Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Bribe demanded? Offer Zero Currency!

Ask any Indian about the biggest problem the country faces today, and he would retort, “Corruption”. Ask him if he has ever given a bribe to any government officer, and his reply will be in the affirmative. Ask him if he has ever tried to yank out corrupt practices by filing an application to the concerned authority under the Right to Information Act, and it is unlikely that he will reply in the affirmative. Ask him what can be done to erase the scourge of corruption, and a shrug and confused look will follow.

But haven't we all shrugged away our concerns about corruption far too often? Haven't we preferred to stay impotent about this grave matter? 5th Pillar, an NGO headquartered in Washington DC and offices in India in Chennai and Delhi, has developed a novel way to undo your guilt about your impotency with regards to corruption.

The Chennai chapter of the organisation has developed zero currency notes that one could print and give to government officers, each time they ask for a bribe. The notes have been designed in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. But with a little bit of tinkering with Adobe Photoshop, each of us can create this zero rupee note in the language of the region where it can be used.

All you need to do is take a printout of the currency note, and print its back too, to credit 5th Pillar for this unique idea. Use it freely, distribute the concept widely. And this is not just restricted to India – one can make zero currency in any part of the world wherever corruption is crippling governance. This is one chance to stop corruption – in your own personal way, within your own limits, and without getting into legal hassles.

Below is an article from a website where I first chanced upon this concept, which got me excited enough to share it. It talks about the implications of the zero currency note when used by people harassed by government officials for bribes, and the reason why this currency note works. It is inspiration enough that indeed, we can effect change.


Imagine that you are an old lady from a poor household in a town in the outskirts of Chennai city, India. All you have wanted desperately for the last year and a half is to get a title in your name for the land you own, called patta. You need this land title to serve as a collateral for a bank loan you have been hoping to borrow to finance your granddaughter’s college education. But there has been a problem: the Revenue Department official responsible for giving out the patta has been asking you to pay a little fee for this service. That’s right, a bribe. But you are poor (you are officially assessed to be below the poverty line) and you do not have the money he wants. And the most absurd part about the scenario you find yourself in is that this is a public service that should be rendered to you free of charge in the first place. What would you do? You might conclude, as you have done for the last 1-1/2 years, that there isn’t much you can do…but wait, you just heard about a local NGO by the name of 5th Pillar and it just happened to give you a powerful ally: a zero rupee note.

In Doha last month, CommGAP learned about the work of 5th Pillar, which has a unique initiative to mobilize citizens to fight corruption. In India, petty corruption is pervasive – people often face situations where they are asked to pay bribes for public services that should be provided free. 5th Pillar distributes zero rupee notes in the hopes that ordinary Indians can use these notes as a means to protest demands for bribes by public officials. I recently spoke with Vijay Anand, 5th Pillar’s president, to learn more about this fascinating initiative.

According to Anand, the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.

One such story was our earlier case about the old lady and her troubles with the Revenue Department official over a land title. Fed up with requests for bribes and equipped with a zero rupee note, the old lady handed the note to the official. He was stunned. Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success. Had the zero rupee note reached the old lady sooner, her granddaughter could have started college on schedule and avoided the consequence of delaying her education for two years. In another experience, a corrupt official in a district in Tamil Nadu was so frightened on seeing the zero rupee note that he returned all the bribe money he had collected for establishing a new electricity connection back to the no longer compliant citizen.

Anand explained that a number of factors contribute to the success of the zero rupee notes in fighting corruption in India. First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. In addition, officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. More importantly, Anand believes that the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up by an organization—that is, they are not alone in this fight.

This last point—people knowing that they are not alone in the fight—seems to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to transforming norms vis-à-vis corruption. For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.

Monday, 18 January 2010

12 ANGRY MEN: Justice by A Minority

Put 12 men in a room, give them a situation with limited facts, and tell them to draw a consensus on their verdict. Chances are they will revert within few minutes with a unanimous reply. However, compel them to sit through the details, and at least one person is bound to differ in his view. Now, if the task is to deliver a unanimous result, how tough or easy would it be for the thinking dozen to change their rationale arguments and concede with the single dissenter?

The film '12 Angry Men' is the perfect example of the triumph of the minority. As writer-philosopher Will Durant who had said, “Truth always originates in a minority of one, and every custom begins as a broken precedent”, the film explains how 11 men change their sides to an argument. Each has his own way of thinking – clothed with past experiences, observations, theoretical knowledge, assumptions, ignorance, cowardice, ego, personal prejudice, the preference for status quo and laziness. The premise of the 1957 film is something that each of us experiences in the midst of any conversation within a group. Yet, subconsciously, the arguments bring in their own set of tangents to the rationality of thoughts.

The film stands erect, thanks to a tight script set inside a jurors' room. Twelve strangers from different walks of life have to decide upon the trial of an 18-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. The room is long and stuffy, and the humidity outside adds to the woes of some of the men, for whom the probability of sending a young boy to be electrocuted seems too distant from their lives. They are rather concerned with the fact that the fan inside the room doesn't function. One of the jurors chooses to keep a tab on the clock lest he gets delayed for a baseball match – justice to be delivered to a young man is least of his concern. While 11 of them are convinced that the boy is guilty of murdering his father, one of them, an architect, thinks otherwise. The film revolves around his arguments, and how the other 11, one by one, concede to his rationale thinking.

The 90-minute film is strictly confined to the idea of toying with facts and possibilities. Devoid of any flashbacks or thought bubbles, the 12 men are idiosyncratic in their arguments. They are conservative men who seem to have a stable socio-economic background, yet director Sidney Lumet has managed to strikingly display each one's past which colours their prejudices, albeit in a subtle way. No wonder then their arguments are laced with acrid personal attacks and comments. This slowly renders a claustrophobic feel to the men who are confined with each other, as they debate on the veracity of the facts at hand.

The dilemma of having to choose between versions of truth – isn't it a familiar territory for cine addicts? The exploration of this premise in films can be traced back to Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' (1950), where an incident of a rape is described differently by different people who were witness to it. 'Rashomon' begins with a frame of a rainy day when nothing is visible, and ends with the rain receding, and the men discussing the rape deduce that human beings are bound to falter in their notions of truth.

Similarly, during one of the high-points in '12 Angry Men', a heavy shower of rain is a welcome change to the heated arguments. That is also when the line between assumptions and facts begin to get jarred, and the verdict among the 12 men slants towards the one who was the lone dissident in the beginning. And, like 'Rashomon', which ends with droplets of rain, '12 Angry Men' too ends with a drier atmosphere. It reflects a cleared cobweb in the air – and fittingly, the 12 men walk out with the consensus that the boy is not guilty of his father's murder.

Can truth have its own different colours? 'Rashomon' begins with the line that is the essence of the film, "I can't understand.. I just can't understand."

