Siddhartha’s Musings

Articles by Siddhartha Mitra, Sanhati

Bringing out the kill – June 16 2010
The non-names of the non-entities – May 13 2010
Bastar: Business as usual – Apr 14 2010
Haiti and Bastar: Comparative notes on disappeared peoples – Jan 23 2010
The Strange Case Of Sodi Sambo – Jan 5 2010
Woh desh main kya hain? – Remembering Kopa Kunjam of VCA from before his arrest – Dec 23 2009
Now who is hiding, Mr. Vishwaranjan?

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Bringing out the kill

June 19, 2010

It was a black and white picture. That too, not of very clear resolution. But what was clear was that a body of a dead was being carried by security personnel. The hands and legs were tied to a pole, and the body was being carried out like that of a carcass by the grim faced security forces.

According to the police authorities, she was a Maoist killed in an encounter. At a distance, she seemed to have civilian clothes, but clothes do not make a Maoist, one can claim.

But is this the way to treat the dead? Even if the dead is an “enemy combatant”, after all a citizen of the state?

When the mutilated bodies of 16 Indian security personnel were returned by Bangladesh several years ago, there was a huge uproar. People were not so much upset by the alleged incident of border violation by the Bangladesh Rifles police force. What seemed unbearable was the way the bodies were hanged from the poles, akin to that of the carcasses of wild animals. It seemed to be the ultimate form of disrespect. As a nation, citizens rose up and demanded justice against this humiliation. It was a blow to the national pride.

Will there be any such hue and cry over similar treatment of the body of a woman, a citizen of the country, though one who had purportedly taken up arms against the state?

One strongly doubts if this will be the case. For the last few months had seen one debacle after another for the Indian state in its war against the Maoists. First there was the horrific massacre of 76 security personnel in the forests of Dantewada. Barring the few initial shots of bloodied bodies, all one was left with was a long row of caskets. And then there was the tragic incident of the ambush of the bus near Sukhma, not too far from Dantewada, which claimed 35 more lives. This time, as there were no security personnel involved (apart from “special police officers”), there were no caskets. All that remained was some twisted remains of a bus and bodies by the broken road, bodies covered by sheets.

A respect for the dead. The security personnel who gave their lives for the sake of the state, and the civilians who were caught in the conflict. In the end, they were all citizens of India.

Respect for the dead goes beyond any specific writ in the constitution or legal law. A dead person cannot pose any danger, nor can he or she continue working on any cause, good or bad. In death, strangely enough, we all become human. While it is in our nature to commemorate a well-lived live by paying the final respects to the mortal remains as the person passes forever from our sights, it is also in us to acknowledge that human being in all by showing respect to a dead person, however ill-lived that life had been. It is not in us to desecrate or disrespect dead bodies.

Then why was the body of the woman shown that way in the media? What purpose does it serve?

Perhaps it is an implicit acknowledgement of how adivasis are viewed n Indian society. Since the invasion by the Aryans, these people have always been treated as if they were subhumans. And today, when the rest of India rushes headlong into “development”, these people living in the “museum cultures” are being even more left behind. Their marginalisation has led them to join the Maoist movement in large numbers, and also have led them to protest by other means. In response, instead of trying to address the root causes of the problem, the state has launched “Operation Green Hunt”. The people who have dared to take up arms against the state will need to be exterminated, like wild animals that pose dangers to humans. What we see is a kill being trumpeted as a trophy.

Looking closely, one fails to see why the body was carried out in the first place. Very likely, this woman, Maoist or not, was a tribal living in the forest. The boy with the disheveled hair and vacant look, who was captured in the same operation, who we now know is dumb and possibly mentally challenged, does seem to be one such. He certainly was not like the very different looking army personnel, possibly from the cities and plains of Northern India, who were escorting him. Since the woman was allegedly in the same group, very likely she was a tribal as well. As the personnel had reached the body, they could have easily searched and confiscated any relevant papers or arms and ammunition, and left the body, possibly to be taken away by her comrades or relatives for a tribal burial.

The only rationale that explains this is one of making a statement. A statement of the crudest and most vindictive kind. The state needed a victory. Blood for blood, eye for an eye. Body for a body. If it cannot show the face of shining success, it can at least show that it is not beaten. If it cannot eradicate the structural violence that leads the poorest to stand up against it, it can at least show the shining India that those people who stand up will not get the claim to being a human, something that was denied to them in life.

