A starving person cannot withstand even a moment’s suffocation,” says 60-year-old Paul Raj, coordinator of a district elders’ welfare association.

Though everyone seems to be in the know, thalaikoothal officially remained unexposed until the death of 60-year-old Selvaraj, of Ramasamipuram village in Virudhunagar on 18 June this year. Selvaraj, who was bed-ridden due to an accident, died suddenly. Asokan, Selvaraj’s nephew in Virudhunagar, raised the alarm on his uncle’s death. He registered an FIR, and subsequently a woman named Zeenath was arrested for administering a poisonous injection. Prabhakar, the Virudhunagar Commissioner of Police, admits that it is hard to find any evidence. “The body was cremated and there is no scope for a re-examination of the corpse,” he says.

Zeenath has been released on bail and refused to talk to TEHELKA when we met her in her village, Ramasamipuram. Some villagers claimed that Zeenath was a ‘professional mercy killer’.

‘It’s difficult to view it simply in a legal or criminal framework,’ says district collector VK Shanmugham

A few days after Selvaraj’s death came to light, a newspaper published a report exposing more mysterious deaths in the district. When the district administration of Virudhunagar learnt how widespread the mercy killing was, it ordered an investigation. “It was shocking for all of us,” says V K Shanmugham, district collector in Virudhunagar. He soon realised that conventional state responses like arrests, warnings and interrogations would not even scratch the surface.

Thalaikoothal lay in the indefinable space between crime and desperate acts of poverty. It was social custom, a collective family decision, a ritual goodbye to a loved one who had lived a full life. Sometimes, it was the victim’s own idea. Shanmugham found that many called it a path to “eternal peace”, an escape from the violence of poverty. “It is difficult to view this simply in a legal or criminal framework,” he adds.

If thalaikoothal is seen as a crime, an entire village is accomplice. Community members and relatives not only support the practice, several even arrive a day before the auspicious oil bath to meet the aged parent one last time. Everybody knows the man or woman is going to die.

“Nobody questions or reports it to the police. They don’t even see it as a crime. It is a kind of accepted practice,” says Dr Lakshmi, a physician in Karyappetti village. Over 75, Dr Lakshmi recollects that she has been hearing of this practice of killing the elderly for 34 years.

Community pardon

Community pardon: In many villages, thalaikoothal is not a crime, but a social custom.

The practice is not confined to a particular caste or community. “The poor do it, whatever their caste,” says Chandra Devi, the district Welfare Officer. Most residents are seasonal farm labourers, livestock shepherds or migrant workers in small factories in the nearby industrial hub Sivakasi. Their mobile lives make it virtually impossible for them to stay home to care for their parents.

Killing is indeed a brutal solution to financial burdens, but community members claim there is no alternative. “It does not mean that they do not love their parents,” says Chellathorai, the president of Paneerpetty village Panchayat.

Kasi: When he suspected his sons saw him as a burden, Kasi moved out.

Kasi: When he suspected his sons saw him as a burden, Kasi moved out.

Paul Raj, of the district elders welfare association, recently requested the district collector for government protection for the elderly. “The aged in these villages are highly vulnerable. We demand government’s immediate action.” Raj, however, realises that while police forces can protect an aged woman from her children, what they really need is protection from penury. “If the seniors had some income, they would not be considered so burdensome,” says Raj. “For example, if they got more pension, or at least got it regularly, it might give some respite.”

Kasi, a daily wager, moved out of his son’s house after his wife died. He’s not sure if he’s 65 or 70, but his shock of white hair, equally white handlebar moustache, and soil-black wrinkled skin are testament to his long and arduous life. Kasi had decided to leave when he watched his children grow tired of tending to their father’s every need. “I’m very fond of them, and can’t imagine they will try to kill me,” he says. “But anyway, I didn’t want to push them to any extreme step.” Whether he too would have been invited for that chilling oil bath some years down, Kasi doesn’t know. And he didn’t stick around to find out.

ACROSS VIRUDHUNAGAR, even as elderly men and women leave their homes, they make excuses for their children. “My son was struggling with his own life,” says Kasi. They put up a brave front. “I’m surviving fine with the ration rice at 2 per kilo,” says a reed-thin Maariyamma. They starve, and sigh, but do not complain. Thalaikoothal is to them not cowardly murder, but a brave farewell. Kasi and Maariyamma do not see how extreme it is, how dramatic. For them, it is a sort of practical love that is simply about survival.