This film reflects the mass media today, and the society feeding on it. This again is a personal way of watching the film, with set notions and ideas and experiences in place. However, it is worth painting the argument in a different colour, especially when the country today is in the middle of several hushed-up civil wars of various degrees.

Akin to the character of the architect who begs to differ from the 11 jury members, is a man called Himanshu Kumar who begs to differ from the asinine notion of Naxal violence, as portrayed by the media. The dissenter in the film, played by the gaunt Henry Fonda, chooses to look at the reasons why the boy may have murdered his father, before embarking upon the rhetoric that he cannot be the murderer. Fonda explains that the fact that the boy has had a bad childhood, with some time spent in an orphanage, and an abusive father, does not alone justify that he would knife his father. He explains that the boy had been beaten at least once everyday in his 18 years of life; so it may not be possible that a slight altercation yet again with his father could provoke him to kill. Himanshu Kumar has time and again spoken about the need to understand why a man decides to become a Naxal. He has admitted to have met several of those men, some of them well-read, who are now well-red too. In the capacity of a man who traverses through villages stricken with terror and poverty and hunger, he asserts the imperative need to meet all human beings, without any set prejudices, and give them a fair chance to be heard at least.

Throughout the film, Fonda asserts that he is only toying with a possibility, but is shunned by the others who state the improbability of his views. Himanshu too has been written off by the state government as well as sceptics who choose to condemn only Naxal violence. In the film, Fonda is rebuked for wasting the time of the jury, who acquiesce that the facts laid in the court are nothing but the truth. Fonda argues that the boy did not have the privilege of a good defence lawyer, and hence his point of view could not be heard best. Yet, the jury chooses to assert that the weak witnesses are to be believed as they had spoken under oath.

To prove his point, the dissenter Henry Fonda purchases a switchblade knife similar to the one to found at the site of the murder, to prove his point. Himanshu Kumar meets peoples from various cross sections of the society – even Salwa Judum leaders Chhabindra Karma and Chaitram Atami, receive a warm welcome from the Gandhian (Photograph of Himanshu Kumar and 'friends' taken by Rudra Rakshit Saran)

Taking the leaf from the silver screen into the jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh where Himanshu ran an ashram (before it was bulldozed by the government over flimsy grounds as it could not bear his dissent), can we for a moment try to understand his point of view on why a certain kind of violence is solely condemned? Why does the media bark only about Naxal violence? Why does a loud silence loom over the growing atrocities of the state government over the tribals in Chhattisgarh, which is done in the alibi of flushing out Naxals?

Why is malnutrition in the country, which is another form of violence, not condemned? According to the WHO, if 40 per cent of a nation's population has a body mass index (BMI) of below 18.5, then the situation is nothing short of famine. The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has indicated that 33 per cent of the Indian population has a BMI of less than 18.5. The difference of seven per cent is nothing congratulatory, because the 33 per cent continues to be the same section of the society which has been deprived for several generations. Isn't this a silent perpetration of violence, which is conveniently overlooked by the media?

Somalia or India - both have been subject to a perpetual violence of a different kind

Fonda claims in the film that as citizens who have been notified by mail to be jurors for the case, it is their responsibility to act fairly by analysing the facts at hand, without letting prejudices obscure the truth. He states, “We have a responsibility and this is a remarkable thing about democracy.” This is the only point in the film where a political remark is made, and that too, rather innocuously. The mass media, which is believed to be the fourth estate of democracy, has a vital role to play in presenting facts. Yet, it is increasingly shedding its innate responsibility. Firstly, there is a growing need for a gruesome 'event' to take place so that the newsprint and the 24 hours can be filled. Second, there is no effort made to understand ground realities. Like the 11 men in the film who lack the desire to understand what happened or alternatively could have happened on the night that the murder was committed, the media chooses to overlook anything that seems to be complicated. It may not actually be so complicated; but a robust dose of laziness is evident in the way they choose to be blind to the bigger picture.

When LN Mittal of Arcelor Mittal Company decided against setting up a mega steel plant in Jharkhand, the media there blatantly screamed, “The God is ready to dessert Jharkhand.” This, they cried, while choosing not to see that the company fired 10,133 of its employees across the world by the end of 2009. Did the media fathom that Mittal would have a heart more benign towards the locals in Jharkhand, whom he promised to hire when his plant would be set up? The media has fed the ambitious middle-class and the laid-back upper class with distorted notions of 'needs' – the need for development is portrayed to be only for the ones living in cities. This development comes at a price, which has to be paid by those who do not have a voice in independent India, like the tribals. The tribals in Chhattisgarh, where every child suffers from kwashiorkor, are being thrown out of their lands, because their land rests on a rich mineral bed. When they could not be bought by meagre compensations, guns were used by the government, which has been pimping its citizens for such profit-hungry companies.

During one of the smaller arguments in '12 Angry Men', when a younger reticent juror begs for pardon before making a statement which he assumes could be offensive, a senior juror yells back, “What are you so polite about?” the young man retorts calmly, “For the same reason you are not – it's the way I was brought up.” Thanks to the media which shouts out that more is less, a generation of unapologetic men and women have been brought up with the idea that somebody has to pay for their development – no matter if that 'somebody' is a tribal who has to walk 50 kms to earn Rs 60 a day by selling firewood.

Starting at 3 am, walking through jungles on a hilly terrain to reach the town at 7 am, and selling the firewood for Rs 60 - urban folk think it justified to sabotage this tribal's land for their own development.

Prejudices shelter the web of lies, which are conveniently accepted. During the course of the film when most of the jurors are slowly convinced that their prejudices were blinding their judgment, one adamant among them categorically states that there could be no doubt that the boy was the murderer as he had come from slums, where fighting was nothing new and they wouldn't care if another is dead. He goes on to state that such kids were born liars. Isn't this a certain kind of deja vu, especially in the way Muslims, tribals and 'slumdogs' are perceived? It is this blind prejudice that is the reason why the only concrete structure and the signs of governance in the villages of Chhattisgarh are police stations only. Similarly, almost any man with a flowing beard and wearing a white cap is perceived to be a Muslim, and at worst, a terrorist. Even more far-fetched is this silent weep of one Muslim weaver in Varanasi:

“Hamaare mohallon mein school baad mein banti hai, police chowki pehle banti hai. Kya musalmaan janam se hee gunahgaar hai?” 

(In our localities schools come later, police stations come first. Is the Muslim born a criminal?)

Sidney Lumet opens '12 Angry Men' with a low-angle shot of the steps leading up to the courtroom, and the camera pans upwards to show the colossal structure. As the camera fixes for a moment on the roof of the building, the next shot shows the interiors of the majestic hall, a view from the domed roof, and the camera looks down upon the people below walking in and out of the building. Fittingly, we look up at the courts of justice where we believe that truth will triumph. However, it is only humans who decide the truth in the court of law. And humans, in their judgment of truth, are flawed.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Breaking news! Youngest Maoist nabbed!

