Grace under fire
Delhi lost one of its talented mediapersons when Doordarshan cameraperson Achyuta Nanda Sahu was killed by Naxals in Dantewada
About four hours before he was shot dead by Naxalites in the jungles of Arhanpur area of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, 34-year-old Achyuta Nanda Sahu, a cameraperson with Doordarshan News, was filming a story on the scenic beauty of Dantewada.
Sahu, who was killed during an encounter between the Naxals and the police, went to Neelvaya Panchayat in Arhanpur to cover the elections. He and his team from DD News wanted to do a story on Neelvaya Panchayat as a polling booth was being set up there for the first time for the state elections.
At 11.30 am on October 30, Sahu reached the village with his three-member team and a group of 30 security personnel on 15 motorcycles. Sahu and his colleagues were at the spot with about six or seven policemen while the remaining personnel were a little way behind them. That was when a large group of over 60 Naxalites attacked them and started firing heavily on them. The heavily-armed Naxalities also hurled grenades at the police team. By the time the situation was brought under control, there were three casualties—Sahu and two policemen, identified as Sub-Inspector Rudra Pratap and Assistant Sub-Inspector Manglu.
The remaining members of the DD News team, including a reporter and an assistant cameraperson, saved themselves by lying on the ground.
It is significant to note that the Naxals were taken aback by the decision of the Election Commission and the government to set up the polling station in Neelvaya Panchayat in Arhanpur, which is considered to be a Naxalite bastion. According to Ratanlal Dangi, Deputy Inspector General of South Bastar region, the Naxals were also angered by the ongoing road construction work between Arhanpur village and Jagargunda, which passes through the stronghold areas of the Naxalites.
However, local journalists say the fact that the DD News team went with the police could be the primary reason for the attack. Sanjay Thakur, a local journalist with TV channel News Nation, said, “Before the visit of the DD News team at Neelvaya Panchayat, many other channels including Times Now and Mirror Now visited the spot. In fact, any outstation reporter who was visiting Dantewada was taken to cover the story at Neelvaya Panchayat. The Naxals were agitated as reports were coming in through the media that the police had taken hold of the Naxal bastion. But despite that, the Naxals didn’t attack any reporter who went there on their own and without the police.”
Thakur said there’s an unwritten rule of reporting in Bastar: that a reporter should not be accompanied by the police while going to cover a story. He said, “If the DD News team had gone there on their own, unaccompanied by the police, at the most they would have been beaten up by Naxalites and would have been asked to leave. But going there with the police led to a deadly and unfortunate attack on them.”
Thakur said the police team which accompanied the DD News crew was small in number—about 30 police personnel. He also said precautions should have been taken. The team should have been advised by the police to stand at a certain distance from them, as the DD News team was not wearing bulletproof jackets.
Dheeraj Kumar is a DD News correspondent who was part of the team that went to Neelvaya Panchayat. He said, “In the last 30 years, voting has not taken place in that village. This was the first time a polling station was getting set up there. The government has convinced the villagers and they agreed to vote this time. It is a big story as democracy is winning over Naxalism.” Kumar and the DD News team travelled in a four-wheeler till the highway but covered the last 1.5 kilometres towards the village on motorcycles with security forces.
He said, “Just 500 metres before the village, we were attacked by Naxalites who were firing on us indiscriminately. They were shouting ‘don’t spare anyone, kill the journalists as well’.”
Kumar doesn’t think the attack was because his team was with the police. He said, “One needs to understand that going in such areas needs detailed information about its geography. We don’t know on which road Naxals have planted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). If we had gone without security forces, there were chances that we would have been killed in a landmine blast. It was very sad that we lost our dear colleague in this incident.”
Mor Mukut Sharma is another member of the DD News team who survived the attack. Sharma made a video while he was lying on the ground during the attack, and the video was later widely circulated on WhatsApp. In it, Sharma is seen saying they were under attack by Naxalites while covering the election. He said he might get killed today, and sent regards to his mother.
DIG Ratanlal Dangi spoke to Newslaundry about the attack. He said, “ The main issue which irked the Naxalities was the construction of the road between Arhanpur and Jangarguda. They don’t want a road in that area because they don’t want connectivity of any kind through their areas. They know roads will bring mobile towers, schools, movement of people which will decrease their influence on tribals. In the last 15 days, around 15-20 people have died because of the IEDs and spike holes planted by them. They are agitated because their actions are being reported in media.”
Dangi says the Naxalites targeted the media team in Neelvaya on purpose. “In the postmortem report, it’s been revealed that the cameraperson was not only shot, but they (the Naxals) also inflicted injuries on his head with a sharp-edged weapon. It was only a chance that journalists before this incident visited that area and were not attacked.”
Sahu was from Ghusuramunda village in Bolangir district of Odisha. He lived in Delhi with his wife, who is pregnant, and his father. Sahu joined the media after taking voluntary retirement from the Army when he was shot in the leg in 2008. In 2012, he passed out from Biju Patnaik University in Cuttack and started working as a cameraperson for a regional channel. In 2013, he joined DD News as a cameraperson and covered the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Haryana elections.
Anil Mahapatra, an old, close friend of Sahu, said, “I was in shock when I heard the news about his demise. He was more than a brother to me. He was a man with a large heart who always used to take care of his near and dear ones. I still can’t believe that he is no more.”
While talking to Newslaundry, Sahu’s friend and colleague Vijay Sahu said, “Many at DD News had refused the assignment. But he was adventurous and brave, and hence he agreed for it. I couldn’t believe that he was killed. It was only when the news channels and reports started flashing his pictures that we believed it was him.”