Bhime Markam, a 40-year-old Gond Adivasi and a mother of 3 who is living in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh found her husband Mittu Markam by the side of the road, his hands tied and neck slashed. This incident took place 9 months earlier.
"Mittu said he would be back by evening. At around 3 pm, we got a call from his big brother in the village, saying his car is by the side of the road and he did not know where the Naxals had taken him," said Bhime Markam, who had been married to Mittu Markam for over 20 years.
"They had killed him and thrown his body on the side of the road. His legs and hands were tied and his neck was slashed," recalled Markam.
Began in the 1980s, the Maoist insurgency in Central India is one of the longest-running insurgencies in the history of independent India, with more than 12,000 killed in the last 20 years. But this issue does not command the same attention in the collective political consciousness as the other internal security challenges in India, such as Kashmir.
This climate of silence over what has been described as "India's biggest internal security threat" has resulted in a lack of political will to bring the conflict to a close.
At a virtual peace rally held on October 2, 2020, we posed a general question of what role civil society can play in creating conditions favourable to peace talks. We learnt that civil society organisations in Columbia promoted processes wherein the victims of the armed conflict- from both Maoists and the state- organised themselves through peace movements and demanded answers for the violence they had suffered.
This process was assisted by an official victims register that documented the stories of families torn apart by the violence. We also found other examples of such registers that help elevate issues into s society's collective consciousness, such as the Bosnian book of the dead, The Guardian's database of police killings in the United States and The City's registry of those killed by COVID-19 in New York.
We soon started collaborations with other volunteers and civil society organisations to create victims register for Central India. When we visited Bhime Markam, she said we were the first journalists to visit her after the initial wave of news reports post the murder of her husband.
She broke down as she recounted ger travails since her husband's death, from getting evicted to worries about how her children would continue their education.
Documenting Markam's story and that of the other victims at a central database is an important first step towards acknowledging and making reparations for the wanton destruction caused by this conflict.
From March 12, 2021, these victims and their allies will come together for a peace march with an appeal for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue. Commencing on the 90th anniversary of Gandhi's famous Dandi March, participants will walk 222 kilometres over 11 days from Abujhmad- the headquarters of the Maoists to Raipur, to take part in helping end the violence that has divided their society.