Check out the murderous rage on his face!
Check out the hand that has bludgeoned many heads!
Check out the strained forehead that explain his years committed to bloodshed!

When Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh referred to Maoists as being the “single largest threat to the nation”, did he mean this child, whose fingers were brutally chopped off while his family was massacred?

Now, even before this 'Maoist' could be sent in for a narco-analysis, let's understand where he comes from.

Name: Madvi Mukesh
Age: Two years old
Tribe: Muria
Residence: Gompad village, police station Konta, district Dantewada (on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border)
Family: Maternal grandfather Madvi Barjar (50) – dead; grandmother Madvi Subhi (45) – dead; mother Kartam Kunni (20) – dead; maternal aunt Madi Mooti (8) – dead; father (21).

Mukesh was with his family on the morning of October 1, 2009, when something unusual happened. Several men wearing military fatigues – SPOs (special police officers), police and other security forces – pointed their guns at these 'Maoists' and shot at them. Mukesh's neigbours were killed – Muchaki Handa, Markam Deva, Tomra Mutta, newly-married couple Soyma Subba and Soyam Jogi.

Mukesh's family was wiped out. He was found to be crying near a pool of blood, oozing from the chopped body of his aunt. His wails were uncontrollable – did he understand the meaning of the loss of his family, or was it because his three fingers were chopped during the carnage?

His 'Maoist' father wasn't at home at that time. He was saved.

Houses were burnt down. Paddy, pulses, brass pots, poultry and cash were taken away. In all, the villagers found that 10 of their people were dead. Some youths were missing. Mukesh Madvi, the 'Maoist', disappeared into the jungles with his father.

About 200 kms north of Gompad, news about an encounter was being circulated in the press. Operation Green Hunt had officially begun on October 1, 2009, and it was declared that some Maoists were killed near the Andhra border. When questions were raised by some sceptical journalists about the bodies of the Maoists, they were told that the villagers had disposed them off.

On January 3, 2010, when I met Amresh Mishra, Superintendent of Police (SP) of Dantewada, and had asked him about the Gompad massacre, he clarified that it wasn't a massacre. “There was only a firing from both the sides. There was no casualty; only some explosives were found.”

January 7, 2010, would have been the day when, like Mukesh, many other 'Maoists' would have come to Dantewada for a Jan Sunwai (public hearing), so that they could put forth their case. Home Minister P Chidambaram had promised Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who had planned the Jan Sunwai, that he would be present to hear the unending woes of the people. However, the Governor of Chhattisgarh ESL Narasimhan prevented the Home Minister from making that visit. The Jan Sunwai was bound to have opened a can of worms before the national media, if the Home Minister had attended the meeting.

Mukesh did arrive for the Jan Sunwai along with his father, and several other optimists, on January 5. They were about 25 of them. No sooner did they arrive at Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, they were surrounded by SPOs. About 30 minutes later, they were all packed into three Boleros which bore no number plates.

It has been 10 days since those 'Maoists' were taken to an undisclosed location and there has been no news about them.

So that is the government's definition of a 'Maoist', whom I encountered personally – the tribal carrying logs of firewood who starts walking through jungles since 3 am, and reaches the nearest town by 7 am, to sell the firewood for Rs 60. The tribal who walks about 50 kms to reach the police station, to complain that the forces stationed in his village killed the only hen that he had, is a Maoist for the government. The two-year-old Mukesh is a Maoist for the government.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

From Detention Drama to 'Dacoit' Declaration

In my own “coy” ways, I would terrorise my friends and family. But thanks to the Dantewada police, I have been declared a dacoit. No, this anointment didn't come in easy – it took several hours of mayhem and confusion and conspiracy. And so the story of the practical joke begins....

On January 5, the inmates of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) in Dantewada woke up to find that Himanshu Kumar was missing. We panicked a bit, but realised that what he had done must have been the best. He couldn't afford to languish in jail for having raised his voice for the scores of tribals whom the government plans to eliminate to be able to hand over their land to profit-hungry mining companies. It was essential that the gory David versus Goliath battle for survival continue to be fought, and new ways had to be found. That's how we understood the rationale behind Himanshu's disappearance.

The seven security personnel outside the VCA, who had been posted for Himanshu's “protection” and constant vigil, were surely unaware about Himanshu's disappearance; for they seemed to be calm and staid, going about their usual activity of languidly sitting with their guns on their laps. But the inmates of the Ashram – about 10 of them – realised that there was no point in staying behind. By 7 am, the Ashram wore a deserted look and my preconceived notions of bravado, or the lack of it, as I saw it that morning, began to run in my head.

Moral obligation

Nevertheless, four of us decided to stay behind – filmmaker Nishtha Jain, writer-journalist Satyen Bordoloi, law student and AID volunteer Suresh Kumar, and I. We took this decision as we were concerned about the four tribal women who worked as maids in the Ashram – we knew that if the cops learnt about Himanshu's disappearance, those four women would be the most vulnerable. Given Chhattisgarh's record of tribals disappearing after they are summoned for a genteel questioning, we didn't want four casualties right before our eyes. There was little we could actually do to fight off the protectors-turned-persecutors, but we couldn't elude ourselves from doing that very little too.

We planned to leave Dantewada for Hyderabad by a 5 pm bus that same evening, and it was decided that we would drop all the girls, along with their luggage, to one of their homes before we could leave the Police State. Around 3 pm, Satyen walked outside casually and got into a conversation with the young Special Police Officers (SPOs) who were guarding the Ashram. During the conversation the SPOs learnt that Himanshu Kumar wasn't in the Ashram anymore, and as Satyen later told us, the anxiety and cold sweat on their forehead was too conspicuous.

We got a jeep-taxi and began to stack in all our luggage. The Ashram was locked and I looked back at the remnants of tireless effort of 17 years of one single man. The taxi driver turned the car key, and one cop came, and switched it off. He told us, “You cannot leave.”

The drama begins...

We got off the car, sat for a while, but soon realised that we were not being told why were we stopped. It was 4.30 pm then, and more cops arrived. Almost all of them were busy talking into their mobile phones. None of them, except for one stout lady constable, wore any uniform. Heading the team looking over us was Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) on Probation, Rajan Jaiswal. This petite Denzel Washington-lookalike refused to talk to us, and said that all we should do was just sit. Realising that it would be one long drama with many different acts, I tried to argue that we had a bus at 5 pm, that we needed to get our ticket money back. He promised to get the cash back for us; I didn't believe his words.

