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Deep inside the forests of Bastar, reticent Maoist commander Hidma chose to send one of his deputies to speak with Outlook. Claiming to be a Gond, Malina, who is a functionary of the Jagargonda Area Committee, appeared with three armed guards while the dreaded Battalion One lurked nearby. After handing out some press notes, she justified, with her own ideology, the recent attack on the security forces in Burkapal; the supposedly fake surrenders and why Maoists tax villagers and sometimes kill them. Fluent in Telugu and Gondi, Malina spoke in broken Hindi while caressing the barrel of a self-loading INSAS rifle that had apparently been snatched away during a raid. Edited excerpts:
What do you have to say about the April 24 killings at Burkapal? Eventually the road will bring some much-needed welfare for the villagers.
The issue was not the road, which we do not object to. It is the policemen who are unwittingly working for the corporates and eventually the roads will be a path to torture villagers. As revenge for attacks by the PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerilla Army, the armed wing of the banned CPI-Maoist), the police are now detaining and torturing scores of innocent villagers. They have also killed a few for frivolous reasons. Just the other day, a wedding party was beaten and detained in Chintagufa police station. (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (CM) Raman Singh keep taking about ‘vikaas’ and promise jobs, but the public here needs basics like food and water first. You have come from Delhi and can see for yourself the difference between Raiguda and Raipur. People do not even own land. They are yet to bring electricity here and we have never objected to that.
You blame the police, but you too kill the villagers mercilessly…
When we receive credible information about villagers who are passing information to intelligence agencies or the police, the party convenes jan adalats. There, the people—including other villagers—decide their fate. First they are counseled, but if they do not change their ways, the jan adalats punish the guilty. Why do the police keep using them for information?
Many are leaving your folds and changing their lives…
There are many fake surrenders here and the police parade ordinary villagers as surrendered commanders. When villagers go to the market, the police accost them and ask for information. Then they are detained and photographed as having surrendered. People don’t leave the PLGA so easily. During summers, villagers migrate to Telangana, Andhra and other places to work as coolies or with the mirchi seths (chilli merchants). The police and the DRG get that information, go in civvies to those villages and drag the villagers to their police stations here and claim that they are members of the militia.
Many from the PLGA have joined the police too.
Some have, like Hari Ram of Chenna Bodkel, Mangu, Shankar, Ganesh…quite a few of them who worked as party members, but they were not all militia. These traitors left the party, joined the police and come back with them to assault and torture villagers after discarding ideals. They also abuse villagers in the markets and falsely accuse them of being militia and settle personal scores. Villagers are now forced to go tens of kilometres in the other direction to avoid the police because many are also detained without cause. Even the women find it difficult to visit relatives.
Without roads and development, a generation of tribals will also not be educated.
The Jantana Sarkar runs its own schools, where the medium is Gondi though other languages are also taught. Those who study till Class 8 or 10 also become teachers at local schools. I too learnt to read and write at such a school. We were also taught about Marx, Lenin. We have also participated in cultural activities.
How long have you been in the Maoist party?
I joined around a decade ago after the merger into the Maoist party. I could see the quality of life in Bastar and had gone to a meeting. I understood what the party wanted to do here through pamphlets and literature and signed up with the militia.
Shouldn’t you allow the district administration easy access here for development work?
Doctors, journalists…nobody is allowed to come in here because of intimidation by the police. Take [Podium] Panda’s case. He was a sarpanch and never worked with us, but was free to travel anywhere. We don’t use sarpanches to run errands or be messengers for the party.
Despite their poverty, you take money and rations from the villagers…
It is true we take taxes, but they are a limited amount and not collected by force. It is the public’s party, so they voluntarily pay what and when they can. None is forced to pay any subscription; that is not part of our strategy. The public also gives us food and other items because we are working for them—again, that is just once in a while. Our strategy and constitution do not allow us to do so. We also get contributions from intellectuals outside. We get weapons by our raids and attacks on police parties. At Burkapal, we were able to seize SLRs (AK-47s and INSAS), ammunition, bulletproof vests, underbarrel grenade launchers and mortar shells and launchers.
You have made several claims about security personnel sexually assaulting women…
Even during the recent incident at Raiguda, the security personnel tried to drag a woman into her house but she resisted and hit them back. So, the others stopped the men who were dragging her. That’s what the villagers told us. Women are not able to talk about sexual assault so easily or complain, but several have confided in me. When the police find women alone, they rape them. There was Madkam Hidme, who was raped, killed and then an ill-fitting uniform was put on her corpse. Sorium Puji and Vajum Shanti were also similarly raped and killed very recently.
Do they approach the police to complain?
There was a minor who was raped, but when she approached the Chintagufa police station to complain, she was arrested for filing a false case. So nobody goes to the police any more and there are no hospitals here. They don't understand your legal system; so how will they wait to go to a hospital for tests to prove rape? Security personnel come in large numbers. Who knows which one of them sexually assaulted a woman? Whom exactly do they complain against? When the women are raped, fellow villagers help them with local herbal medicine. The Jantana Sarkar also gets some medicine for them when possible.
Are fresh recruits joining the PLGA?
There are two or three recruitments each year and then we train them. The training is not in the bourgeoisie way, but span a few hours each day for a few weeks. Along with that, they are also taught about the public’s problems and how the party’s ideology will be used to deal with their problems.
Your area of influence is decreasing. Do people follow your ideology?
We observed the 50 years of Naxalbari [uprising] between this May 23 and 29. The party held meetings at various (local) villages and panchayats, which ended with a very big meeting in the forest attended by thousands of people. Many leaders gave addresses in Hindi, Telugu and Gondi about Marx, Lenin and how their and the Maoist ideology was brought into India through Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, the events of Naxalbari, our entry into Chhattisgarh and the merger of all revolutionary parties in 1999 and 2004. It was an opportunity to talk to people here who didn’t know about the movement and its history. Ours is a protracted war. It will spread from village to village, district to district. From Naxalbari to Srikakulam to Chhattisgarh, it has been a long road that is not going to end soon.