India – Part 2 – Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion
Posted by hetty7 on March 19, 2012
Last week SARev published the Introduction to this piece. It was originally published by Sanhati, and we thank them for making this available.
This week we are continuing this fascinating story.
Part 2: Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion
Inside the Guerilla Zone
The first thing that strikes one entering a “guerilla zone” in Bastar, where the Maoists run their own government, Jantanam Sarkar (JS), is the form of greeting. Everyone, old and young, men and women, villager or party member, shake hands, raise their fist and greet you “Lal Salaam”. The second thing that that strikes one is the number of women in JS as well as in every platoon or compoany of Peoples’Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) or Jan (i.e. People’s Militia).Many a platoon had woman commander. Indeed the platoon that came to escort us was led by a woman. They are not only in command but carry out the riskiest tasks too, just as men share equally all the responsibilities with the women: collecting wood, water, lighting fire, and cooking. It was quite remarkable to see how in the platoons women and men behaved with each other. Each of them carried up to 20-25 kgs load made up of their weapon, ration and kit. Both were adept at stitching and sewing. In fact, they were rather good at not just repairing, but stiching their own kits in which they carry their clothes, books, ammunition magazines, and toiletries.
Strap of my backpack broke and it was fixed by one of the young men in the platoon. It was a neat job. Indeed the kit bag they carried on their shoulders was stitched by them in which they carried two pairs of clothes, toilet things, ammunition, etc. The uniform was tailored inside the “guerilla zone” , shoes and toiletries bought from the market outside. Third thing that strikes you is cleanliness. Water is boiled. For latrines they dig a hole, some distance away from the campsite, and my companion Jan Myrdal was most impressed because he said it reminded him of Swedish military design for field toilets. Fourthly, but most strikingly no sooner chores are done , be it night or day, almost all the PLGA members take out their book and read, or take out their notebook and write.
Every divisional JS brings out their own magazine in Gondi/Koyam (6). All in all, 25 magazines are printed regularly in DK. All of them are printed and distributed inside. In fact, I saw screen-printing of leaflets for the three day bandh from 25-27 January 2010, i.e. a week before the program.
By and large people don’t have problem following reportage, where they do get stuck is in analysis. So how is this problem addressed? Group discussions are the way in which this problem is tackled. An article is read out and everyone is encouraged to explain what they understand of it from it and through dialogue and discussion exercise meaning and concepts get explained and understood. Education is prioritized and encouraged. Four textbooks have been prepared by JS for students up to fifth standard (maths, social science, politics and Hindi) and four are under preparation (history of DK, Culture, Biology and general science).
Everyone takes turn at doing the chores, from sentry duty to cooking. Since we were guests from outside, we had more leeway. But first thing they do is boil water. Once they are done with their morning ritual, it is time for PT. By 8 Am they eat their breakfast. Breakfast can vary between “poha”, “khichri”, etc. mixed with peanuts and followed by tea. Lunch and dinner consists of rice with dal and subzi. Food is simple but nutritious. Once a week they get meat. Sometimes more than once if fish is available or there is pork, which is provided by the Revolutionary People’s Committee. (An RPC is an elected body that governs 3-5 villages. 14-15 such RPCs make up an area RPC. And 3 to 5 ARPCs go on to constitute a Division.)
Sometimes, as when I traveled to Abujmaad, ‘khichri’ (rice and linseeds) with peanuts is all we got. But it was simple, tasty and nutritious. Of course with every mean we were offered green chillies, which is considered a rich source of Vitamin C! Milk is scarce, so milk powder is used for tea. Fruits such as bananas and papayas are plenty in JS areas. There is n fixed time for sleeping but invariably by 10 pm everyone would retire for the night. Camps are never in the same spot, it keeps shifting. A plastic sheet is spread and people cover themselves with blankets and sleep. For us, their guests, a shawl was spread on the plastic sheet and over our heads another plastic sheet was spread to protect against heavy morning dew. We were served tea in bed when we woke up. While the forest was used for daily rituals, over years they have honed their skills and shitholes are dug and then covered before shifting camps.
People watch select movies. When I was there two films were shown (I am told on popular demand) “Rang de Bastanti ” and “Mangal Pandey”. Although, this is possible only when some relatively senior party member man visits them and who also has a laptop. Laptop? How do they charge labtops? Well every company, if not platoon, has solar panels and they are used to power lights, computers and so forth. TV programs and debates were downloaded from YouTube and copies and circulated and mostly available with companies. I was surprised to know that many a debate in which i featured had already been watched. Some thought that I looked healthier on screen.
But of course, the all time favourite was Arundhati Roy. She spoke English, so how did you all follow her? Some of the senior comrades translated what she had to say for the benefit of others. I was asked alot of questions about her. Yes, she has quite a fan following inside the jungle too.! Radio was listened to and PLGA personnel like to listen avidly to a radio program, which carries special Hindi film songs played as requested by the “faujis” (soldiers). But all time favourite is BBC news in which is heard by everyone, every morning and evening. Local radio news is followed for negative reportage with a view that reporting even negative is news. In a platoon nearly every third person has a radio. Newspaper and magazines reach them after several days.Books are mostly hardcopies downloaded from net. Yes, there are places where net can be accessed. Rest is human ingenuity. In the night solar powered lights come in handy for people to gather around and read. Or sit aroiund the fire and chat.
What about alcohol and smoking? After all tribal people in Bastar brew their own drinks. Sulfi and Mahua are quite common. It was quite interesting that while party does not allow opening of IMFL shops in JS area they do not stop brewing of traditional drinks. But seldom does a party member drink. It is expected of party members that they neither drink nor smoke. Although they do not prohibit smoking, unlike drinking alcohol, and tendu leaves are available in plenty, they actively discourage smoking. And JS conducts propaganda campaigns. While I visited I was told that two people will publicly announce that they are quitting smoking and encourage others to follow suit. It was interesting for me to note that not one person in the camp, or the platoon which accompanied me, smoke or drank.
6. South Bastar Division: Pituri (rebellion) ; West Bastar Division: Midangur (fire place): Darbha Division: Moyil Gudrum (Thunder); north and south Divisions of Gadichiroli: Poddhu (Sun) : Maad and North Bastar Joint Division: Bhoomkal (Earthquake): East Bastar Division: Bhoonkal Sandesh (message of rebellion) apart from Janatana Sarkar brings out a Magazine called Janatana Raj (People’s State) party brings out its own called ‘Viyukka’, its military command ‘Padiyora Polio’, Chetna Natya Manch ‘Jhankar’ etc. groups practicing singing was also a common sight.