Strangely enough, this is not the first time that the bodies of people standing against the state has been marked for desecration. Lalmohan Tudu, the mild-mannered elderly leader of the PCAPA, who was brutally gunned down as he was walking unarmed near his house, and that of Laxman Jamuda, the innocent villager who was killed in Kalinganagar, Orissa, were both taken to the police station, out of bonds of their mourners and relatives. In fact, the reign of terror was so complete, that their relatives did not dare ask for their bodies. Reports indicate that the return of the bodies could lead to independent examinations and exposure of the illegality of their executions. Something that the state understandably wanted to cover up. But for all purposes, their relatives and their friends just wanted to pay their final respects. By denying them that last wish, the authorities could have the free hand in humiliating their memories, leaving Lalmohan and Jamuda forever in a cloud of false suspicion.

The possession of the bodies could be the cover of the failure of state. But how long can the starving masses, deprived of their livelihoods, can be hidden in the recesses of the darkness that engulfs the narrow beam of light that is the shining India? Can the millions of starving carcasses be carried out of their forest dwellings to clear that darkness? Or by bringing that darkness out, are we not accepting the failure of the light to shine?

By failing to honour the dead civilian, the state has implicitly acknowledged its failure to live up to the rights of the people. It is not a march of triumph, but a march of failure. And what was carried out was representative of the death of the once vibrant living community that formed the heart of the country. We can at least give that body its final dues in memory of what should be and could have been.

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The non-names of the non-entities

May 13, 2010

The face of Madvi Hurre looks at us down a corridor in some building in Delhi. In it, there is a mixture of alarm, questioning, and perhaps fear.

One recalls the face of Sharbat Gula, the girl photographed by Steve McCurry, in a refugee camp in Afghanistan. The haunting eyes looked at the camera in a mixture of alarm, fear, and as we later learned, with anger.

We might never know what was going through Madhvi Hurre’s mind.

For Madvi Hurre does not exist. Not apart from this single photo. According to the Solicitor General of India, she is a non-entity.

Yet in the photo she seems to be very much flesh and blood. Shot at a distance, this photograph provides us more context than we had of Sharbat. We know that Madvi is squatting on her haunches, bare-feet, in a corridor of what appears to be a dormitory. She is washing a baby, presumably hers, who, oblivious of her surroundings, looks towards the mother. A plastic bottle of water that she is using for this ablution adds that element of reality to the photograph. In defiance of all reasoning, it seems to tell us this is not a mere aberration, an illusion that one is witnessing in the halls of power in New Delhi.

One of the defendants in a petition filed against the state of Chhattisgarh, this tribal woman had come to Delhi with her children seeking justice for the murder of her husband, Madvi Deva. Madvi Deva was shot by the security forces as he was returning to his village in Singanmandu. He was another victim of the Operation Green Hunt, the armed operation by the Indian state supposedly meant to wipe out the Naxalite movement in the country.

Madvi Hurre is not the only one to have mysteriously disappeared as she sought justice in Delhi. The whereabouts of the other petitioners against the state are also unknown. Among them, most famously, is Sodhi Sambo. A tribal woman who had possibly never seen the world outside the forest near her village in Gompad in Bastar, she apparently came to Delhi on her own, and got admitted to a premier ward in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), a place where even the the prominent VIP’s have to wait a long time to gain admission, if they do all. She did need good medical attention. Parts of her tibia had gone missing after the security forces shot her in the leg.

But after that brief moment of importance, and after a brief appearance in the Supreme Court, where she along with the other petitioners gave frightened testimonies absolving the state of its crime, she too disappeared. Like Madhvi Hurre, all we have left of her is some photographs. The state does not deny Sodhi Sambo does is a legal entity. That would be a tall order after an appearance in India’s apex court. But it does claim that it was not responsible for the killings at Gompad, a massacre which she survived, though wounded.

What makes an entity? Just a human being? Someone whom we can visualise and take a photograph of? Someone we can talk to? Perhaps a name to go along as well?

But do these names count? Madvi Hurre? Madvi Deva? Sodhi Sambo?

Oonga Bhooska?

Not names we would ever see in the headline news in India. Not weighty names like Chidambaram or a Gandhi, let alone a Patil, Modi, Tharoor or Khan. Names, which we were not aware of till the Salwa Judum starting killing, raping women and emptying out villages in Bastar, tearing down the Adivasi villages, society, and destroying their way of life. A task of destruction taken up by the state in the name of Operation Green Hunt once the Supreme Court declared the Salwa Judum illegal.

