Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2010 > ‘Marching... to keep Hope Alive for Us All’

Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 21, May 15, 2010

‘Marching... to keep Hope Alive for Us All’

Friday 21 May 2010, by Arundhati Roy

[On Arundhati Roy’s Essay on Maoists in Chhattisgarh

Noted author Arundhati Roy’s 32-page essay on Maoists in Chhattisgarh—“Walking With The Comrades” (Outlook, March 29, 2010)—has caused ripples in different circles. Veteran journalist B.G. Verghese wrote a piece—“Daylight At The Thousand-Star Hotel” (Outlook, May 3, 2010)—criticising Arundhati’s essay. Thereafter former Secretary, Union Ministry of Rural Development, and architect of ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal, D. Bandyopadhyay, wrote a rejoinder to Verghese’s piece but Outlook refused to publish it. We are carrying here some excerpts from Arundhati’s essay, Verghese’s piece and Bandyopadhyay’s rejoinder for the benefit of our readers. —Editor ]

All the walking seems to have finally got to me. I am tired. Kamla gets me a pot of hot water. I bathe behind a tree in the dark. But I can’t eat dinner and crawl into my bag to sleep. Comrade Raju announces that we have to move. This happens frequently, of course, but tonight it’s hard. We have been camped in an open meadow. We’d heard shelling in the distance. There are 104 of us. Once again, single file through the night. Crickets. The smell of something like lavender. It must have been past 11 when we arrived at the place where we will spend the night. An outcrop of rocks. Formation. Roll call. Someone switches on the radio. BBC says there’s been an attack on a camp of Eastern Frontier Rifles in Lalgarh, West Bengal. Sixty Maoists on motorcycles. Fourteen policemen killed. Ten missing. Weapons snatched. There’s a murmur of pleasure in the ranks. Maoist leader Kishenji is being interviewed. When will you stop this violence and come for talks? When Operation Green Hunt is called off. Any time. Tell Chidambaram we will talk. Next question: it’s dark now, you have laid landmines, reinforcements have been called in, will you attack them too? Kishenji: Yes, of course, otherwise people will beat me. There’s laughter in the ranks. Sukhdev the clarifier says, “They always say landmines. We don’t use landmines. We use IEDs.”

Another luxury suite in the thousand-star hotel. I am feeling ill. It starts to rain. There’s a little giggling. Kamla throws a jhilli over me. What more do I need? Everyone else just rolls themselves into their jhillis.

By next morning the body count in Lalgarh has gone up to 21, 10 missing.

Comrade Raju is considerable this morning. We don’t move till evening.

¨

One night, people are crowded like moths around a point of light. It’s Comrade Sukhdev’s tiny computer, powered by a solar panel, and they are watching Mother India, the barrels of their rifles silhouetted against the sky. Kamla doesn’t seem interested. I ask her if she likes watching movies. “Nahin didi, Sirf ambush video (No didi, only ambush videos).” Later, I ask Comrade Sukhdev about these ambush videos. Without batting an eyelid, he plays one for me.

It starts with shots of Dandakaranya, rivers, waterfalls, the close-up of a bare branch of a tree, a brainfever bird calling. Then suddenly a comrade is wiring up an IED, concealing it with dry leaves. A cavalcade of motorcycles is blown up. There are mutilated bodies and burning bikes. The weapons are being snatched. Three policemen, looking shell-shocked, have been tied up.

Who’s filming it? Who’s directing operations? Who’s reassuring the captured cops that they will be released if they surrender? (They were I confirm that later.)

I know that gentle, reassuring voice. It’s Comrade Venu.

“It’s the Kudur ambush,” Comrade Sukhdev says.

He also has a video archive of burned villages, testimonies from eyewitnesses and relatives of the dead. On the singed wall of a burnt house, it says, ‘Nagaaa! Born to Kill!’ There’s footage of a little boy whose fingers were chopped off to inaugurate the Bastar chapter of Operation Green Hunt. (There’s even a TV interview with me. My study. My books. Strange.)

At night, on the radio, there’s news of another Naxal Attack. This one in Jamui, Bihar. It says 125 Maoists attacked a village and killed 10 people belonging to the Kora tribe in retaliation for giving police information that led to the death of six Maoists. Of course, we know that the media report may or may not be true. But, if it is, this one’s unforgiveable. Comrade Raju and Sukhdev look distinctly uncomfortable.

The news that has been coming from Jharkhand and Bihar is disturbing. The gruesome beheading of the policeman Francis Induvar is still fresh in everyone’s mind. It’s a reminder of how easily the discipline of armed struggle can dissolve into lumpen acts of criminalised violence, or into ugly wars of identity between castes and communities and religious groups. By institutionalising injustice in the way that it does, the Indian State has turned this country into a tinderbox of massive unrest. The government is quite wrong if it thinks that by carrying out ‘targeted assassinations’ to render the CPI (Maoist) ‘headless’, it will end the violence. On the contrary, the violence will spread and intensify, and the government will have nobody to talk to.