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shahina@tehelka.com

Re-posted from Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 46, Dated November 20, 2010

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Day 13: Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh has been released from captivity.


At last a heartening news: Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh abducted on April 21, by Maoist insurgents has been released from captivity today (Thursday, May 3, 2012).

“I am tired, shattered. I want to go home to my family first. I would just like to rest … I am fine. I will speak after a day…” said Alex Menon.

For further news please click on the links under Related Articles.

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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW


tvaraj:

Even as the hostage crisis winds down, with the release of the Sukma DC currently under negotiation, urgent questions persist regarding the conduct of the state during these crises and, more broadly, the fundamentals of ‘negotiating with terrorists’ or with ‘hostage takers’. There has been much commentary on the state’s ‘capitulation’ and the obvious and adverse consequences, both of releasing active Maoists from jail, and of the ‘demonstration effect’ which will ‘naturally’ encourage future abductions, given the success of the present instances.

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Originally posted on Arcana Intellego:

Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 10, No. 43, April 30, 2012

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Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal

ASSESSMENT

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INDIA

 

The Hostage State
Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management & SATP

A rolling crisis of high profile abductions, initiated with the kidnapping of two irresponsible Italians in Odisha on March 14, 2012, continues to hold the national attention, with Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector (DC) of the newly formed Sukma District in Chhattisgarh, still in the custody of the Maoist’s Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), since his abduction on April 21, 2012. Significantly, even as the Menon abduction is discussed threadbare, little mention is made of the two policemen guarding him, who were murdered in cold blood by the Maoists. In the…

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Day 10 Evening: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


‘B’ indicates the village of Samathanapuram on the map.

When travelling from Tirunelveli to Nagercoil on State Highway 177, about 1.7 km from the town of Panagudi, there is a small village called Samathanapuram. This is the native village of the 32 year old Alex Paul Menon who was appointed as the First Collector of the newly formed Sukma District which was created by carving out the Maoist-infested Dantewada, in the South Bastar Region of the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh.

Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

On Saturday April 21, at about 4:30 pm, cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) abducted Alex Paul Menon. He is being held as a hostage by the insurgents who are demanding the release of 17 jailed cadres, and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” – the anti-Maoist drive.

The Maoists rebels named B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad as mediators acceptable to them to negotiate the release of Alex Paul Menon.

The Chhattisgarh government, in turn, has named Suyogya Kumar Mishra, former Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, and Nirmala Buch, former Union Secretary and Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh as the government representatives.

Mr. B.D. Sharma, and Professor G. Hargopal  met the rebels on Saturday, April 28, in the Tadmetla forest.

They returned on Sunday, April 29, morning from the forest area with a reply from the Maoists, but refused to divulge what transpired during their meeting. The two mediators said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”

Raman Singh Chief Minister of Chattisgarh

Raman Singh Chief Minister of Chattisgarh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally the form of an agreement between the two mediators named by the Maoists and the mediators of the Chhattisgarh government, at their fourth round of talks, was reached today (Monday April, 30) evening. A two-page agreement was initialed by the mediators in the presence of Principal Secretary (Home) N.K. Aswal. Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters: “I hope Alex Paul Menon will be released within 48 hours.”

To read the breakthrough to ensure the safe return of the 32-year-old collector click on these two links:

  1. Maoists agree to release Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon.
  2. Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon to be released in 48 hours: Maoists’ mediators.
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Day 10: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

The Maoist rebels who abducted Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh on April 21, did not allow the two mediators selected by them – B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad – to meet him.

The two mediators met the rebels on Saturday (yesterday) in the Tadmetla forest. They stayed overnight and briefed the Maoists on their talks with the government elected mediators, Mr. S.K. Mishra, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh and Ms. Nirmala Buch, former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary.

They returned yesterday (Sunday) morning from the forest area with a reply from the Maoists, but refused to divulge what transpired during their meeting. The two mediators said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”

“As someone who has served in the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Service, I feel worse than miserable reading and hearing of Collector Alex Paul Menon’s ordeal. But unlike Alex, who has put his life on the line, I have never had to face personal or physical danger in the course of official duty,” said Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

To read the full text of the statment of Gopalkrishna Gandhi click this link –> “Alex’s bravery is an example to cherish and follow

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Day 9: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

On April 21, Maoists rebels disguised as villagers took Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh as hostage at gunpoint from a forested location in Sukma district, some 500 km south of Raipur. When the Collector’s two security guards resisted his abduction, the Maoists shot them dead.

