Saturday, 26 December 2009

Dantewada contines to cry - Day 2 from the War Zone

Dantewada resembles a terrific juggler to me; one who is able to toss several jugs up in the air, while making sure that none falls off his control. The juggler is always tensed; he has to give his best shot because everyone’s eyes are on him. He cannot afford to go wrong with any single jug; the one going up in the air next would ruin his game plan to keep his gaping audience enthralled and entertained and coming back to him again and again, and making him rich.

Some similes: If the government is Dantewada, then the jugs are the tribals, the Salwa Judum, the Naxalites, the rich minerals beneath the land and Himanshu Kumar. The government is eager to put up a great show, for its reward is the coveted seat during elections. One mistake in miscalculation of the ‘jug up in the air’, and the government will be hiding for cover. The government appeases the billion-dollar rich corporate who are ever so hungry. And we were taught that only malnutritioned kids could best explain hunger.

Himanshuji commenced on his indefinite fast from this morning. He wasn’t visible around the house till quite late into the morning, and good sense prevailed upon me to realize that be it fast or upwaas, he will always continue to feed people with his conversations peppered with laughter, over the phone. Some bedspreads were laid out under the canopy of a huge tree, and thus began Himanshuji’s day, with the charkha and the phone keeping his hands engaged. We too decided to observe the upwaas with him and although we had plans to visit a certain village, various possibilities that could come in our way prevented us from taking any trip. We surely couldn’t afford to get nabbed by the cops on flimsy charges, for "carrying IEDs to the Naxalites to distributing Red pamphlets… you can be put behind bars for any reason" were Himanshuji’s words of caution. So we stayed back observing the ‘Tribal Gandhi’ as he was surrounded by his well-wishers, who trickled in through the day.

The Tribal Gandhi

Sometime around 3 pm, a police jeep came in and cops in civil clothes approached Himanshuji. He spoke to them with utmost respect and concern – didn’t someone speak about love thy neighbor? After all, aren’t these lowly constables just a conduit of a larger system, but are still as much you and me? They handed him a fat envelope that contained several letters in Hindi – learnt later that after a writ petition had been filed in the Supreme Court (by Himanshuji on behalf of aggrieved tribals) about the attack on some villages, the cops had embarked on their investigation. However, as the letter from the Additional Superintendent of Police of Dantewada district mentioned, the police parties sent to investigate the matter could not meet a single villager and hence it was imperative that Himanshuji himself bring those complainants to the police station, and he himself too go along with them so that he could aid in the investigations.

Himanshuji lovingly smiled at the constable who gave him the letter and said, "When two people are fighting, how can a third person intervene to give testimony of one of the warring parties? Isn’t it the job of the cops to investigate?" He acknowledged the receipt of the letters, and what seemed to me the true mark of a someone who has enough love in his heart to satiate the entire hungry world, he bid the cops goodbye, saying, "Thank you for your time, and sorry for any inconvenience caused." The cops really had nothing to reply back, other than to hang their heads as they approached their jeep, which was driven away from our sight in a great rush, leaving a cloud of red soil rising to the air. About an hour later, the Thana In-charge (TI, who is equivalent to an Inspector at a police station in a large city) visited Himanshuji, stating that he was passing by the way and decided to drop by to say a hello. He then asked Himanshuji, "What exactly is satyagrah? I ask because, as far as I know, you have not been permitted by the Collector and the SP to conduct either a padyatra or satyagrah or jansunwai. So what you are doing right now – is this satyagrah?"

The TI did not know what trap he landed himself into. Himanshuji told him that satyagrah meant that there was satya (truth) in his actions, and he expected the other person to agrah (accept) that truth. Soon followed a detailed explanation of satyagrah, with myriad examples. The TI was utterly confused by then. He noticed that Satyen was scribbling something in his notebook and asked Himanshuji about him, who replied that Satyen was a journalist from Mumbai. Satyen later told me that the look of surprise was evident on the TI’s face, which conveyed, "What were my men doing that they could not stop a journalist from entering Dantewada?"

