The driver, recorded a spine-chilling video of the immediate aftermath of the IED explosion, recalled that when the convoy was on its way from Dantewada to Aranpur to pick up the jawans, they had seen several makeshift barriers on the road where children were collecting donations for a local festival. But when they were on the way back, one and a half hours later, the roads were deserted.
Dantewada Naxal attack caught on camera
Even in the Burkapal massacre of April 2021, villages on the CRPF jawans’ route had emptied out when they were on the way back, and there was an eerie silence before the Maoists opened up with assault rifles.
Also, once the Maoist lookouts saw the empty vehicles heading out, they would have known the convoy would be bringing back battle-weary jawans in a while. Using the same route to return ended up having tragic consequences.
“I was driving the second vehicle in the convoy, and mine was a Scorpio. Life and death was a matter of a few seconds. I slowed down a little to rub gutkha, and the vehicle behind me overtook me. It had gone around 150 meters ahead of us, when there was a terrible blast. We were jolted by the shock,” said the driver.
“For a few seconds, everything was covered in smoke and dust. We could hear gunshots. I was trembling, thinking it could have been my vehicle that was hit if I hadn’t slowed down,” the eyewitness said, adding that he knew Dhaniram, the driver who was killed, very closely.
He crawled under his Scorpio to take cover from the gunfire, unsure of what would happen next. He saw the eight DRG jawans in his vehicle jump out, sprint through the gunfire and take positions to counterattack as the Maoists had begun firing at the convoy and the dying jawans.
The video shot by the driver shows DRG men shouting directions to each other to fire and manoeuvre and “surround the Maoists”. “Pura ud gaya (it’s blown to pieces),” says one, referring to the vehicle that was smashed to smithereens as gunshots erupt. You can hear the driver breathing heavily in panic. One of the jawans asks him to escape, saying, “Niklo niklo.”
Still shaken by the experience, he said: “I cannot forget what I saw for the rest of my life. The vehicle that overtook mine was in pieces. I saw bodies flying up and being torn apart. What fell on the road were only pieces. I couldn’t spot any Maoist nearby, but the firing went on for about 15 minutes.”
When everything fell silent, it was decided to head back to Aranpur. The driver said his hands were shaking when he climbed into the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel.
“The explosion was heard at large distances. I realized this when I stopped two other vehicles going towards the blast site to warn them, and they said they were aware of the incident. The reinforcements of DRG and CRPF were moving on foot towards the site for rescue,” he said.
“I don’t know whether to feel happy that I survived. So many lives were lost. I feel numb,” the driver said.
Eight of the slain DRG jawans were natives of Dantewada, and one each were from Sukma and Bijapur.