Let’s look at Oonga Bhooska‘s home. Or what remains of it, after the Salwa Judum set it on fire. Again, a woman and a child look on. Let us not bother with the names of these two. Very likely they have some aberration of names like Hurre or Hidke or something equally unmentionable. And anyway the burned structure now no longer looks as if it ever was a place anyone lived in. It is more like an anthill that has been struck by lightning. We can even argue that this home never existed. It never had a street address, a number or a mailbox. The home had just been known as Oonga Bhooska’s home in Badepalli. No more. Oonga Bhooska, if he is lucky, is now an Internally Displaced Person living in some squalid camp, or perhaps he is hiding in the forest. Maybe he has joined the Maoists. Either he is IDP 45113, or he is Comrade Ravi, or he is dead. But he no longer exists. He, like countless others across Bastar and Chattisgarh, has become a non-entity.

A non-entity who was living in a non-home.

Or let’s take the woman, whose face is never shown, in this video. She is also seeking justice for being raped at the age of fifteen by the police when in detention in a police station in Chhattisgarh. But she knows full well that her existence could be brought into question were her identity to become known. Though not a degree holder, she has the sixth sense which tells her that she will join the many disappeared if the photo of her face comes out. We know what happened to Madkam Hidme. A woman from Konta, she was gang raped by the Salwa Judum SPO’s. She fought back, mnd tried to lodge a complaint. Now her husband has been killed. Madkam Hidme has disappeared, nobody knows where she is. Perhaps she is hiding, unless she had been made to permanently disappear. She is but another tribal, who have been hidden for thousands of years from the public eye, but are now fading rapidly, so that we can mine the mineral resources quickly and efficiently

People can disappear, villages can cease to exist, but surely there will remain some traces? Even the Chhattisgarh is keenly aware of this painful fact, but spares no effort in trying to eradicate any such traces of such a reality. While the Gompad massacre was sub judice, the Chhattisgarh police dug up the buried bodies without any authorization from the court, presumable to remove “articles of clothing”. Discarded rubber gloves and bottles of phenol were lying around those graves after they had completed their mission. What were they afraid of? Bones and decayed flesh do not carry names. These poor people were not wearing many clothes either. Perhaps the bullets needed to be removed, like the bullets that were removed from the women after they were shot in Afghanistan?

In a recent trial of the military Junta who oversaw the dirty war in Argentina, a coutroom photo captured a striking sight. Relatives waved photos of their lost loved ones and cheered as the 82 year old Reynaldo Bignone, the last de-facto president of the junta, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Thirty years had done little to wipe the memory of the disappeared, some of who had been thrown into the ocean from planes. Yet their memory of the disappeared survived. And today, the doddering old dictator, one of the architects of the “dirty war” had been brought to justice.

Will there be any truth and reconciliation for the tribals of Bastar? Firstly, they are not upper or middle class people like the disappeared of Argentina. And even the relatives of the disappeared who have filed court cases are themselves being picked up, never to be seen again. The relatives of the people killed in Gompad never made it home, after they tried to attend the public hearing that never was. 20 people were taken away by the police from the Gachanpalli village a few days after the “Gorka village incident” – what the Chhattisgarh police claim was a Maoist ambush on their forces as they tried to visit the village of Gompad. No one knows the whereabouts of Kantam Ramesh, or “Madvi Venka”, who at the age of two years was the youngest Maoist to be picked up. He has disappeared, along with his father Kattam Dullaiah. Forget that Ramesh never held a gun, and it is unlikely that he will be ever be able to operate one, with just two fingers.

If people do not exist, can they be victims?

The rape victim, whose face we never see, appeals to the interviewer “I am only wanting justice”.

But if you do not exist, how can you have justice? How do we know you exist?

In one of Tagore’s immortal short stories, a woman who was thought to have died but in reality was still alive had to finally kill herself to convince people that she had been actually alive. Most of us can never be sure that indigenous people actually exist in the forests of Chattisgarh because we never have seen them in real life. Perhaps only after they have died, when the forests have been “cleared” and modern cities sprung up in place of the tribal villages, some chance artifact that we might discover in those lands will tell us that they were indeed there. And some records released years later will tell us that yes these were real people who really disappeared. Maybe then we can revisit this haunting memory of these killings, memory which will “ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being?”

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Bastar : Business as usual

April 14 2010

A few days after the killings of 76 CRPF personnel in the Makrana forests near Dantewada, Mr. Amresh Mishra, Superintendent of Posice (SP) Dantewada, told a reporter of the Times of India that anyone who does not have “business” in the “zone” (which essentially encompasses most of the villages and the forested region in the area) would be considered a Maoist or a Maoist sympathizer.
Mr. Mishra did not clarify the kind of “business”. Did he mean the business of education? The business of healthcare? Human rights? Social work?

Or of mining? Land acquisition? Military?

Mr. Mishra is no stranger to using generalities. When speaking on camera about Sodhi Sambo’s abduction by the state forces, he seemed to be unable to  differentiate between her parents and her mousa / mousi (uncle / aunt) –  mysterious relatives who suddenly appeared at the police station to express their familial affection for Sodhi months after she had been shot. Perhaps he was not aware that even a tribal like her did not spontaneously sprout from the forest floor, and could have parents and uncles and aunts who could be different people. And apparently was not aware that she spoke Dorla, so she could not have communicated her request to not meet anyone in Gondi. Most outsiders who are in the region have little understanding of the diversity in the people in the area, and he seemed to be no exception.

But let us not dwell on Mr. Mishra. After all, like most government officials and military personnel deployed in the region, he might not just have had the adequate training to familiarise him with the territory and the people who live there. Like the CRPF jawans, who failed to identify a hillock as a possible vantage point for an attack by the Naxalites and thus paid the price with their lives.

However, his statement is revealing. It is representative of the government position about the people living in the area. Soon after Salwa Judum had started in 2005 and had started to burn down and empty villages in Bastar, the Chhattisgarh government declared that anyone who did not go to the squalid Salwa Judum camps would be considered a Maoist. And Mr. Mishra was just resonating this stance, stating that tribals who had lived for hundreds of generations in the forest were now persona non-grata in their own lands.

To get back to the original point. If one follows Mr. Mishra, one would conclude that people who had business in the region would not be considered a Maoist or Maoist sympathizer. And no wonder, after the massacre, the Tata’s declared that work on their Rs. 20000 crore steel project in Lohandiguda in Bastar would proceed as planned, stating that the location “did not suffer from the Maoist problem”.

So should one conclude that the business of mining is ok?

It was not just the mining operations by the mining giants that the locals had been opposing. They had been specially irked by the way the Memorandum Of Understanding’s (MOU) to Tata and Essar granted had them much more land than they needed for the projects themselves. Both the steel giants accept this fact, and have publicly stated that they intend to use this extra land to get loans from banks. One can imagine that real estate agents and property developers would take keen interest in this, as good business opportunities. Not only that, now there is a number of semi-cleared area in the form of hundreds of villages emptied by the Salwa Judum. Businessmen from out of state have expressed interest in acquiring land in these villages, and the CG govt seems more than willing to sell such for a song, in similar vein to the major concessions they have made to the mining giants.

So it looks like mining and land acquisition businesses can only prosper, and people interested in such will still be welcome, though one can assume that they would have to go into the region under heavy security, for their own protection.

But what about the social workers, the health care workers, the doctors and the teachers? Who is to provide them security? Not only that, would the CG state consider their work as legitimate “business”. It is very doubtful. Dr. Binayak Sen, a healthcare worker who revolutionised healthcare in the region had to stop his work after being imprisoned by the state government for two years on false charges. Mr. Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian activist, was hounded out of Dantewada earlier this year despite having spent more than 17 years with his family in trying to serve the tribals in the region. Nandini Sundar, a professor from New Delhi who is also a social activist with a long history of working with the tribals in the region, was “escorted” out of the area when she came to visit the VCA in Dantewada in December. The villages in south Bastar practically do not have any healthcare facilities, or teachers (thanks to many of them having fled the violence and many others who just failed to show up), so it does not look like their work would be the business of the kind the state would find acceptable.

Perhaps we are missing the point. The local people including the tribals and the villagers who do not live in the Salwa Judum camps have been declared Maoists. So people who are planning to work with them would automatically get branded similarly, wouldn’t they? And in the wake of the recent slaughter of the CRPF jawans, can one not imagine that the government is going to leave no stone unturned to see that all such people are either eliminated or entirely removed from the area?

The home minister has promised the nation that the Maoist movement will be will be uprooted in two to three years. That is a tall order, and one wonders if he seriously believes this is achievable. And what would be the metric to determine that the Maoist movement is gone? That all the villages in the forests in Chattisgarh have been emptied of their local inhabitants? That the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the majority of the tribal population in the area has suddenly jumped over that magic figure of 18.5, defying decades of hunger and deprivation – the famine like condition that leads them to support violent opposition movements? Even the planners in Delhi cannot fantasize of such a possibility. The forests themselves have no boundaries, and stretch across several states. There are just too many people in there to put away anywhere, specially in overcrowded cities. And with healthcare workers and social workers removed, one can imagine the BMI of the local people will take a turn for the worse, if anything.

