Area Liberated from the Grips of Salwa Judum
Posted by n3wday on April 6, 2009
This article was published on The Times of India. Salwa Judum is a paramilitary force given power by the Indian government to combat Maoist forces. They are well known in India for using brutal methods of repression against villagers and Maoists.
‘Area liberated… No Salwa Judum here’
BASTAR: It was early morning when the phone rang. “Do you still want to meet the Naxals?,” asked the voice at the other end. For the past eight
months, I was waiting for this ”invitation” to meet the Maoists of Chhattisgarh in their den: the Dandakaranya jungles of South Bastar.
We drove down to Kondagaon, a kasbah about 250 km from Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur. Our local contact was scheduled to meet us there. Our codeword: ”Hello Mahendroo”. He turned up an hour late. For a while, we thought he never would come. We began our journey in a Scorpio. Expecting cops on the way, we had created an alternate identity for ourselves: we were NGO workers surveying the implementation of the NREGA.
Thankfully, nobody stopped us. It was dark by the time we made our first stop. After resting in a hut for a couple of hours, we took an hour-long motorbike ride over a winding forest dirt track under a full moon.
We rested for a few hours in another village before embarking on our final trek around 4 am. We must have walked for close to four hours across fields, forest and hills, before we finally reached a makeshift naxal camp. But for a small group of cadres in olive fatigues or saris, there was hardly anyone there.
We sat on blue plastic sheets and looked around. Nobody said this but we knew: this was ground zero of the red country. The jungles of south Bastar have their own unwritten rules. Government officials do not enter them. Few dare to file an FIR in the police station. And it is unlikely politicians will come here for votes in the coming Lok Sabha polls.
The Maoists have their own Jantana Sarkar, a parallel government in five surrounding districts: Bijapur, Bastar, Kanker, Narayanpur and Dantewada. Nothing angers them more than the mention of Salwa Judum, a movement guided by Congress leader Mahendra Karma to counter the rise of Left extremism. “He is public enemy no 1. We have attacked him many times and will continue to do so,” says Comrade Pandu, the unit’s spokesperson.
“Villagers do not support the Salwa Judum. No one wants to live in those camps, which are like jails. But this is a truly ‘liberated’ area. There are no Salwa Judum camps around,” Pandu adds.
It’s Tuesday, Feb 10. Thousands of tribals have gathered in the Dandakaranya forest away from the watchful eyes of Cobra, the paramilitary force set up to counter the Maoists. The forces patrol the highway but the deep jungles resonate with song and dance interspersed with Red propaganda speeches. On the day, the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee’s leadership has organized the Mahan Bhumkal Diwas celebration. The programme is replicated in several other areas in the forest where tribals from 8-10 villages congregate at the closest venue.
With red banners all around, a memorial for tribal martyrs had been erected. It was little more than a red cloth wrapped around four sticks. A wooden bow and arrow atop and the martyrs’ photos made it a memorial. A special red enclosure exhibited more photographs.
A Jantana Sarkar Swasthya Kendra dispensed free malaria, dysentery and headache pills. The Maoists’ parallel government has eight departments: education and culture, finance, law, defence, agriculture, forest conservation, health and sanitation and public relations.
Comrade Pandu says no established offices exist yet, but their “mobile government” runs the show. “The
Jantana Sarkar is in an embryonic stage but when the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army establishes control, we will form a regular government,” he promises.
He explains why there is no land department. “We have already carried out land reforms and redistributed land such that you will not find a single landless person here,” says Pandu. The Jantana Sarkar also settles family disputes. “In the past three years we have settled about 200 disputes between brothers, husbands-wives, neighbours. In fact, if you check with the local police, you will not find a single FIR filed,” he claims.
Once the people’s court pronounces a judgement, the guilty is held in custody and ”carried around” in mobile jails till deemed fit to be released. The Maoists fund their government with tax collections from villagers. The amount is decided on basis of the crop. This year, for instance, no taxes were levied because the crop failed.
Local support is evident. Not that the villagers have a choice. In the absence of any other authority, they follow the naxals’ bidding. There are no schools: only bombed ruins of what were once places of learning. The naxals claim they destroyed them because the government used them to house paramilitary forces. The celebrations began around noon and carried on till six in the morning when we left the camp. That such a grand festival can be organized without the official machinery being aware of it is proof of the naxal sway in the Dandakaranya region. They are the law here.