The value of a tribal

We sat under the tree where Himanshu fasted for 10 days and spun the charkha. Suddenly, we saw about 25-odd tribals walk in from the main road, towards us. Some of them went ahead and spoke to Lakhimi, one of the tribal women with us. She told us that they had arrived from a distant village to attend the Jan Sunwai (public hearing) which was scheduled to be held two days later on January 7 – wherein Home Minister P. Chidambaram had promised to show his presence but was told to stay away by the Chhattisgarh administration as they feared that their dirty linen would be out for the nation to watch and condemn.

I don't know when and how – we were all too busy making phone calls and sending SMSes to out friends about our illegal detention – but about 10 minutes later, we saw that the 30 people were distanced from us. The tribals were taken about 100 metres away from us, into an open field, and were surrounded by four SPOs. I tried to go towards them but was stopped. Precisely at that moment I saw the difference my education and urban upbringing could make in that situation – those tribals and I were illegally detained, but my English-smattering and names-dropping skills could bail me out; but the tribals would only slip further into the quicksand. I knew I would be out sooner or later; I wasn't so sure about the vulnerable 30 who trust everyone so blindly. That's when Satyen and I realised that the 'joke' was going too far.

About 15 minutes later, we saw three grey Boleros, without any number plates, approach those tribals. Some men got off, they wrote something on some papers and slowly, the tribals were made to get in. I ran for the video camera and began to document what was happening. The SPOs stopped me, but I gave a straight look and told them that I couldn't be stopped from filming. Satyen too, by then, had begun to document. The 30 tribals were packed and sent into nowhere, and as I turned around in horror as the truth set in, many pairs of male eyes were staring at me, some of them looking at me through their mobile phone cameras.


My restlessness grew and I yelled out, “Who are you people to take my photograph without my permission?” Silence. “Who are you? Why don't you tell me?” I heard a faint voice that said, “We are journalists.” I yelled back, “Why don't you then ask the cops what they just did to the 30 tribals? Can't you see the blatant way in which those people would soon be declared 'missing'?” Silence. One of them asked, “Who are you to come here and film them?” I replied that I was a journalist from Mumbai.

I wasn't happy with what they were doing. Evidently, their idea of journalism was skewed; their idea of choosing to report on what made them feel safe was revealed. It was getting nauseating – here were several men without any uniform who claimed to be cops and had turned to be the black cat on our way back home; there were several more men who claimed to be journalists. Identification crisis.

Soon an argument ensued between us – Nishtha, Satyen and I told them that they had no right to film us, and that we doubted their claim to be journalists. They retorted: “Who are you to come here and shoot whatever you want?” “Why have you even come here?” In about a moment, I saw one stout and mustached 'journalist' attacking Satyen – he had grabbed Satyen's camera and even slapped him. I tried to intervene but suddenly moved my head sidewards to see that the cops present – about 30 of them – stood still and watched the drama silently. I yelled back at them, “Can't you see that our friend is being attacked? Why don't you stop that attacker?”

Reluctantly, two cops intervened and instead of controlling the mustached man who was determined to do damage to us with his strong hands and words, the cops pushed Satyen aside and told him to cool down. We both had lost our calm. We yelled back, “Don't you see yourself whom you should be asking to cool off?” The cops just stood, did nothing.

I walked back, breathing heavily and feeling disgusted upon seeing that the cops were chatting in a freewheeling manner with the 'journalists'. I wondered about what I had learnt in journalism school, about the pen being the fourth estate in a democracy. It was 5.30 pm by then. The sun was setting and the evening winter wind was slapping our nervous backs. We had the taxi driver relieved; we took our luggage inside the Ashram and sat – thinking, planning, making frantic calls to media persons and friends who we thought could help us out, but wondering in horror about the fate of those 30 tribals.

Camera! Action!

We anticipated the next act of the drama – our cameras could be stolen. But coincidence was something that was not desired as we were just thinking about the cameras, where there was a knock on the door. Before we could scamper to hide the cameras, the door had to be opened and Jaiswal ordered us to hand him the cameras. I didn't care much about the documentation of the ego scuffle, but I couldn't afford to lose out the evidence that I had of the tribals being whisked away. The 10 cops who entered the house snatched the camera from Satyen's hands, but I held on to the other. The stout lady constable was ordered to exercise her force on me, along with her colleague. They pulled my hands, grabbed my shawl and I crawled on the floor to safeguard the camera. I kept on yelling that I wouldn't give them the camera, and those women wouldn't let me off their hands. Cat fight which wasn't funny.

After several scratched from the lady cops' long nails and my arm almost being twisted, my friends told me to let go. Reluctantly, I let the camera loosen from the tight grip of my hands but I followed the cops out into their jeep in a mad pursuit. I yelled at them, “How do I know that you guys are cops? Where is your identity card?” Silence. One of them showed me his card upon repeatedly asking the same question, but he only showed me his photograph – he hid his name on the card with his fingers. I was too mad by then and it took my friends a lot of cajoling to calm me down. Why wouldn't I get angry?

We sat inside the Ashram, thinking. In just about an hour, one of us was beaten, I was scratched badly, our two cameras were snatched away, and the 'journalists' meant to report the truth had disappeared. The idea of the Police State was not an idea anymore; it was a reality and we were its victims now.

What am I ready to die for?

Nishtha had made a call to someone she knew in the Planning Commission, who in turned made a call to the Collector of Dantewada, Reena Kangale. About half hour later (it was now around 7 pm) a gentleman from the Collector's office arrived. He said that he was an IAS officer and the SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate), and that we should feel assured of safety in his presence. We heard him rebuking the cops aloud, and he soon told us, “Please pack all your bags and come along with me to meet the Collector at her office. We are making arrangements for your safe exit from Dantewada.”

But we couldn't leave the four tribal women behind. It was something that our conscience wouldn't allow us to do – we just saw 30 tribals vanishing; it would take no time for the Police State to eliminate these four women for their association with Himanshu. What was I willing to die for? It had boiled down to that one simple question, and the answer was slowly becoming evident that evening.

But Nishtha wanted to get out. She realised that to keep the movement going on, she had to get out of the murkiness and spread the word aloud, around. We differed on our means and not on our goals. Reluctantly, all four of us got onto the SDM's car waiting for us, with only Nishtha carrying her luggage. As the car sped, I shuddered to think what could happen to those four women. Everything else was naught.

We reached the Collector's office and only Nishtha was summoned in. The rest three of us sat in the car – thinking, laughing at ourselves, crying about injustice, asserting that god was dead, knowing what we were ready to die for. We knew that Nishtha would be given the chance to take us along with her to Raipur; we also knew that we would be told to forget about those four women. I knew what were my priorities and I settled in peace with the thought of knowing what I wanted and would do.

