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
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.