¨

On my last few days, we meander through the lush, beautiful Indravati valley. As we walk along a hillside, we see another line of people walking in the same direction but on the other side of the river. I am told they are on their way to an anti-dam meeting in Kudur village. They’re overground and unarmed. A local rally for the valley. I jump ship and join them.

The Bodhghat dam will submerge the entire area that we have been walking in for days. All that forest, all that history, all those stories. More than 100 villages. Is that the plan then? To drown people like rats, so that the integrated steel plant in Lohandiguda and the bauxite mine and aluminum refinery in the Keshukal ghats can have the river?

At the meeting, people who have come from miles away say the same thing we have all heard for years. We will drown, but we won’t move! They are thrilled that someone from Delhi is with them. I tell them Delhi is a cruel city that neither knows nor cares about them.

Only weeks before I came to Dandakaranya, I visited Gujarat. The Sardar Sarovar Dam has more or less reached its full height now. And almost every single thing the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) predicted would happen has happened. People who were displaced have not been rehabilitated, but that goes without saying. The canals have not been built. There’s no money. So Narmada water is being diverted into the empty riverbed of the Sabarmati (which was dammed a long time ago). Most of the water is being guzzled by cities and big industry. The downstream effects—saltwater ingress into an estuary with no river—are becoming impossible to mitigate.

There was a time when believing that Big Dams were the ‘temples of modern India’ was misguided, but perhaps understandable. But today, after all that has happened, and when we know all that we do, it has to be said that Big Dams are a crime against humanity.

The Bodhghat dam was shelved in 1984 after local people protested. Who will stop it now? Who will prevent the foundation stone from being laid? Who will stop the Indravati from being stolen? Someone must.

¨

On the last night, we camped at the base of the steep hill we would climb in the morning, to emerge on the road from where a motorcycle would pick me up. The forest has changed even since I first entered it. The chiraunji, silk-cotton and mango trees have begun to flower.

The villagers from Kudur send a huge pot of freshly-caught fish to the camp. And a list for me, of 71 kinds of fruit, vegetables, pulses and insects they get from the forest and grow in their fields, along with the market price. It’s just a list. But it’s also a map of their world.

Jungle post arrives. Two biscuits for me. A poem and a pressed flower from Comrade Narmada. A lovely letter from Masse. (Who is she? Will I ever know?)

Comrade Sukhdev asks if he can download the music from my Ipod onto his computer. We listen to a recording of Iqbal Bano singing Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge (We will witness the day) at the famous concert in Lahore at the height of the repression during the Zia-ul-Haq years.

Jab ahl-e-safa-Mardud-e-haram,

Masnad pe bithaiye jayenge

(When the heretics and the reviled will be seated on high)

Sab taaj uchhale jayenge

Sab takht giraye jayenge

(All crowns will be snatched away

All thrones toppled)

Hum dekhenge

Fifty thousand people in the audience in that Pakistan begin a defiant chant: Inqilab Zindabad! All these years later, that chant reverberates around this forest. Strange, the alliances that get made.

The Home Minister’s been issuing veiled threats to those who “erroneously offer intellectual and material support to Maoists”. Does sharing music qualify?

At dawn, I say goodby to Comrade Madhav and Joori, to young Mangtu and all the others. Comrade Chandu has gone to organise the bikes, and will come with me to the main road. Comrade Raju isn’t coming (the climb would be hell on his knees). Comrade Niti (Most Wanted), Comrade Sukhdev, Kamla and five others will take me up the hill. As we start walking, Niti and Sukhdev casually but simultaneously unclick the safety catches of their AKs. It’s the first time I have seen them do that. We are approaching the ‘Border’. “Do you know what to do if we come under fire?” Sukhdev asks casually, as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Yes,” I said, “immediately declare an indefinite hunger strike.”

He sat down on a rock and laughed. We climbed for about an hour. Just below the road, we sat in a rocky alcove, completely concealed, like an ambush party, listening for the sound of the bikes. When it comes, the farewell must be quick. Lal Salaam Comrades.

When I looked back, they were still there. Waving. A little knot. People who live with their dreams, while the rest of the world lives with its nightmares. Every night I think of this journey. That night sky, those forest paths. I see Comrade Kamla’s heels in her scuffed chappals, lit by the light of my touch. I know she must be on the move. Marching not just for herself, but to keep hope alive for us all.

(Courtesy: Outlook)

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)