After 45 minutes, Nishtha emerged from the meeting and told us exactly what we had expected. We told her, while the SDM watched us, that we wouldn't leave behind the four women to their fate. Nishtha told us that while she was in the meeting with the Collector, the Superintendent of Police (SP) Dantewada, Amresh Mishra, had spoken over the phone with the Collector, wherein he mentioned that the local journalists had written a complaint against us, stating that we had assaulted them, that we had snatched their cameras, that there were no cops around while all that had taken place, and that our cameras were stolen by local villagers. I was amazed how creative storytellers we had in our country's administrative set-up!

The SDM was angry that we hadn't brought our bags along, since he assumed that we too would leave for Raipur from that very spot. “The situation is not good on the streets. People are against you. I cannot drive you back to the Ashram to get your belongings,” he said. We told him our decision, and he was mad that we were being unreasonable. “Why are you worried about those four women who have voluntarily gone to work for Himanshu Kumar and are now facing the consequences? They are not your problem.” I wanted to think alike too, but the concern of the women was a problem in my conscience. I wouldn't have been able to face myself if I left them alone. We told Nishtha to go ahead and that we would fend for ourselves, as we wanted to stick by with what our hearts told us. We were not practical; we were emotional and content.

Conspiracy theory

She was driven off in a car to Raipur; the SDM took us back towards the Ashram. He took us through the main road, which passes by the Dantewada police station but the car had to be halted just there – about 40 'journalists' were protesting against us. They demanded that we should be arrested; that we shouldn't be allowed into Dantewada. And I thought I was in independent India!

Satyen asked the SDM why didn't he bring us through the parallel lesser-known route, since the SDM knew that the streets were burning with rage. The SDM replied that he didn't know about the tension. Conspiracy? Joke!

We saw that apart from shouting out slogans, the 'journalists' had their hands full with stones. Somehow the SDM managed to get us out of the car and escort us into the police station, after which the police station's gates were locked so that we could not be mobbed. For another 15 minutes, the shouts continued and one inspector (again, in civil clothes) told us that we had to give our statement. It took me one long hour to dictate all that I had to state – of course, the inspector was harried that I was getting into details. “Don't put your feelings into the statement.”

Yet I continued to narrate my story to him for my statement, until we got a call from an advocate friend. He told us that there was no reason why would any person be made to write a statement in the police station. When we enquired with the inspector, he told that us that it was only for general information. We looked back at him, grilled him, until he admitted that the journalists had filed a complaint of assault against us, and that we had to give our version. We realised that we too had to counter back. So I asked the cop for his FIR book, but he said that he had none. He told me to give an application if need be, which could be converted into FIR. Since it was around 10 pm at that time, he said that it would be fine if we filed the complaint the next day too. There was something fishy – why were we detained? What were the charged levied on us?

I wrote down our story in brief, and mentioned in the end that since we could be subject to stone pelting which could hurt us, and further harassment by the journalists and the cops alike, a case of culpable homicide should be lodged. The cop returned me my carbon copy of the letter with only his signature. We again argued for another 15 minutes about the stamp that was needed. He said. “If you talk about signatures being copied, what's the proof that the stamp cannot be copied?” Such innocence!

We argued and finally manged to get the copy of the letter stamped. We were told that since the complaint against us by the journalists hadn't yet been converted into an FIR after a suitable investigation, we were free to go home. The cop even insisted that we would be given police protection till the time we would be in Dantewada. He bid us goodbye in his own jeep, with four more armed SPOs – young boys who had just begun to develop a mustache, and shivering in the cold – to guard us for the night.

We reached the Ashram, and to our relief, the four women were safe. The three of us felt jubilant about 'Satyamev Jayete'. But that was an illusion, just for the night.

'She is a dacoit!'

The next morning, on January 6, a team of 25 people from the National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM) joined us, including Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey. We narrated the  incident of the previous night to them – something that they had already heard about. By then, we had also read newspaper reports that “a team of journalists from Mumbai had assaulted their local counterparts in Dantewada... a case under 395 IPC has been filed against the journalists from Mumbai for snatching away the cameras of the local journalists”. We checked up on 395 IPC – turned out that it was 'punishment for dacoity', with further explanation: “Whoever commits dacoity shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Meanwhile, the cop who had taken down our statement the previous night came to meet us – dressed in complete uniform and his name badge which said that he was Rajesh Kumar Jha – and said that we should leave Dantewada as soon as possible.

Kavita Srivastava, national secretary, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) decided to meet the aggravated journalists. She returned with their bone of contention – they were furious that we had called them the 'brokers' or 'pimps' for the police. So a meeting was decided with them later in the evening to sort out our differences.

During the meeting, it was strange to see that the main issue of allegations of the mutual assault were sidelined, and was replaced with the character assassination of Himanshu Kumar. Finally, all was sorted out as we expressed the nature of culture shock we experienced in Dantewada, which resulted in a miscommunication. We exchanged notes about ourselves and expressed our need to be in touch with them so that we could work together on reporting about the macabre situation in Dantewada.

As we bade them goodnight, we asked them if they thought whether we had snatched their cameras too. “No, you did not snatch our cameras. We haven't said anything like that to the police. We have only learnt from you that the cops snatched your cameras.”

We knew that a different game on a different court was being played by the cops against us.

The next day, Kavita went to meet the SP of Dantewada and asked him about the charges of dacoity against us. Also present in the meeting were the local journalists. Somehow, Kavita managed to get him to promise that the dacoity charges against us would be dropped. But as we have seen many times, and been eyewitness to in our 10 days in  Dantewada, the Indian administration has an unbroken record of broken promises.

  • For now, we have a fax copy of the FIR which cannot be deciphered.
  • We are willing to take back our complaint against the journalists, provided they take back theirs.
  • We journalists – from Mumbai and Dantewada – want to work together again in future.
  • But guess we all know how the cops love to scamper behind dacoits who enter into their territory.
  • Till that time when I receive a warm welcome into Dantewada police station in my next trip, the 'dacoit' tag will loom over my personality, and life. 
  • But I still don't know why was I detained.

    Saturday, 9 January 2010

    The Idea of Semantics in Chhattisgarh

    The Oxford Dictionary defines “police” as “an organised civil force for maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, and enforcing the laws”.

    The Oxford Dictionary defines “breach of trust” as “violation (either through fraud or negligence) by a trustee of a duty that equity requires of him”.

    In Chhattisgarh, the whole idea of “semantics” is redefined. Language is not merely something that can be associated with the dictionary here; it has much to do with survival and death.

    Socrates tried to get away from the vicious web of semantics, and hence chose to go deep into the roots of words, and their meanings. However, that depth is missing in the words that pour out from the mouths of intelligent civil services officers in Chhattisgarh. Their words explain the law and order within the state, their words explain how the lack of discipline in the state is hushed up. In this tribal belt of the country, the whole idea of elucidating and evading that vicious web of semantics gets a new meaning.

