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‘In two weeks, I was a paramedic’

What led Jairam Ramesh to tag Maoist areas as ‘liberated’? In the last part of the series, Suvojit Bagchi explores the reasons

SUVOJIT BAGCHI  11th Dec 2011

A Maoist doctor, somewhere near the Indrawati River, Bastar district. PHOTOGRAPHS: SUVOJIT BAGCHI

he reasons for the rise of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in south Chhattisgarh's heavily forested region — an area as big as a mid-sized European country — was the subject of several conversations with party

cadres and leaders during my five-week stay in the upper course of the Indrawati River in Dandakarnya (DK). While the strength of party units, built over a span of 30 years, is the primary reason for rise of the Maoists in DK, there are other factors that prompted Union Minister Jairam Ramesh to recently describe south Chhattisgarh as a "liberated zone", where the state's writ does not run.

Health Care

Health care in DK, provided by the state government, is nothing less than atrocious. There are few health centres and doctors are not available round-the-clock.

To fill the vacuum, Maoist barefoot "doctors", a few hundred boys and girls in their early 20s, often travel like missionaries from one hamlet to another with boxes full of medicines for common ailments such as malaria, snake bites, dysentery, severe itching and fever. They are adored by villagers.

Prakash, a 23-year-old doctor with a serious, oval face, told me during a casual conversation one evening, "Earlier, no one took me seriously. One day, the party's division secretary asked me if I would like to be a doctor. I thought he was joking but then he sent me to a camp, manned by doctors from cities, where I was trained for two weeks. I returned as a paramedic. Now the entire village, mine and others, runs after me. It gives me a strange sense of empowerment and purpose — I am doing something for my people, my land."

Imparting this "strange sense" of purpose to a group of illiterate, underfed, sickle cell-ridden and half-lost tribal populace to organise themselves against the world's third largest military power is what the Maoists' success is all about.

Maoist Schools

The children of guerrillas are tutored by senior members and travel with a platoon or a company. Older children with a basic understanding of language go to what is called the Basic Communist Training School. A close look at the syllabus of the school reveals a mix of life-skills training, basic education and political theory that may help raise volunteers for the party.

Some of the children also attend the local ashram (residential schools) set up by the government. I visited two residential schools funded by the state government — in Tirkanar in Narayanpur district in east Bastar and Rohtaar in the Abuj Marh area. In both the places, villagers complained that teachers rarely visited the schools. The schools were being funded by the state government but run by the villagers.

The Maoists often visit the schools to play with the children. The government pays for teachers, assistants, cooks and meals, while the Maoists maintain the schools — a remarkable example of the great Indian co-existence.

“We issue several warnings before executing a death warrant. We request them and their families to leave the village forever... I have met people who being on the Maoist side work for the police. They are under surveillance and are losing sleep.” Budhu, a Maoist militia commander from east Bastar

The syllabus

The two-page syllabus says that sessions will begin in February and continue till August. Two months are earmarked for outdoor activities that include working in the fields to produce food grains. The syllabus also suggests that the students be taught language or mathematics full-time, that is 100 periods, and the next four months be dedicated to other subjects like basics of history and politics, health, hygiene and Marxist thoughts.

The children are trained to use cell phones, laptops, generators and motorcycles. The schools are allotted 130 days to train one batch of students.

The Maoist education department seems to be the most organised wing of the party. "We have teachers, syllabus and sessions — everything in order, more or less," said Badri, a senior member of the education cell. Teachings based on the basics of politics with a pinch of Marxist-Leninist thought on the right to "self-assertion" may prove to be a deadly cocktail for the Indian state.

Maoist Courts

Fear could also be forcing people to refuse to side with police. A Maoist militia commander, Budhu, from east Bastar, came to see me on the 16th day of my visit. He was wearing a khaki shirt and a tightly fitted holster. During a three-hour conversation, Budhu told me why it was necessary "to kill". He said he had killed three people in the past seven years.

"The last execution took place three years ago. If people commit small or minor mistakes, we warn them and let them go. But there are people who traditionally are class enemies. We give them the death sentence. But we issue several warnings before executing a death warrant. We request them and their families to leave the village forever. For instance, those who were killed in my area had been warned for five years. One of them was shot and the others were lynched," Budhu said without pausing. "I've met people who, being on the Maoist side, work for the police. They are under surveillance and are losing sleep."

The Maoists and the tribals with the police refer to each other as "enemies", and look to inflict damage on the other side. Both sides record the violence committed by the other, and distribute the videos. Boys rush to the ambush points, click photos of dead soldiers and circulate them among journalists.

Like any other region wracked by prolonged conflict, south Chhattisgarh has developed an obsession with the glorification of violence. Documentary filmmakers, journalists and rights activists flock to the hamlets of Tadmetla or Konta to buy grainy footage of headless torsos and punctured abdomen — a global market for local violence evolves.

Contradictions

Maoists have used to their advantage the contradiction between predominantly pro-tribal policies — like protection under the fifth schedule of the Constitution — and an economic regime Reports suggest that there are serious violations of several laws in acquiring land in areas that fall under the fifth schedule.

A senior government official said mining activities were "not possible" in tribal areas without amending laws. "But that will take you ages," the official said, ruefully. "The mining and the tribal maps of India are almost the same and, minerals located in the areas are essential to sustain the GDP growth."

He feels that if laws are "not bypassed", tribal land cannot be accessed. "There will be some deviations to accelerate the growth. There will be movements against us, but the process is irreversible," said the official. Maoists, systematically, through their programmes, songs and public rallies highlight this contradiction between the policies and practices of the government.

Despite the organisational problems and policy contradictions among the rebels, Maoists will continue to grow as long as the Indian Constitution is violated by its keepers.

Evenings and Nights

Evenings, if it was not raining, were usually dedicated to the study of party literature printed on cheap paper using silk screens. Magazines on governance are published in Gondi. Besides, the Maoists are in the habit of quickly translating everything that author and activist Arundhati Roy writes.

There were no singing sessions at nights but films would be played on a laptop. One film that was repeatedly screened was Do Bigha Zameen. The other commonly watched films were: The Axis of War that includes a depiction of Mao's long march, Gillo Pontecarvo's recently resurrected classic The Battle of Algiers and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.

At the end of the day, I would lie down with 10 or 12 guerrillas in one of the 15-by-10 square feet tents. As I drifted off to a good night's sleep, I couldn't help thinking of how the tranquillity of the plastic tent, filled with the snores of a dozen sleeping guerrillas and the buzz of countless insects, belied the threats that surrounded us.

Gondi interviews were translated by a journalist, Lingaram Kodopi, in Delhi.

(Suvojit Bagchi works as a Correspondent with BBC World Service in Delhi)

 
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