According to Official sources the Maoists have in the meantime upped their demand. They now want the release of 17 jailed cadres, instead of the eight named by them earlier, and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” – the anti-Maoist drive.

Official sources said the Chhattisgarh government, desperate to ensure the safe release of Alex PaulMenon, has positively responded to the wo demands placed by Maoists.

The two mediators – B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad met the rebels on Saturday (yesterday) with a message from the Chhattisgarh government. Today (Sunday) morning they came out from the rebels infested area with a reply from the Maoists.

However, the two mediators refused to divulge any details of the Maoists’ reply. They said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”

Earlier, before visiting the Maoist hideout, Mr. Sharma and Prof. Hargopal had several rounds of closed-door meetings at Raipur’s state guest house with Mr. S.K. Mishra, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh and Ms. Nirmala Buch, former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary – the two mediators appointed by the government.

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Day 8: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

BHOPAL: Even as the second round of talks between interlocutors was set to begin at Raipur, outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) circulated a three page note early on Friday morning, listing in detail their perception about the problems being faced by the tribals and incidents of alleged atrocities by the security forces in tribal Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

A three page note “why we detained the collector”, issued by CPI (Maoist) South Bastar regional committee secretary Ganesh Uike said they were forced to issue such a statement to set the record straight after a group of so-called intellectuals, supported by vested interests, unleashed a propaganda to whip up sympathy in favour of the Sukma collector.

To read the full article please click this link –> Maoists justify abduction of Chhattisgarh collector Alex Paul Menon

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Day 7: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh, abducted by the Maoist on 21 rebels is an asthma patient, and the abductors informed the Chhattisgarh government that their hostage was critically ill.

Medicines delivered

The Maoist insurgents wanted Mr. Manish Kunjam, a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district as one of the mediators acceptable to them to negotiate the release of Alex Paul Menon who was held hostage by them.

But Manish Kunjam was reluctant to act as a mediator.

“Some reporters had suggested that I should take medicines for Menon after I declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists. The chief minister of Chhattisgarh also asked me if I could go with the medicines. It was important as the Maoists had said in a statement that he was critical,” said Kunjam.

Kunjam said he rode about 150-175 km on a motorcycle to the jungles and back to deliver the medicines. The Maoists met him beyond Tadmetla village.

When reporters questioned him these were some of his replies:

“He got the medicines on Wednesday afternoon.”

“I did what I was asked to do — I went and gave the medicines.”

“I could not meet Mr Menon. I delivered the medicines to the Naxal leaders, who said the district magistrate is fine. I have accomplished the task assigned to me by the Chhattisgarh government “

“I was there to deliver medicines for Menon, not to act as a messenger. Also I have been kept out of the dialogue process and hence cannot comment on this matter.”

“The Chhattisgarh government has also taken some positive steps. I hope he will be freed soon.”

After delivering the medicine, Manish Kunjam went to his his native village Ramaram.

Negotiations under way

On April 22 the Maoists sent an anonymous taped message to media outlets in the state. The message asked the Chhattisgarh government to free eight key leaders: Marakam Gopannam, Nirmal Akka, Devpal Chandra Shekher Reddy, Shanti Priya Reddy, Meena Chowdhary, Korasa Sunny, Markan Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen who are in jail now.

To negotiate the release of of Alex Paul Menon the Maoists named the following three as acceptable to them:

    • Manish Kunjam,a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district.
    • Prashant Bhushan, a noted Supreme Court lawyer and a core committee member of Team Anna.
    • B.D. Sharma, former commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, one of India’s foremost experts on tribal issues and a former Collector of undivided Bastar.

The Chhattisgarh government, in turn named the following two as the government representatives:

    • Suyogya Kumar Mishra, former Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh
    • Nirmala Buch, former Union Secretary and Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh

Out of the three named by the Moists only B.D. Sharma agreed to get involved in the mediation. The Maoists then proposed the name of Professor G. Hargopal, based in Hyderabad as another mediator they were willing to talk to.

The first round of talks between the Maoists and the four negotiators – the two mediators named by Maoists and two former bureaucrats appointed by the Chhattisgarh government, for the release of Alex Paul Menon was held on Thursday.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed all aspects related to the Maoists’ two demands:

    • the release of eight jailed rebels
    • a freeze on “Operation Green Hunt” against them.