    Throughout the evening of January 3, 2010, I made several attempts to contact Amresh Mishra, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. But he chose not to answer any calls – I understood that it was a busy day and evening for him, with Sodi Sambo being “captured”.

    The next day, on January 4, 2010, I gave him a call the instant I woke up, at 7.45 am. This is what transcribed between us, for 6 minutes. The conversation is a primer to the web of semantics in Chhattisgarh:

    Priyanka: I am a journalist and I need to speak to you about Sodi Sambo. Where is she now? Why was she illegal detained last night?

    Amresh: She has not been detained or arrested. She was only brought for questioning. We wanted to record and put our case in the Supreme Court also as there was no FIR lodged in the police station.

    First of all we never had any authentic information about her encounter. It was only with Himanshu Kumar's statement and other people who were talking about it that we learnt about the incident. There was no FIR; we were searching her for the last 3 months, and we knew that she was captive somewhere. We learnt that she was most probably in the custody of Himanshu Kumar to which we had no access and we are still verifying the facts with her. Whether it was legal or illegal, we don’t know. That we will learn only after we speak to her guardians.

    P: Were there any attempts made to get in touch with Himanshu Kumar in the interim period and ask him about her?

    A: There were 3 letters sent to him, which were duly signed and returned by him. He was one of the complainants. We told him to kindly co-operate with us and to find her. But he made a mockery out of it on a Youtube video, where he said that, Police nahin bol sakte toh mein kaise bol sakta hoon?” Yesterday we learnt that she’s being taken to Raipur and we tried to get her. She’s not been detained. We have handed her over to her family.

    P: Where are the family members right now?

    A: They are in Dantewada.

    P: Where is Sambo right now?

    A: She is in Dantewada.

    P: Where in Dantewada sir? It is a big town...

    A: That we cannot disclose.

    P: But she’s also an eyewitness to the incident that took place in Gompad…

    A: She can be an eyewitness to anything. There’s no problem with that. But there was no FIR. We are not defending the police. There should have been an FIR. I needed first-hand information and not some borrowed information.

    P: As far as I know about the law, any person who’s been an eyewitness to any incident, the statement from him/ her needs to be taken from the most comfortable location of that person which is usually the home. So why wasn’t the statement taken from her home?

    A: More than an eyewitness she’s also a complainant to me that all this has happened to me and please do justice to me. Eyewitness is a separate thing; that issue will come up later on. First of all there’s a complaint against me by her in my name just after the incident so I needed to get that information. We are not recording her statement right now, but have handed her over to her parents, or her mama/mami whatever. I think that is the best confines for her right now and protect her form the clutches of other people.

    P: But she needs a surgery on her leg for which she needs to be taken to Delhi. So what about that? Will you be making arrangements for it?

    A: We will take care of it. It’s a medico-legal case and nobody except police and Govt doctors have any business into it. She’s also against vilification of evidence and destruction of evidence because she has been shot in her leg. It is a medico-legal case. She should have reported to the police, get the MLC conducted and then government doctors can refer her to any other doctor for treatment. All of that was not done in the last two months, due to the agenda of some people.

    P: I would like to give you an example: if there has been attack on me by the police, and if I need to write an FIR, do you think the police would write an FIR against themselves, stating that they have themselves attacked me? Because that I what has happened now. Was there any better way that she could have taken this forward?

    A: Our many SPOs are in the jail! But we wanted to be sure first rather that malign good SPOs. If we are sure that this has happened, then we will surely file an FIR.

    P: How long will Sambo now be in Dantewada and in your custody?

    A: I don’t know. She is now with her parents and she will leave with them in a bus in a few hours. If she needs a surgery we will take her to Raipur or Mumbai or wherever she needs to be taken. We will take care of everything.

    P: Is there any likelihood that you will issue a warrant to arrest her?

    A: There is no question of arresting her at all. Why should be arrested at all? This is again another concocted story. There will be no arrests. She is only a complainant for me; not an accused for me. She is a complainant who has written that she was shot by a police party. I need to verify that because till today, parties are claiming that there was an encounter.

    P: As far as I know it has been a detention of a different kind. This could have been done during the day time too. Why was it done at night?

    A: There was no detention at all. We were abiding the law. You can go to the Supreme Court and find out. This was not any detention.

    P: But why was it done specifically yesterday? You could have done this earlier too…

    A: Before that we had no access to her at all.

    P: But there was no FIR also lodged. When she wanted to file one, it was rejected…

    A: All of that is under enquiry. That is why we want to enquire with her. Once that is done, we will file the FIR.

    P: What about her treatment now? Who will be taking responsibility for it?

    A: It will all be taken care of. The state will take care of it.

    P: Do you have her medical files with you?

    A: Not right now. I will get them; I have to ask her guardians for it.

    P: But why were the medical files not taken earlier? You were working on this case since yesterday… besides, since it is a medico-legal case, her guardians may or may not have the files…

    A: After all the work yesterday till late night, we all wanted to sleep since we were all tired.

    P: Do you have a translator for her, because I believe she cannot speak in Hindi..

    A: 99 per cent of our men are Gondi-speaking, which is her dialect.

    P: But she doesn’t speak Gondi….

    A: 99 per cent of our men know all the languages here. The translation will be managed.

    P: But she doesn’t speak Gondi….I know that for sure sir.

    A: Does she speak Telugu? Does she speak Koya Mata then?

    P: No sir she doesn’t.

    A: Then whatever she speaks, we will find that out. And we will have all the information in hand.

    P: Sir can I please come and meet you today?

    A: I will be out all day today. I will let you know.

    P: Can we confirm our meeting at 11 am?

    A: I have other meetings. I will call you later than 11 am. Are you leaving today?

    P: No I am not, but there are many other matters that I would like to speak to you about.

    A: Is this your number? I will call you a few hours after 11 am. Don’t worry, we will meet today.

    P: Thanks you for your time sir. Have a nice day.

    Battling the system? Or battling the conscience? While Om Puri faced the dilemma in 'Ardh Satya', Amresh Mishra faces it in reality

    The same afternoon, I went to meet Mishra, accompanied by few more independent journalists and activists. Of course the focus of the interview was the whereabouts of Sodi Sambo, her arrest, her treatment, her release, her custodians. It was a long interaction that lasted 36 minutes, and here is the four-part video of that interaction. Anyone with a keen eye will notice what needs to be noticed during the conversation and the person being interviewed.

    PART 1 - Here Mishra explains about the “suppression” of the medico-legal case of Sodi Sambo; the fact that the entire police set-up is not the accused in this case; the debate about the existence of her “parents” or “guardians”; the emphasis on the need of villagers to go to a police station to file complaint, even if it is about 80 kms away; the need for people “responsible” for her – like NGOs – to approach the police; Sambo not being sent to hospital as “she wanted to relax”; the lack of “medical urgency”; his inability to answer what language she communicates in.

