Walking With The Comrades
COMMENTS PRINT
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Comrade Raju says that it isn’t safe for us to continue to camp here. We have to move. Leaving Bhumkal involves a lot of goodbyes spread over time.

Lal lal salaam, lal lal salaam,
Jaane wale saathiyon ko lal lal salaam

(Red Salute to departing comrades)

Phir milenge, phir milenge
Dandakaranya jungle mein phir milenge

(We’ll meet again, some day, in the Dandakaranya forest).

It’s never taken lightly, the ceremony of arrival and departure, because everybody knows that when they say “we’ll meet again” they actually mean “we may never meet again”.

Comrade Narmada, Comrade Maase and Comrade Rupi are going separate ways. Will I ever see them again?

So, once again, we walk. It’s becoming hotter every day. Kamla picks the first fruit of the tendu for me. It tastes like chikoo. I’ve become a tamarind fiend. This time we camp near a stream. Women and men take turns to bathe in batches. In the evening, Comrade Raju receives a whole packet of ‘biscuits’. News:

  • 60 people arrested in Manpur Division at the end of Jan 2010 have not yet been produced in Court.
  • Huge contingents of police have arrived in South Bastar. Indiscriminate attacks are on.
  • On Nov 8, 2009, in Kachlaram Village, Bijapur Jila, Dirko Madka (60) and Kovasi Suklu (68) were killed
  • On Nov 24, Madavi Baman (15) was killed in Pangodi village
  • On Dec 3, Madavi Budram from Korenjad also killed
  • On Dec 11, Gumiapal village, Darba Division, 7 people killed (names yet to come)
  • On Dec 15, Kotrapal village, Veko Sombar and Madavi Matti (both with KAMS) killed
  • On Dec 30, Vechapal village Poonem Pandu and Poonem Motu (father and son) killed
  • On Jan 2010 (date unknown), head of the Janatana Sarkar in Kaika village, Gangalaur, killed
  • On Jan 9, 4 people killed in Surpangooden village, Jagargonda Area
  • On Jan 10, 3 people killed in Pullem Pulladi village (no names yet)
  • On Jan 25, 7 people killed in Takilod village, Indravati Area
  • On Feb 10 (Bhumkal Day), Kumli raped and killed in Dumnaar Village, Abujhmad. She was from a village called Paiver
  • 2,000 troops of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are camped in the Rajnandgaon forests
  • 5,000 additional BSF troops have arrived in Kanker

And then:

  • PLGA quota filled.

Some dated newspapers have arrived too. There’s a lot of press about Naxalites. One screaming headline sums up the political climate perfectly: ‘Khadedo, Maaro, Samarpan Karao (Eliminate, kill, make them surrender).’ Below that: ‘Vaarta ke liye loktantra ka dwar khula hai’ (Democracy’s door is always open for talks).’ A second says the Maoists are growing cannabis to make money. The third has an editorial saying that the area we’ve camped in and are walking through is entirely under police control.

The young Communists take the clips away to practice their reading. They walk around the camp reading the anti-Maoist articles loudly in radio-announcer voices.

New day. New place. We’re camped on the outskirts of Usir village, under huge mahua trees. The mahua has just begun to flower and is dropping its pale green blossoms like jewels on the forest floor. The air is suffused with its slightly heady smell. We’re waiting for the children from the Bhatpal school which was closed down after the Ongnaar encounter. It’s been turned into a police camp. The children have been sent home. This is also true of the schools in Nelwad, Moonjmetta, Edka, Vedomakot and Dhanora.

The Bhatpal school children don’t show up.


Bob-Cut Brigade: In Bastar, women with a bob-cut haircut can get you killed

Comrade Niti (Most Wanted) and Comrade Vinod lead us on a long walk to see the series of water-harvesting structures and irrigation ponds that have been built by the local Janatana Sarkar. Comrade Niti talks about the range of agricultural problems they have to deal with. Only 2 per cent of the land is irrigated. In Abujhmad, ploughing was unheard of until 10 years ago. In Gadchiroli on the other hand, hybrid seeds and chemical pesticides are edging their way in. “We need urgent help in the agriculture department,” Comrade Vinod says. “We need people who know about seeds, organic pesticides, permaculture. With a little help we could do a lot.”

Comrade Ramu is the farmer in charge of the Janatana Sarkar area. He proudly shows us around the fields, where they grow rice, brinjal, gongura, onions, kohlrabi. Then, with equal pride, he shows us a huge but bone-dry irrigation pond. What’s this? “This one doesn’t even have water during the rainy season. It’s dug in the wrong place,” he says, a smile wrapped around his face. “It’s not ours, it was dug by the Looti Sarkar (the government that loots).” There are two parallel systems of government here, Janatana Sarkar and Looti Sarkar.

I think of what Comrade Venu said to me: they want to crush us, not only because of the minerals, but because we are offering the world an alternative model.

It’s not an Alternative yet, this idea of Gram Swaraj with a Gun. There’s too much hunger, too much sickness here. But it has certainly created the possibilities for an alternative. Not for the whole world, not for Alaska, or New Delhi, nor even perhaps for the whole of Chhattisgarh, but for itself. For Dandakaranya. It’s the world’s best-kept secret. It has laid the foundations for an alternative to its own annihilation. It has defied history. Against the greatest odds it has forged a blueprint for its own survival. It needs help and imagination, it needs doctors, teachers, farmers.