But wait. There is a metric. After all, what is this about? Is it not about development and growth? The Tata’s, like true patriots have remained resolute in their stance of keeping the mining operations open. The face of shining India shall be established in the region. Though Essar’s fabled 267 kilometre long pipeline to Visakhpatnam has been damaged by the Maoists, they have not given up on their ambitions either.

A few weeks after the restaurant in the Taj hotel was scorched and people inside mercilessly gunned down in the Mumbai attacks, a large crowd of the India shining brigade poured into the re-opened restaurant in the hotel. A more raucous crowd, chanting nationalistic slogans, poured into the Leopold cafe, another high-end cafe that was a target of the attacks. It was a symbolic gesture of keeping the flag of progress flying; a somewhat incongruous one, specially in a place where killings had taken place not so long ago. The same brigade was inconspicous in the reopening of the Chhatrapati Shivaji train terminus where more than a hundred people had also been killed in the attacks. But those killed in the station were common people, and not symbols of modern India’s progress and prosperity.

In two to three years the problem will be over. The Tata’s will have a large inauguration ceremony, to celebrate the success of the completion of the first phase of the project. Essar might have their pipeline fully operational by then. One can imagine a similar patriotic crowd celebrating these events, a sign of  defiance to the people who were deemed to oppose it. But they will not be celebrating an increase of the BMI or restoration of the lands to the people in the region. And perhaps then we will really see that we can win with our resolve.

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Haiti and Bastar: Comparative notes on disappeared peoples

Jan 23 2009

200,000 or more dead in Haiti. Many more wounded and left homeless.

200,000 or more missing in Bastar. Nobody knows where they are. And many more living in Salwa Judum camps under atrocious conditions.

Wait, you might ask. Missing is better than dead, is it not so? After all, they must be somewhere, and there must be hope that they will be able to live?

Actually, not very likely. At least not for long. The jungles in Chhattisgarh are inhospitable, without easy access to food or drinking water. And there is always disease like malaria and bloody dysentery, which will get you if you if the forest does not. Even the hardiest tribals know that they will not last long hiding in those inhospitable jungles. It will not be death in a flash, but it will come very soon.

The world knows about Haiti. And no one knows about Bastar.

In Haiti, the civilisation as we know it, buildings, hospitals, schools, churches have ceased to exist, turned to rubble and dust.

In Bastar, civilisation as the indigenous people know has ceased to exist. Their mud homes broken down, their honey and food sources burnt or looted, their women and children raped or maimed, the very fabric of their well-knit society left tattered and destroyed.

Is it because we think that civilisation is necessarily that which the “developed” world wants it to be? That it necessarily consists of roads and buildings and concrete artifacts, where nature plays a secondary role? A world where humans need not gain succour from their natural habitats? A place where food necessarily has to be grown in factory like hothouses and sold in supermarkets, where fashionable clothes must necessarily be brought from glitzy malls which are one end of a long chain of exploited labour, where houses that people live in must be made of concrete and steel dug up from the bowels of the earth, shredding the very fabric of nature and the lives of the people that live with it?

Are we so lost in that fantasy that we cannot feel our humanity when it comes to the plight of people who think otherwise?

People whose only crime was to chose to live with nature, who grew their own foods in their nearby lands or gathered them from the forest, people who dressed simply if they could at all, people who lived in simply houses of mud and brick, but who unfortunately lived on top of the very steel and iron that is needed to make civilisation as we know it?

Or does technology and science tell us that such people are the lesser kind, not worthy of pity or commiseration? We are not even talking about helping them in a positive manner. With all our science we have done little to help the indigenous people

Haiti is getting some aid. At least it is in the international focus. Maybe the people there can begin to hope against hope.

But the indigenous people of Bastar have nothing to hope for. Bastar will never be the same. The hundreds of thousands of the Gondi’s, Koyla’s, and other indigenous tribals will never return to their shattered homes, their natural habitats. No one is going to replenish their looted food stocks, rebuild their mud homes, or make them feel that they have a future without an impending threat of killings, rape and arson.

