Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 05, Dated February 06, 2010
SANJANA AND PHOTOGRAPHER TARUN SEHRAWAT BIKE DEEP INTO
CHHATTISGARH’S INACCESSIBLE FORESTS, RETURNING WITH
NIGHTMARE STORIES THE NATION HAS NO INKLING ABOUT
|Bereft The family of a
man shot dead by the
Judum grieves the loss of
their son and their village
A THREE-HOUR motorcycle ride from the border with
Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam district and the thick jungles
of Chhattisgarh close in. This is remote terrain — villages
are spread out over several kilometres; distances measured
by the hours taken to walk from one village to another.
Schools, hospitals and motorable paths are not even imagined.
This is also a self-declared Maoist stronghold. Outside
every village stand red concrete columns 25 feet tall, built
in memory of martyrs; easy markers even for the uninitiated.
Across this remote terrain, over seven days, TEHELKA photographer Tarun
Sehrawat and I tracked Adivasis whose lives were destroyed by the Salwa Judum
in the past four months. This period coincides with the start of Operation Green
Hunt, an operation that the Central Government calls a ‘media creation’.
In village after village, Adivasis recount tales of the Judum attacking anyone
they could find — “if they found a woman, they raped her. If it was a man, he was
killed.” None of the witnesses that we met were willing to walk to the police station
to file complaints. In their eyes, the Judum and the police are complicit.
Seeking justice from one against the other would be futile. This was the first
time, the Adivasis told us, that the Judum had entered their villages. And their
trail of destruction had often covered two or three villages in the span of a day.
We found houses burnt down by
the Judum in village after village —
and we also found buildings outside
another village destroyed by the
Maoists. An Adivasi boy pointed out
the buildings to us — this was the forest
department office, this an anganwadi (creche), here stood the school,
here, a police outpost. Three years
ago, he said, they were destroyed by
the Maoists. Three hundred children
studied there till Class 8. The nearest
school now, he said, was at least 40
km away. Expectedly, not many children go that far. Elsewhere, felled electricity
poles blocked our paths. Ask the leader of the Maoist squad in charge of the area
about the destroyed schools and we hear a reply often heard before: “The police
were using the school building as a shelter”. She had no defence when asked about
the children who used to study there. If the area was under our control, the
Maoist leader continues, people would have been running their own schools.
Anyone who has travelled within Maoist territory will recognise these empty,
practised lines. “When the time comes” — a future that eclipses the present.
JUDUM FROM THE
We met both armed and unarmed Maoist cadres at every turn. Conversations
touched ideological debates as well as ideas of the everyday. One cadre,
while serving us lunch, smiled shyly as she called her husband ‘patni’ (the Hindi
word for wife) and told us that she had learnt Telugu from him. A minute later,
as guffaws echoed across the gathering, she jabbed at the rice in embarrassment
and refused to look up. As the mirth died down, we asked why the Maoists were
not able to stave off the attacks by the Judum in their stronghold. The squad
leader tells us that they were badly outnumbered — an explanation that seemed
far too easy considering this was, by their own definition, a stronghold.
From a land where the bleak futility of the war between the Maoists and
State actors like the Judum is most sharply crystallised, the following pages
chronicle the haunting voices of Adivasis caught in the crossfire.
‘We The Non-People’
SANJANA AND PHOTOGRAPHER TARUN SEHRAWAT BIKE DEEP INTO CHHATTISGARH’S INACCESSIBLE FORESTS, RETURNING WITH NIGHTMARE STORIES THE NATION HAS NO INKLING ABOUT
Jungle Terror 1
‘The Noises I Heard Were Gunshots’
KALUMU BHEEMA, Headman of Dogpadu village
Jungle Terror 2
‘They Would Have Killed Me Too’
KUNJA IRMAI, Resident of Palod village
Jungle Terror 3
‘We’re Afraid Of The Judum And The Naxals’
Resident of Palachalam village
Jungle Terror 4
‘They Shot Them Even As The Women Looked On’
MADIVI MOYEE, Resident of Gachampadu village
Jungle Terror 5
A 15-Year-Old Cowherd A Naxal?
VANJAM BUDRAI, Resident of Gattapadu village
‘Our Party Has Benefited From The Salwa Judum’
In a meeting with the leader of a 100- member Naxal armed squad, the last thing you expect is to be giggled at. That is what we were faced with within a minute of meeting Comrade Savitri of the CPI (Maoist). The reason? Comrade Savitri is tickled that because we lost our way in the jungle — the only territory she claims she has ever seen — we were seven hours late for a meeting with her. In a candid and forthright conversation that lasts over five hours, she discusses her party’s stance in a self-declared Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh. Excerpts: