The Maoists have a language advantage over the security forces: their mostly Telugu-speaking leaders have learnt Gondi from the people in their areas of influence. They have even brought out a few publications in the adivasi language using the Devanagari script. At a Maoist function somewhere in Bastar to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising last month, many of the speeches and songs were in Gondi—the lingua franca in the villages from where nearly 1 lakh adivasis had trekked all the way to the place of the gathering.
Unlike neighbouring Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, where the administration has learnt to use Gondi in its interactions with adivasis, there has been no such initiative in Chhattisgarh. In 2013, the government reportedly planned to start training IAS probationers in Gondi, but the project reportedly never took off. Gondi has only been used for raids so far, first by Salwa Judum and then through the District Reserve Guard’s Gondi-speaking recruits. The administration’s language deficit proved to be a barrier when revenue surveys were conducted In Narayanpur district recently.
Sukma deputy SP Vivek Shukla, however, is trying to chart a new course. In 2012-13, in a bid to counter the Maoists’ cultural wing—the Chetana Natya Mandali—surrendered Maoists, former SPOs and policemen from an adivasi background were trained to work as part of a police-sponsored cultural troupe. Until recently, they used to perform street plays in semi-urban centres. Shukla started taking the troupe into villages deep inside the forest. The themes are predictably around “Maoist brutality and the futility of their movement”.
The policemen wear costumes and enact before adivasi villagers how Maoists assault and kill suspected police informers. They also show how surrendered Maoists lead a better life than those who don’t. Shukla speaks some Gondi now, but uses interpreters when he gives speeches in the villages.
“The Maoists have turned people of entire villages into criminals,” says Sukma SP A. Meena. “They do this by organising the villagers in committees that are part of jantana sarkar, besides running the cultural organisation and schools.”
While Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s counter-insurgency plan requires the security forces to learn the local language and culture, on the ground, it is still a far cry. Special DGP (anti-Naxal operations) D.M. Awasthi feels that the state forces will always be important because of the language and culture issue.
But language is only the first step, as Outlook learns on the way back. When we stop to click pictures of a Maoist martys’ memorial, seeing us approach on a motorcycle, a teenage girl, who was tending to cattle, makes a dash for it, displaying an agility that would have made Usain Bolt proud. The terror on her face is the kind that horror film directors seek in their audience. In other poor parts of the world, the camera would have drawn curious onlookers, not set them running for their lives and sanity.