These people, who know no language besides their own, will mostly perish in the fringes of the new cities that will take root in the decimated forests that they used to live in. If they survive the current carnage, that is. And maybe then, when perhaps a handful of them remain, will the world will throw a kind glance at their condition. Maybe let them live out their remaining lives in safer guarded enclosures, viewing them as objects of pity and curiosity.

Let us remember that over 3 million Taino’s, the original peace-loving indigenous people of Hispaniola, today’s Haiti and Dominican Republic, perished within eight years of the arrival of Columbus. Though there was no single apocalyptic event like the recent earthquake, it was a gradual and eventual process. After their population had started to get decimated by the Spaniards, many of the Taino’s chose to commit suicide, and the Taino women decided not to have children, embracing death as the only escape. A whole nation of people, perished in utter hopelessness. The Haitian’s we see in our TV screens today are not the native inhabitants of Haiti, but are the slaves brought there from Africa, who also had to go through centuries of suffering as they dared to declare independence and call themselves free people.

Today, Bastar is no different from the Hispaniola that Columbus saw. The horror of Salwa Judum has yet to fade before the new onslaught on them has begun. If it took Columbus eight years to annihilate the Taino’s, the Gondi’s and the Koyla’s, who also number in the millions, might be pushed to a similar fate in an even shorter time frame.

Haitian’s are having amputation done at a rate possibly not seen since the Crimean war. The two year old boy of Gompad in Bastar, whose three fingers were chopped off, and Shodi Sambo, whose leg was shattered by the military bullet, are also being mutilated.

Sambo received treatment, not because people took mercy on her, but because she was a “medico-legal” case, and most importantly, she needs to be hidden from the media because she might talk about the massacre and killings she has witnessed. But the baby boy, and countless others, are just lucky to be alive, without some body parts, even if they did not receive any medical help. The killings, the mutilations, the trauma of the people of Bastar is a hidden tragedy that the world has failed to acknowledge.

The people of Haiti can at least hope for aid. Maybe they will live.

The people in Bastar cannot. They will be sent to their deaths.

A triumph for civilisation, but a fall for humanity.

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Woh desh main kya hain?

Remembering Kopa Kunjam of VCA from before his arrest. 23.12.2009
“Woh desh main kya hain?”, Kopa asked me. (What is there in that country?)

“Wahape bara bara makaan hain, rasta achcha hain, bohut saare gariya hain,” I responded, “lekin aadmi aadmi se etna aasani se mil nehin sakte, jo yahape mil sakte hain.” (There are big buildings there, the roads are good, and there are many cars, but it is difficult for people to easily interact with each other, as is possible here.)

We were sitting in a wayside small tea stall in Bairamgarh. There were only twenty or so odd kilometers to our destination of Lingagiri, and we had felt that it would be good to have a break and have lunch. Kopa knew the area well, and the shop keeper served us delicious warm idlis and hot steaming tea soon after we took our seats. The long ride in from Dantewada on Kopa’s motorcycle had left us exhausted, and the food gave us renewed energy and strength.

“To aap kyon udhar hain?” (So why are you there?)

Why? And, the hidden question, why I am not here? Why are you here if you stay there?

“Mera kuch kaam hain, wahape kar raha hoon, lekin haan, is desh ko bohut yaad aata hain”, I said. (I am doing some work there, but yes, I do keep on thinking about this country.)

“ Aayein, aayein, aap idhar chala aayein”, he said. “Idhar aap ko sab kuch mil jayaga.” (Come, come back to this country. You will get everything here.)

“Haan, main aunga, kuch saalon mein”, I said. (Yes, I will return in a few years.)

“Mein bhi giya tha shahar. Raipur giya tha training mein. Lekin bilkul achcha nahin laga. Udhar sab chota ghar hai, kamra bandh rakhne ko hota hain. Aur aadmi bhi sab apna kaam mein rahta hain, dusro ke liye wakt nahin hain”, he said. (I also had been to Raipur. I never liked it there the rooms are small, and one has to keep the rooms all closed up. People are busy in their own lives, and do not have time for others.)

“Yeh to baat hain”. (Yes, what you say rings of the truth.)

And if that is Raipur, what about Delhi? Mumbai? London? New York? The closed quarters, the isolation in a city of millions, the desperate rush all the people have to do what it takes to fulfill their own dreams?

“Mera idhar hi achca lagta hain. Ketna hara hain, khulla aasman aur zameen. Aur humko aadmiyon ka beech mein kaam karne mein achcha lagta hain. Yeh social work karne mein mera dil hain.” (I like it here. The open skies, the green expanse. And I like working with people. My heart is in social work and working with the people.)