Himanshuji continued his explanation of satyagrah, while the TI got ensnarled further into it by Himashuji’s Gandhian father, who continued to add on to his son’s words. Finally, the harried TI decided that he had had enough and that it was time for him to take leave. Perhaps he needed to go home earlier and ponder about each of his actions, whether they merited to be termed ‘satyagrah’.

Before the sun could set for the day, we decided to go and take a look at the erstwhile site of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) where it stood before the cops demolished it in three hours, in May 2009. About 14 kms away from where Himanshuji currently resided, the dirt patch approach to the Ashram compensated for the scenic beauty on either sides of the road. I was prepared to see what my eyes soon fell upon – recent ruins comprising broken walls, grafitti on what used to be a dispensary, broken commodes and hand pumps, an erect telephone tower brought down to the ground…. As I walked past all that was lying scattered, I could sense what Himanshuji must have felt in his large heart when his work born out of intense love for life was razed down in a matter of few hours. Yet, it also becomes a symbol of his resilience. A Tehelka journalist once told him, "Even after your ashram was demolished; you did not turn to look back at it in despair. What can then break you?"

Once upon a time in Dantewada....

We met one villager there whose name I now fail to recollect, who stays behind the erstwhile Ashram. He said that although he was away when the Ashram was being demolished, he felt the pains now all the more when some villager would fall ill and would have to be taken to Dantewada town for treatment by an expensive hired cab, and then get treated by the doctors at exorbitant rates. There was nothing more to talk about. The sight around said it all. We were also told that the after the demolition, scarp worth Rs 1 lakh was sold, while not much could be salvaged as immediately after the demolition which took place on a Sunday, the rain Gods decided to play a game too the next day. So, much was lost.

A telephone tower now is a maze of aluminium

When we returned back home, Himanshuji said, "Nothing has changed. The government thought that razing down VCA would silence me, but I’m too stubborn. Nothing has changed – neither has the government’s problems, neither has my resolute stand."

I knew that although the sun had set, the sun would rise up again. And Himanshuji was the new sun who was spreading his rays of light to his butchered, tortured, abused brethren. Finally the crickets and a loud owl began to play their music, while in the backyard the tribals girls working with VCA began a song-and-dance routine. I could not stop myself from joining them, just as Himanshuji cannot stop smiling despite the adversities that befall him. The smile is to reassure that tomorrow, the sun will rise again.


  1. Esteemed Priyankaji,
    I too am happy to learn that you went to my mail thoeoughly. Your mail is totally based on bias. First of all, Himanshuji is observing fast for self puification. Gandhi was a person who had no parallel on this globe.He never needed police protection whereas Himanshuji asked for and is having police protection. Gandhi used to go to rioting people and on his one call such people used to stop. Himanshuji can never do this because local people are against him.Tribal people agitated against him.People of his own land are against Himanshuji.
    Regarding photo of S.P.Os also you have mislead, did you see rally of Karma in front of collectorate and Dantewada town? In fact these are the photos of S.P.Os who came to guard Himanshuji.
    First of all the case is closed after hearing at two lwevels.Ledha hesrself made statement in front of Honorable District Judge Ambikapur that she was house - arrested by PUCL office - bearer Adv. Amarnath Pandey and Adv. Sorabh Dangi and she was made to make false statements against Kalluri
    Secondly Ledha was heard by Double bench of High Court Bilaspur which comprised Honorable Justice Bhadu and Honorable Sunil Sunil Sinha and made an alarming statement "That what ever statement she made was outcome of pressure from the Maoists, Amarnath Pandey and Sourabh Dangi".She totally denied the fabricated allegations which were not known to her.She simply signed the papers, she even did not know what game these people are going to play with her signatures.
    For your kind information she is not engaged in social work.
    On complaint of her father she was liberated from Amarnath Pandey's house on instructions of Sub Divisional Magistrate.
    The case is already closed by Judiciary of our state and prpogating this incident may come under perview of "Criticizing the verdict of Judiciary". Hence refrain yourself from such activities.

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