    PART 2 - Here Mishra continues to speak about his lack of knowledge about Sodi Sambo residing in Himanshu Kumar's residence; the inaction by Kumar to aid the legal process in Sambo's case;  refusal to acknowledge that Sambo was prevented from boarding the bus on January 3, 2010; his overt refusal to acknowledge that Kumar would soon be slapped with charges of abduction of Sambo; the “body language” of Sambo which proved a couple to be her guardians; the missing case of her medical history; no casualty in the “firing” in Gompad when Sambo was injured; the discovery of explosives after the “firing”; his refusal to acknowledge that she was in police custody; his refusal to acknowledge that Sambo was brought from Kanker police station based on his order.

    PART 3 - Here Mishra speaks about Sambo's location based on the “latitude and longitude”; his lack of knowledge about the names of her guardians; his own confusion about the “police protection” upon her; the difference in his statement about not “knowing where she was the previous night” and “not wanting to disclose the information”; the confusion about action not being taken about any police personnel who may be accused of any crime; his confusion about her “parents” and “guardians” and the Sarpanch who aided in ascertaining the guardians; the “complaint” filed by Sambo's family regarding her disappearance;  his lack of knowledge about the chronology of events when Sambo was accosted in Kanker.

    PART 4 - Here Mishra says that we are not supposed to know if her record has been taken down honestly since “police is not accountable to citizens”; the judgments of doctor to not send her for medical treatment; his refusal of his earlier statement that Sambo's guardians were identified by her body language; his refusal to acknowledge the language in which Sambo communicates; the fact that no information is available with him at the present moment; his assurance of his duty to provide her protection; his assertion that “Chhattisgarh police is very efficient”.

    On January 7, after the high-drama of my illegal detention, I went to meet Mishra again; this time with another set of activists, research scholars, and activists. No cameras were allowed in this time; the hostile air was looming large.

    Mishra said that he knew that I had been recording his conversations over the phone.
    Mishra said that he knew that I was putting up the conversations on the Internet for all to see.
    Mishra said that he knew that my blog had become a tool powerful enough to make it unavailable temporarily.
    Mishra said that recording my conversations with him was “a breach of trust”.

    Here comes the vicious web of semantics.

    Who has shot Sambo on her leg for no reason?
    Who has worn the khaki and has misused it?
    Who has tried to arrest Sambo for being the sole eyewitness to a massacre?
    Who has prevented getting her a proper treatment?
    Who has inflicted terror upon the tribals, who care nothing more than their frugal survival?
    Who has passed the civil services exams, only to dis-serve the nation?
    Who has exploited its own brethren at the behest of politicians and profit-hungry corporates?
    Who has replaced a stone for a heart of conscience?
    Who has fallen prey to a distraught system?
    Who has turned into a persecutor instead of being a protector?
    Who has exercised “breach of trust”?

    Monday, 4 January 2010

    A Mumbai girl in DANTEWADA

    (This article first appeared in Sunday Times of India, on January 3, 2010)

    In the Naxal belt of central India, the conflict between the State, Maoists and people is playing havoc with the lives of tribal women

    I remember my first periods. For seven days I was treated like a princess, saatvik food was prepared especially for me, school was bunked and I slept with a penknife under my pillow. The knife, mom told me, was to protect me from evil, now that I was a woman.

    As I sit next to the kiln, sharing personal histories with Lakhimi, on a cold winter night in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, she tells me she too was fed good food during her first periods. But the knife puzzles the tribal woman, and she asks, protection from what? "From any man’s lustful intentions that could strip me of my dignity," I say. She laughs, "I thought women in civilised cities didn’t need to protect their dignity!"

    I am left wondering about civilisation in cities where we have specialised NGOs to combat eve-teasing and sexual harassment at the workplace. We have pepper-spray cans. Paedophilia is rampant behind tightly guarded curtains while affluent school kids show off their sexual rendezvous via MMS. Yet, we call ourselves modern; we call tribals uncivilised.

    The tall and dusky Lakhimi tells me how men and women are equal in her tribal society, frolicking and even drinking together till late in the night. She does not know what eve-teasing is. Then imagine my surprise at finding victims of rape in her idyllic paradise.

    It was in Samsetti village, 100 km south of Dantewada, where I made this discovery on Christmas Day. Entering the picturesque village, I saw 100-odd men in military fatigues, carrying automatic rifles walk out of it. Yes, it was a Naxal-infested zone, but 100 guns in a village of a few hundred was a stretch even for the imagination. By the time we halted, an eerie calm had spread over this village, which had been terrorised again, all because of four women.

    These four girls in their early 20s have been victims of a concept foreign to their tribal culture—rape. In 2006, each was reportedly gangraped by SPOs (Special Police Officers) of the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia set up by the Chhattisgarh government to flush out Naxals. Sadly, this sandwiched the tribals between Naxals and Salwa Judum in a macabre way. Rapes and murders havebecome common in villages of Dantewada, which is at the heart of the Naxal conflict today.

    Ironically, these SPOs are young recruits from tribal villages, some even child soldiers, who end up beheading fellow tribals, burning their own villages, and raping their own women in an inhuman, state-sponsored offensive against Naxals. All this for a hefty salary of Rs 1,800 a month.

    The women I mention are only four among several such cases of alleged rape. Almost each follows a similar pattern of intimidation and threats to silence them. In this case it took some sustained intervention and counselling by Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar, currently fasting since December 26 to expose such hushed-up cases.

    The rape cases were finally registered in the Bilaspur high court in March 2009, after the cops refused to file FIRs. However, the sessions court, in its last hearing in November 2009, declared the accused as absconding. Absurdly enough, the accused walked into the village in December 2009, beat up the four girls, took their thumb impressions on blank papers and warned them against taking the case further. When Himanshu Kumar tried to make this news public, the accused returned to the village and took the girls to the police station where they were tortured for five days. No wonder that when we finally reached Samsetti the villagers first shielded them from us. Even when we found them, they refused to talk openly about what had happened.

    "Forget your rape; save your Muriya tribe from annihilation," is what the villagers had told the scared girls. So a society that was truly independent now faces the scourge of being civilised.

    While we have exported our ideas of being civilised to the forests, we haven’t yet lent them our sympathies. While one IPS officer goes home scot-free after causing the suicide of a teenager he molested and then threatened, here too in Samsetti the protectors have become the persecutors. At least the cities are agitated enough to debate and gather support for the wronged Ruchika. But have we even heard of these four brutal rapes in Samsetti? Can we even talk of justice for them and the scores of other tribal women who have shared a similar fate? Or is it convenient to ignore them just because they are bow-and-arrow-carrying tribals? There are no easy answers. All we can do is begin with these easy questions.