And no wonder the people love you too.

I saw it in every place I went with him. He was the voice of authority, to whom the villagers listened, yet he was at all times eagerly listening to any of their problems, and encouraging them, sharing a laugh with them. When in Lingagiri, he would be telling an eager and excited crowd of villagers about the upcoming health training programs, the passion and dedication came through in his voice. He genuinely believed that it was through the bettering of the lives of the people that the problems could be solved.

I never heard him singing, but I had heard that his voice mesmerized people. He could spread his word of joy and happiness, yet convey his message, in the most pleasing tones. The Gondi language is a tonal language, and its sing-song nature makes songs even more appealing.
And little did he know that in a few months, he would be languishing in the corner of a dark prison cell in Bairamgarh itself, perhaps only a little distance from this shop, mercilessly beaten and bruised, for some trumped up crime that he never committed?

Does he know why this has happened to him?

“We are not interested in those stupid crimes you have committed – the thought is all we care about”, O Brien told Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984.

Does the state at all care who killed Punem Honga? Even if they claim that Kopa did it, which they very well know he did not, like they knew Binayak Sen had absolutely nothing to do with Maoists, does it matter to them?

You see, Kopa, the problem is not that you might have committed such and such a murder or something as irrelevant as that. The authorities know that very well. Do not worry, some day you will be set free. Even if you are found guilty and asked to serve a long sentence, or perhaps after several years some “evidence” suddenly turns up proving your innocence. You will eventually be set free. Maybe, if they are feeling generous, with a word of apology.

For you have committed a thought crime. You have dared to hope, more so in your own way. You have dared to imagine a world in which the people of Bastar live in harmony with their surroundings, as they have every right to. Gantala Baby, Adavi Ramadu’s mother, also dared to hope that she might not have to move again. This is your crime. And Gantala Baby also has committed a crime by hoping – maybe she will have to be punished as well.

As O’Brien went on the explain Big Brother’s ideology in 1984, “Humanity is the Party. The others are outside – irrelevant.”

You are irrelevant. Yet, you are unable to see it and are intent on spreading the illusion. Therefore you must be stopped.

Now, did you really not like Raipur? Why not? Are you sure? Don’t you think that the pattern of development that banishes people like you to the fringes of Indian cities is the correct way society should function? That there will be people who have everything, and some nothing, and that is the pre-destined order? Can’t you see the grand scheme of things? And for heaven’s sake, what is this nonsense that you are singing about green fields and open skies? Cannot you be happy watching the television, even if you have not learned to browse the internet?
Or will some more blows with the rubber tipped bamboo cane convince you?

You see, development cannot be stopped. In this world everything has its place, every person or object must be viewed as a resource. If that resource is not economically productive, it will be deemed unnecessary and will have to be eliminated.

If you do not like going to Raipur, Raipur will come to you. And you will like it. We tried to make model cities by putting people into camps, even opened schools for the children there, but most people did not seem to like it! Perhaps it was because of misguided people like you? Don’t you know that it costs a lot of money, and we owe large amounts to certain mining interests who will not be named – these things do not come for free?

Yes, there were one or two incidences of people being killed in camps like Matwada and in places like Singaram, but could you not see that those were an inevitable part of the process? We do not think you were able to understand the big picture. And who asked you to open your big mouth and talk about these killings to the whole wide world? What would they understand? Do they know what it is like in the forests of Bastar? Have they ever bothered to come here in all these years?

No, they have not. Because they do not care. But we do! And we love you Kopa, just as much the people in Bastar do. It is just that you are unable to see it at this time. But we are sure you will understand. It just would take some time. And it would be good for your own future. Think of it. Say when you are older, and stumbling along like a lost soul in a street of some megapolis, you might still look up with a clouded vision to the lights that shine from the rooms in the buildings above, and perhaps ask yourself the same question again – “Kya hain us desh mein?”

You do not want your life to come to that!

Look at the tribals who have joined Salwa Judum, if they could believe in the vision, why not you? Ok, we had to pay them a bit. But we were willing to give you a lot more, and even “requested” you after administering ten of the best with the heavy stick; You were not “forced”, as the VishwaRanjan, the DGP of Chhattisgarh was, during his visit to Berkeley, when he signed the petition urging for Dr. Binayak Sen’s release after being offered a pen and a piece of paper by a member of the audience. Yet you hold on your dreams, your aspirations, and the misguided notion that people can live within each other in the midst of nature and have a fulfilling life?