It does not need war.

But if war is all it gets, it will fight back.

Over the next few days, I meet women who work with KAMS, various office-bearers of the Janatana Sarkars, members of the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (DAKMS), the families of people who had been killed, and just ordinary people trying to cope with life in these terrifying times.

 
 
Gram Swaraj with a Gun...it’s not an alternative yet. But it’s created the possibility for an alternative. Not for Alaska or New Delhi, but for itself.
 
 
I met three sisters—Sukhiari, Sukdai and Sukkali—not young, perhaps in their 40s, from Narayanpur district. They have been in KAMS for 12 years. The villagers depend on them to deal with the police. “The police come in groups of two to three hundred. They steal everything: jewellery, chickens, pigs, pots and pans, bows and arrows,” Sukkali says, “they won’t even leave a knife.” Her house in Innar has been burned twice, once by the Naga battalion and once by the CRPF Sukhiari has been arrested and jailed in Jagdalpur for seven months. “Once they took away the whole village, saying the men were all Naxals.” Sukhiari followed with all the women and children. They surrounded the police station and refused to leave until the men were freed. “Whenever they take someone away,” Sukdai says, “you have to go immediately and snatch them back. Before they write any report. Once they write in their book, it becomes very difficult.”

Sukhiari, who as a child was abducted and forcibly married to an older man (she ran away and went to live with her sister), now organises mass rallies, speaks at meetings. The men depend on her for protection. I asked her what the party means to her. “Naxalvaad ka matlab hamara parivaar (Naxalvaad means our family). When we hear of an attack, it is like our family has been hurt,” Sukhiari says.

I asked her if she knew who Mao was. She smiled shyly, “He was a leader. We’re working for his vision.”

I met Comrade Somari Gawde. Twenty years old, and she has already served a two-year jail sentence in Jagdalpur. She was in Innar village on January 8, 2007, the day that 740 policemen laid a cordon around it because they had information that Comrade Niti was there. (She was, but she had left by the time they arrived.) But the village militia, of which Somari was a member, was still there. The police opened fire at dawn. They killed two boys, Suklal Gawde and Kachroo Gota. Then they caught three others, two boys, Dusri Salam and Ranai, and Somari. Dusri and Ranai were tied up and shot. Somari was beaten within an inch of her life. The police got a tractor with a trailer and loaded the dead bodies into it. Somari was made to sit with the dead bodies and taken to Narayanpur.

 
 
Booby-traps has become a Gondi word. Everyone smiles when they hear it. They know other words too: Cordon and Search, Advance, Retreat.
 
 
I met Chamri, mother of Comrade Dilip who was shot on July 6, 2009. She says that after they killed him, the police tied her son’s body to a pole, like an animal and carried it with them. (They need to produce bodies to get their cash rewards, before someone else muscles in on the kill.) Chamri ran behind them all the way to the police station. By the time they reached, the body did not have a scrap of clothing on it. On the way, Chamri says, they left the body by the roadside while they stopped at a dhaba to have tea and biscuits. (Which they did not pay for.) Picture this mother for a moment, following her son’s corpse through the forest, stopping at a distance to wait for his murderers to finish their tea. They did not let her have her son’s body back so she could give him a proper funeral. They only let her throw a fistful of earth in the pit in which they buried the others they had killed that day. Chamri says she wants revenge. Badla ku badla. Blood for blood.

I met the elected members of the Marskola Janatana Sarkar that administers six villages. They described a police raid: they come at night, 300, 400, sometimes 1,000 of them. They lay a cordon around a village and lie in wait. At dawn they catch the first people who go out to the fields and use them as human shields to enter the village, to show them where the booby-traps are. (‘Booby-traps’ has become a Gondi word. Everybody always smiles when they say it or hear it. The forest is full of booby-traps, real and fake. Even the PLGA needs to be guided past villages.) Once the police enter a village, they loot and steal and burn houses. They come with dogs. The dogs catch those who try and run. They chase chickens and pigs and the police kill them and take them away in sacks. SPOs come along with the police. They’re the ones who know where people hide their money and jewellery. They catch people and take them away. And extract money before they release them. They always carry some extra Naxal ‘dresses’ with them in case they find someone to kill. They get money for killing Naxals, so they manufacture some. Villagers are too frightened to stay at home.


Dressed To The Nines: Adivasi boys in colourful traditional gear for Bhumkal day celebrations

In this tranquil-looking forest, life seems completely militarised now. People know words like Cordon and Search, Firing, Advance, Retreat, Down, Action! To harvest their crops, they need the PLGA to do a sentry patrol. Going to the market is a military operation. The markets are full of mukhbirs (informers) who the police have lured from their villages with money. I’m told there’s a mukhbir mohalla (informers’ colony) in Narayanpur where at least 4,000 mukhbirs stay. The men can’t go to market anymore. The women go, but they’re watched closely. If they buy even a little extra, the police accuse them of buying it for Naxals. Chemists have been instructed not to let people buy medicines except in very small quantities. Low-price rations from the Public Distribution System (PDS), sugar, rice, kerosene, are warehoused in or near police stations, making it impossible for most people to buy.

Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it as:

Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [or] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

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