Lighting assistant Mormukut Sharma tells ThePrint the 3-member Doordarshan team that travelled to Dantewada were not afraid of the assignment.
New Delhi: A day after Doordarshan lighting assistant Mormukut Sharma survived a ghastly Maoist attack along with reporter Dhiraj Kumar, he told ThePrint that as journalists, the team was excited by the potential of a good story that could have emerged out of the Chhattisgarh assignment.
But, caught in the midst of a Maoist attack, Sharma gave up hope and even recorded a video message for his mother, assuming he would die.
The three-person DD team, including slain cameraman Achyutanand Sahu, had travelled to the Maoist-infested Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh from Delhi to cover the state elections that begin on 12 November, where they were attacked by Maoist guerillas Tuesday.
Along with Sahu, two policemen — sub-inspector Rudra Pratap Singh and assistant constable Manglu — were killed. Two other security personnel were injured when the attack took place near Nilawaya under Aranpur police station limits.
Optimism turned into nightmare
“We are journalists and a story is always good for us,” Sharma said, adding that he was not afraid to go for the assignment, despite knowing that the team was to travel to a district affected by Left-wing extremism.
“We were going for a story, and it is always great to be on assignment,” he said.
The team was escorted by CRPF and Chhattisgarh Police jawans.
But this optimism soon turned into a nightmare, as the team was ambushed by the Maoists.
“There were some policemen on motorcycles and some in cars. We were in our Mahindra Bolero. Just about 15 minutes from Dantewada, we veered off the highway and took an inner road,” Sharma recounted.
“We were told there were Maoist posters and banners on trees and we wanted to take pictures of them.”
But soon after the team managed to get the pictures, firing broke out.
“First we ran, then the jawans shouted ‘let jaao, let jaao’ (lie down, lie down). So we lay on our bellies. Achyut (Sahu) was about 20 metres from me,” Sharma said.
He said he doesn’t really know what happened to Sahu at that time.
“The jawans shouted keep your heads down, heads down. Even if I raised my head four inches I would be shot,” Sharma recalled.
“At first I thought he (Achyut) was wounded. Then, after the firing stopped in about 40 minutes, we understood he was dead.”
Sharma recorded a message for his mother because he had given up hope of surviving the attack.
“We have been attacked by terrorists. We were surrounded suddenly by Naxalites from all over. Mummy, if I survive this attack, I will be lucky. Mummy, I love you a lot. It is difficult to escape from here,” he says in the video, which shows him lying prone on dry Sal leaves.
Policemen can be observed trying to gauge the point from which the Maoists have fired. They are also seen telling the Doordarshan trio to lie low.
Sharma said when the team veered off the highway short of Sukma, there was a reserve force left behind, which was summoned on the radio.
“And I think when the Naxals saw the reserve force coming, they just melted into the fields and jungles,” he said.
“I could not identify the weapons. One jawan told me that the rifle he had shoulder-slung was an Insas,” he said.
Doordarshan promises all possible help
Mayank Agrawal, director-general of DD News, told ThePrint that a director-level officer from the public broadcaster is travelling to Balangir city in Odisha to provide support to the slain Sahu’s family.
“We will do a show on them tomorrow. We will provide all possible help to them,” he added, speaking about the two who survived the attack.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of Sahu. His family will also be paid Rs 5 lakh from the Journalist Welfare Fund of the Press Information Bureau.