“When you finally surrender, it must be of your own free will”.

Dreams die last, but die they must. The civilized world has lost that power to dream in which humans can reside in nature, and along with each other. Yet dream people must. For that, they must recreate those imagined worlds, through the internet and television and other appliances. But in that world, people who have dreamed on their own will be considered threats, something that must be eliminated or sidelined. And it would be the dream only of a few select people, for there are not enough resources to make these dreams for all.

Kopa, it will be difficult for you to surrender, but you can try. Only you can set yourself free.
The dreams of the developed world requires metals and other resources. Like the iron ore that comes from Bailadila in Bastar. The ore is washed in the river, as a result of which it flows red through Dantewada. As if the life of the tribals is ebbing away. Operation Green Hunt is meant to destroy everything that is verdant and vibrant, to hunt out what is green and living. It is not meant to capture this person or that; it is meant to break the will of the people and purge their minds of their false dreams and illusions, because of which they seem to stand against development.

Kopa, even after this, you might never find the answer to the question – “Woh desh mein kya hain?”

But it is because of you that I can question “development”, and somebody else will do so as well. And maybe, someday many more people will.

I hope your spirit will always be that light in the dark, which will shine in other people’s mind as it has done in the minds of the people you have lived for.

***********************************************************************************

Now who is hiding, Mr. Vishwaranjan?

The long wait. The pips. And then the phone rang.

He picked up the phone on the fourth ring.

“Hello?” a gruff voice inquired.

It was a voice of authority. After all, Mr. Vishwaranjan, the person I was calling, was the Director General of Police of Chhattisgarh, the person at the top of the law enforcement institution in the state.

“Sir, my name is Siddhartha Mitra, and I am calling from New York. I am a computer professional working here.”

“Hem”. He cleared his voice. And waited. Evidently we both knew where the call was going. So I dived into the topic, without further ado.

“Sir, I am calling regarding the arrest of Kopa Kunjam”, I said.

“We have been getting many calls regarding this. He has been arrested on a six month old murder case. He was hiding in Himanshu Kumar’s ashram, and when he came out during that time, he was arrested”, the DGP placidly explained.

No doubt this was something he had prepared in advance, and must have repeated it several times by now.

However, there was a big catch to it.

“But I know that is not true. I myself was there in Dantewada two months ago, and I went with Kopa Kunjam to Lingagiri. He came and went from the ashram as he pleased, and he was very much out in the open. He was not hiding there.”

There was a distinct pause at the other end of the line. This was clearly an unexpected and unwelcome counter.

“Look, I do not know the exact details, the SP Bijapur is handling this case”, he paused, desperately thinking of something else to say. “At least, this is what Kopa has confessed. He said he was staying at the Ashram”, he seemed to be trying to backtrack. No, Kopa was not hiding there, but was staying there. And yes, I do not know all the details, so I cannot answer all your questions.

“I know that he was not staying at the ashram at night, because I was there”, I persisted.

His voice took a soothing tone. He condescendingly explained, hoping to clear my ignorance – “Kopa himself has said so. That is why we know he was staying at the ashram. “

“But he might have said so because he was beaten” , I responded, offering the reason why such allegations might have surfaced.

Slander! Calumny! There was a notable shock in his voice. “That is not how the Indian police system works. Nobody is beaten. The arrested make their statements before the magistrate. I am telling you what Kopa has himself has said during his confession.”

“There was witness to the fact that he was beaten. Mr. Alban Toppo, the lawyer who was with him saw him getting beaten up.”

Click.

And then a silence.

We shall have to wait another day to know why Mr.Toppo was making up this egregious lie. Perhaps the blows with the cane that he had received himself before he witnessed Kopa’s beating must have caused him to have hallucinations.

Anyway, the conversation had gone a lot longer than expected. After all, my call on the same issue two days earlier to Amresh Mishra, the SP of Dantewada, had lasted only a few seconds. Mr. Mishra, prior to disconnecting the line, had hurriedly mentioned that this case was out of his region of control, and Kopa was in the custody of the Bijapur police, and I should contact SP Bijapur.

And of course, the SP Bijapur was on “vacation”.

At least Mr. Mishra had some excuse. But the DGP is the overlord of the entire police force in the state. In the end, it is his sole responsibility on how law is enforced in Chhattisgarh. He has no SP Bijapur or vacation to excuse himself with.

Now who is hiding, Mr. Vishwaranjan?