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Death is Bastar's muse

The forests of Chattisgarh ring out with songs that toe the line between protest and sedition, but the lyrics transmit truths that the city and state can ill-afford to ignore, says Javed Iqbal

JAVED IQBAL  15th Jun 2013

"Jump over Dilli, we jungle people
Even if you don't know how to sing.

Boys (chorus) : We don't know how to sing!
Girls (chorus): How do you not know how to
sing? Jump over Dilli jungle people!

In our villages we come,
we will go with our axes,
big feet police, we will jump in delhi,
with bows and arrows, we will jump in delhi,
with these arrows, we will kill the police,
loot the government,
we will snatch weapons and bring them."

These are words from a Gondi song sung in Bastar by adivasis of the interior forests. To some it might seem a seditious aspiration, to others a decades-old Naxalite lyricism mutating Muria songs, or a desire with twisted explicable joys, yet there are reasons why these songs are being sung in the forest. Even the translator of the song, whose village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum and who now lives as an Internally Displaced Person in Andhra Pradesh, finds its words, its new meanings, distasteful. Yet to hear it, it is even melodic, haunting, and joyful; and it becomes an incongruous expression of rage, a rage in memory, a rage against the burning and looting, rape and murder by the Salwa Judum. Elsewhere they sing, 'How it was before --- in the earlier days/it was beautiful/It was wonderful/now there is so much suffering/the garlic skin police is harassing us.'Image 3rd

There is even a song sung in remembrance of the 2006 killings in Nendra village where at least 10 adivasis were murdered by the Salwa Judum. Their families would testify to the National Human Rights Commission, but the killers would never be prosecuted. On 29th May, 2013, the Salwa Judum leader from Konta, Soyam Mukka who was implicated in violence in many villages around Konta, was assassinated by the Maoists, just a few days after the Maoist ambush on the Congress party motorcade that left 29 people dead. Soyam Mukka had warrants for his arrest for numerous cases, including one where an adivasi woman was gangraped in a police station after he had kidnapped her and left her there. The police would declare him an absconder though there is photographic proof that he was easily found -- the photograph, from January 2010, in fact shows him standing right next to the police. Now he is another man who escaped the clutches of the law of the nation but was claimed by the law of the land.

There are no songs sung about justice in Bastar. Those who have been with adivasi villagers marching to the police stations to demand the bodies of their loved ones would've heard the haunting chorus of the harmonious crying of hundreds of adivasi men and women. Mahendra Karma is dead. Soyam Mukka is dead. ASP Rajesh Pawar is dead. SPO Ismael Khan is dead. SPO Kartam Surya is dead.

The state chooses not to listen — year after year, even after the Salwa Judum was banned, the state of Chhattisgarh invoked the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance of 2011

There would even be a song of mourning during the funeral for Mahendra Karma, where elsewhere someone would probably be writing a song to celebrate it. Karma was stabbed 78 times. In 2006, in Matwada village of Bijapur, SPO's smashed stones into the eye sockets of three adivasi men. In 2004, Oonga Madkam of Kottacheru village, a friend of many of the leaders of the yet to be formed Salwa Judum was shot dead on the road between Konta and Cherla, and the Maoists smashed his head, already void of life, with a small boulder. In 2012, the CRPF would be accused of setting Pudiyam Mada's genitals on fire in the Sukma police station.

We will fight like red ants, jungle people,
for our land, we will jump,
We won't give our jungle resources,
We won't give our mountains and shrubs,
they are ours,
We will keep our gold,
This is a loot government, we will
not give to them.

(Chorus) Dilli!

The Naxalite ideologue Charu Mazumdar's "murder manual" always had its songs, and now these adivasi anthems of anger, sung in the jungles of Bastar, straddle the line between protest and sedition. If you walk with them, but cannot understand the lyrics, you'd believe they were serenades to the forest. These are now the songs heard amongst the red ants, the butterflies, the frogs and the birds, yet they are songs of an anger seldom heard by the state. The state chooses not to listen — year after year, inquiry after inquiry, even after the Salwa Judum was banned by the Supreme Court, the state of Chhattisgarh invoked the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance of 2011, and inducted the SPO's into the regular police force. More killings and burnings in the villages would follow. On 17th May, 2013, in a repeat of last year's encounter at Sarkeguda that left 22 dead, a police firing in Edesmetta during a seed festival would claim eight people, including four children and one soldier. The mothers take the bodies to the Gangalur police station and throw stones at them.

'Dilli', probably sang a stone.Image 2nd

The other songs in this battle are sung in the newsrooms, furious calls for the Army to step in— strategically suspect, at the least, as the essence of all armed conflict is intelligence gathering. People working in the region say the state in Chhattisgarh has committed everything from torture to fratricide to try and get the adivasis to submit and provide them with intelligence. A case in point is the young adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi, still languishing in prison; even after his enforced appointment as a Special Police officer, he was imprisoned in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. That is how the police of Chhattisgarh acquires intelligence: show them who is boss, we're worse than the rebels, we have better guns, submit to us.

When the Sulwa Judum forced people, out of fear, to point out village-level Sangam members who were instantly murdered, the Maoist hold in particular villages was weakened. Yet the Maoists rebuilt their base and replaced their cadres, never difficult when the Salwa Judum was involved in rape, murder and arson on a massive scale.

Jump over them and kill them
We will jump like tigers in the jungle
Aim like the eye of the cat in the jungle.

And the chorus goes: 'Dilli'. The lietmotif is 'Dilli'.

Death is Bastar's muse. Yet there was another song being sung some months ago, in March of this year, a song seldom heard beyond the forest, when a rally of thousands of adivasis under the banner of Manish Kunjam's CPI and the Adivasi Mahasabha, marched to demand the Sixth Schedule. They have been demanding it since the early 1990s. When the state violates the laws of the Fifth Schedule and the PESA act, the demands for the Sixth Schedule, which is more or less for autonomy, are only going to get louder. The adivasis of Bastar are writhing in anger from decades of exploitation by non-tribals, the inherent racism in the system, the Salwa Judum, the everyday tortures and encounters, the burnings and killings by members of COBRA and the CRPF.

It will take imagination such as the Central Government has probably not used since Independence to placate such anger. But the question is, does it really want to?

Song - Ee Na Ve

Girls: You all sing along
Boys: We don't know how to sing
Girls: How do you not know how to sing?
Boys: You are the singers here, you sing
Girls: What's wrong with your voice? I can't hear it
Boys - We don't know how to sing
Girls: How do you not know how to sing?
Boys: I have a cold so my voice isn't strong
Girls: Adivasi people
Boys: Sing on
Girls: The people live like this, big foot police
We live off the land, from farming
My people, where have you gone?
We are farmer people
We live of the land, farmer people,
Where will we run away to?
If we have to die, we will die here.

The Judum started and it's over,
They lost, the people have won,
Everyone had run here and there,
And they all came back
The land, the trees, the mountains,
are ours again,
in our hands again,
the mango trees we planted,
our lake is there,
our land is there,
the house we built with our hands is there.

Our fathers and grandfathers in the village,
were caught by the Judum,
the Judum ate our house,
they drank the people's blood,
they become bigger,
but at some point, they will die,
if they won't die, so what?
that much will happen, let it be.

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