Official sources said the closed door meeting on Thursday held at the government guest house went on for more than three hours and the talks are proceeding in a positive direction.

“It was a very constructive and positive talk,” Nirmala Buch told reporters on Thursday.

The second round of talks of talks began at 9 am on Friday.

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Day 6: Abduction of Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh.


Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.

Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh and his entourage were ambushed by Maoist insurgents disguised as villagers when they were returning to their bas after attending the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan – a state government-run programme meant to promote greater coordination and connect between the villagers and administration. The rebels killed two security personnel of the Collector and took him as hostage.

The Collector, is an asthma patient, and the abductors informed the Chhattisgarh government that their hostage was critically ill.

Their statement said, “It’s our appeal to Mrs Asha Paul Menon, his friends, family and IAS officers that Mr Alex Paul Menon’s health is very critical. It’s our request to please send his medicines from the mediators. The delay being caused by the officials is responsible for his bad health and if something happens, it will be the government’s responsibility,” (sic)

On Sunday, the day after the Maoists demanded the release of eight of their leaders jailed in Chhattisgarh and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” in exchange for freeing Alex Paul Menon. They set the deadlinefor the government to meet their demands to 5 pm yesterday.

Tension prevails in Chhattisgarh, and government officials are in a quandary since the deadline set by the Maoists has expired. The government has not received any communication from the abductors about the fate of the young official who hails from Tirunelveli District of Tamilnadu.

Reports say that the staff in Chief Minister Raman Singh’s office was constantly interacting with officials in the district for updates about a possible extension to the deadline by the rebels.

Hours after the statement was released, Mr Kunjam was rushed by the state government with urgent medicines for Mr Menon. Mr Kunjam delivered the medicines today to Mr Menon. Mr Kunjam is one of the three mediators named by the Maoists, who they would be willing to negotiate through. Prashant Bhushan, another mediator named by the Maoists, has however refused to take part in the negotiation process.

Yesterday, Manish Kunjam, a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district, one of the three mediators named by the Maoists collected the medicines from Menon’s wife and delivered it to the critically ill Collector.

Prashant Bhushan, a noted Supreme Court lawyer and a core committee member of Team Anna, the second person named by the Maoists as a mediator refused to accept the theirproposal saying that the Collector should be released unconditionally.

After Prashant Bhushan and Manish Kunjam refused the offer to act as mediators, yesterday, in a message sent to media houses, the Maoists proposed the name of Professor G. Hargopal, based in Hyderabad as another mediator they were willing to talk to .

“I have participated earlier in two hostage crises. I believe that it should happen without any loss of life. I am thinking about going with B D Sharma. We will have to see both the government’s and the Maoists’ point of views. Why the poor tribals are fighting today. This is not just about the abduction; we will have to work to stop this. The government will have to accept the rights of the tribals,” Professor Hargopal said yesterday.

Professor Haragopal is said to be the man who played a crucial role in February 2011 in the release of Malkangiri district collector R. Vineel Krishna held hostage by the Maoists in neighboring Orissa.

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Developments in Chennai for the release of Alex Paul Menon.


Alex Paul Menon chatting with villagers.

The abducted District Collector of Sukma, Alex Paul Menon’s family members have been camping in Chennai and have appealed to Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, to intercede for his early release.

On Monday, April 23, the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu urged Manmohan SinghPrime Minister of India, to take immediate steps to ensure his safe release since the family members of Alex Paul Menon were very worried about his safety and health and were fervently looking for good news.

Expressing confidence that the Union Home Ministry would have already taken steps to ensure the safe release of Menon, she said, “It is very unfortunate that the officer was abducted while he was discharging his official duties.”

Expressing confidence that the Union Home Ministry would have already taken steps to ensure the safe release of Menon, the CM said that since the officer was not keeping well, his family members were worried about his safety.

Mr. M Karunanidhi, chief of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, issued a statement, wherein he has asked that the Centre provide all necessary help to the Chhattisgarh government to ensure safety and early release of the abducted official.

The State unit of BJP insisted that the Centre should take necessary steps to curtail such violent acts with an iron hand. Pon Radhakrishnan, Tamilnadu state president of the party said that abduction and killing of officials had become a trivial matter for Maoists. He said that his party wanted the Centre and the Chattisgarh government to take the necessary measures for the release of the abducted District Collector of Sukma.

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