Monday, 3 May 2010

RED signals in the FOREST

(This article first appeared in Sunday Times of India, on May 2, 2010)

They don't have a fax machine.They dont send bulk mails either. Yet,the public relations of the Maoists in Chhattisgarh can give any PR agency a run for its money. Not only have they managed to make themselves heard across a section of the country, they've even managed to get the CRPF jawans posted in those thick jungles to think about their purpose in this civil war.

The latest reports about the police-CRPF ring that sold arms to Maoists may have nothing to do with the bulk of jawans but what they do corroborate tangentially is that there could be some sort of communication.

Indeed, jawans, dumped in subhuman conditions in the jungles to fight the enemy, are being reached out to by the Maoists, as this correspondent discovered in her foray into the jungles of Dantewada a few weeks ago. The Maoists have a lot of anger in them about the way this region has been neglected, said one of the jawans in the camp in Chintalnar. They leave leaflets for us, in which they say that we jawans are like their brothers who have been caught in this unnecessary battle because we are all poor.

The jawans at Chintalnar are weary of their dire living conditions. Yet they cannot voice their anguish before their seniors. A single query from this correspondent was enough to let flow the bottled resentment against the government. And the communique sent in by the Maoists specifically targeting the jawans and not the seniors further prods them to repeatedly wonder why they are posted in Chhattisgarh.

But it is essential here to understand what is so special about Chintalnar. Why did it become so infamous after all The answer lies in its geographical location.Forty-five kilometre from Chintalnar is Dornapal, a town where villagers in Chintalnar and the CRPF jawan posted at the camps next door have to go for something as trivial as a matchbox. Chintalnar is in the middle of the jungle, and further ahead are other villages, where only the Red eagles dare. No eagles from the government machinery, including the CRPF, have ever ventured beyond Chintalnar. A bus runs the three-hour distance between Chintalnar and Dornapal once a day.

"When we are walking down the road to Dornapal, if we are lucky not to have been blown apart by the IEDs, we see leaflets with text in red ink nailed to trees. They are addressed to us, telling us that we are their brothers and that this war is unjust. The letters would hit us hard because the Maoists know that we too are here to stave off our poverty," a jawan said, almost in whispers, lest his seniors hear him spill it all out.

Asked whether the letters don't help determine the locus of the Maoists, the jawan said: "They only generate a lot of discussions among us. What the Maoists are saying is valid. With much difficulty, my father paid for my fees so that I could get a BSc degree. But then there were no jobs. I saw the ad in the newspaper, and it was a matter of pride to fight for the nation. But here we are, rotting. We cannot drop out of CRPF. Where will we go? It is here that we understand why a young man or woman becomes a Maoist."
After a night spent at a villagers house, this correspondent saw the next morning what the jawans had been talking about. The Maoists had dropped some leaflets in the night just 300 metres away from where the correspondent had been sleeping in the open courtyard. They were poster papers, with Hindi words red-inked on them, and spoke of demands for development for the masses and removal of troops from the region.

"They keep an eye on every vehicle from Dornapal to here. A CRPF vehicle would have been blown off," said the villager. "But not the car you came in. You are alive, and this is their message to you."

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