    Sunday, 3 January 2010

    Nothing "Official" in Chhattisgarh

    Sambo misses her four children; and has long stopped smiling. The petite woman’s eyes are vacant; she has already seen enough. She has already had enough. © Javed Iqbal

    October 1, 2009, 7 am, Gompad:
    Security forces and SPOs (special police officers) of the Salwa Judum enter the village of Gompad, which is on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border. Sodi Sambo is shot on her leg. Witnesses the murder of six other villagers by the security forces and SPOs.

    Circa October 20, 2009:
    Sodi Sambo is brought to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) in Dantewada. She is taken to Delhi for a surgery some days later. She continues to live in VCA.

    November 24, 2009:
    Himanshu Kumar and the victims of the massacre in Gompad, Gachanpalli, Nulkatong and Belpocha file a write petition in the Supreme Court. The hearing is posted for January 4, 2010.

    December 30, 2009, Dantewada:
    Sambo develops a mild fever. Blood test confirmed malaria, and the doctor suggests hospitalisation. She wouldn’t be safe in the hospital. So it is decided to keep her at the civil hospital of Dantewada only for the three-hour drip, and then bring her home. Himanshuji is on the fifth day of his fast.

    December 31, 2009, and January 1, 2010, Dantewada:
    It is learnt that that four cops were enquiring about "the lady who has a bullet wound on her leg and uses a walker". Thankfully no single nurse works 24x7 and neither are they too attentive. The nurses on this shift, at the civil hospital of Dantewada, know nothing of this patient. We learn that the cops had come twice, asking about Sambo. Everyone was looking for the victim-cum-eyewitness of the massacre in Gompad village.

    January 2, 2010, 9 pm, Dantewada:
    Sambo is being sent to Raipur by bus, along with a volunteer of VCA and a volunteer of Aid India. They would reach Raipur on December 3, and then take a train to Delhi, where her leg would be operated. Himanshu Kumar’s nephew Abhay drives them to the bus stand.

    January 2, 2010, 9.10 pm, Dantewada:
    Abhay notices several bikers armed with automatic rifles following them. He instantly calls up Himanshuji, who advises Abhay to bring the car back to VCA.

    January 2, 2010, 9.20 pm, Dantewada:
    Himanshuji, Satyen and another friend Gangesh then get onto the car and go towards the bus stand. The cops outside VCA, stationed for Himanshuji’s protection, are caught unawares when the car rushes out. They eventually catch up with the car.

    January 2, 2010, 9.25 pm, Dantewada:
    A jeep of SPOs has arrived near the bus stand. Himanshuji tells the travel agent that the three passengers would be boarding from Geedam, 10 kms north of Dantewada. The car then takes a detour 2 kms south of Dantewada and sees the bus headed to Raipur passing by. The bus is stopped, and Himanshuji requests the driver to let the three passengers board the bus there itself.

    January 2, 2010, 9.30 pm, Dantewada:
    The bus reaches the bus stand at Dantewada, and Himanshuji’s car follows it. They then see one SPO approaching the bus conductor, who asks him to accompany them to the police station. Himanshuji intervenes; asks the SPO why was he intending to take the conductor to the police station. The SPO politely replies that some enquiries had to be made. Himanshuji then asked him, “Does this have to do anything with the injured lady on the bus?” The SPO denies any such issue. Himanshuji realizes that Sambo could be arrested midway during the journey, and so he asks the trio to alight from the bus. They then drive towards VCA, and Abhay speeds the car into discreet lanes, such that they emerge on the main road towards Geedam.

    January 2, 2010, 9.35 pm, Dantewada:
    The car catches up with the bus and the trio boards it again. The car follows.

    January 2, 2010, 9.45 pm, Dantewada:
    Near the bus stand at Geedam, the bus halts. While Himanshuji gets his car refueled, Gangesh walks out to assess the situation. He returns to say that another jeep full of cops had arrived near the bus, along with one of the SPOs whom he had seen near the bus stand in Dantewada. The car rushes to the bus stand, and Himanshuji asks the trio to alight again, knowing well what could happen if they continued the travel.

    January 2, 2010, 9.55 pm, Dantewada:
    The car reaches VCA; a long discussion ensues about what could be done next. We all spoke in hushed whispers, lest the cops would be eavesdropping. The irony – all phone conversations are tapped; we are all being heard. Yet, no one is ‘listening’! Finally it is decided that Himanshuji, along with his protectors who report his every move to their seniors, would go to Raipur the next day.

    January 3, 2010, 7.30 am, Dantewada:
    Himanshuji, Abhay, Sambo and the two volunteers leave for Raipur in a car. His security tags along. Plan is to catch the train to Delhi from Raipur at 5pm.

    January 3, 2010, 1 pm, Dantewada:
    Abhay calls up from Kanker, about 200 kms from Dantewada. He informs that Himanshuji and Sambo have been arrested. Himanshuji tells Abhay to proceed to Raipur, along with the two volunteers, to drop the car there.

    January 3, 2010, 2 pm, Dantewada:
    We are informed that Himanshuji has not been arrested. The cops had approached them at Kanker at around 12.30pm, when they had halted for lunch (Himanshuji is on the ninth day of his fast). Cops say that Sambo needs to be taken to the police station for enquiry. Himanshuji tells them that he wouldn’t allow them to take Sambo alone. So he had he decided to along with them to the police station.

    January 3, 2010, 2 pm to 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
    Himanshuji and Sambo are at Kanker police station. Abhay drives till Raipur to drop the car. Attempts are made to be in constant touch with Himanshuji, who cannot speak freely. Word about all that is happening is spread around through the Internet, SMS and phone.

    January 3, 2010, 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
    Abhay and the two volunteers, along with Tusha Mittal (reporter with Tehelka), reach Kanker. The cops in Kanker tell Himanshuji that he should arrange for a cab to take him to Dantewada, while the police, in a separate car, would bring Sambo to Dantewada. Himanshuji tells them that he would die but wouldn’t leave Sambo alone with them.

    January 3, 2010, 7.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:
    Himanshuji is with Abhay and the others in the same car. They head back to Dantewada. Himashuji’s security is with him. Sambo is being brought back to Dantewada in another vehicle, for her statements to be taken. When Himanshuji asks them if Sambo would be put behind bars, he is told, “No, we are not arresting her. The SP of Dantewada has made special arrangements for her. She will have to be at the police station all through the night.” Himanshuji is convinced that she will surely be arrested by the next morning and many false charges slapped on her -- this is what had happened to Kopa too.

    We speak to a lawyer; he says that if Sambo is an eyewitness, any statement to be taken has to be done so only where she is comfortable, i.e., her home.