Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


The countdown has begun for the ultimate decay of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. The last straws are now crackling up, and it is only a matter of time when Himanshu Kumar will leave his seat under the huge tree, where he has been fasting since December 26, 2009. A new year has begun and has brought with it the steady flow of stealth from the Chhattisgarh government.


But the country watches this ghoulish war silently, like a three-hour film. Some of them have the audacity to write meagre words about this civil war, as though they are writing a review of this free film screening. They write how all men and women carrying bows-and-arrows are Naxalites, how one man espousing Gandhian ideologies is propelling the tribals against the modern idea of ‘development’, how our GDP will not show the upward trend if we do protest about mining and large dams. Those who cannot play with their words will throw in some money to Himanshu Kumar, partly to salvage themselves from the guilt of ignorance about the tribals and partly because it sounds cool to be associated with some ‘NGO-type’ work. After they have heard what Himanshu Kumar has been screaming all these years, they stretch their facial muscles into a wry smile and walk away. The film is over, so forget it now.


But Himanshuji cannot forget what the lakhs of tribals have been subjected to by the state forces. Nor can the state government forget how Himahshuji is on a mission to expose their demonic ways. An eerie feeling now envelopes the Ashram premises, as we know that the state government’s New Year resolution is to render Himanshuji homeless in this part of the state. The landlord of the house has already asked Himashuji to leave the house by January 15, since he had been receiving several threats from the SDM, the CEO of Dantewada Zilla Panchayat and the Collector. Kopa Kunjam, one of the significant pillars of VCA, is being beaten up mercilessly in jail by the cops, who openly admit to him that he has been framed in the murder case. Quite a significant number of those working with VCA have decided to take up safer jobs.


With most of his wings clipped, Himanshuji tried to camouflage the building tension in his mind, on the eighth day of his fast. Joining him in solidarity are now Zulaikha Jabi, an activist based in Raipur; Sadanand Patwardhan, a writer and entrepreneur based in Pune; filmmakers Nishtha Jain and Satya Rai Nagpaul from Mumbai; and Bhan Sahu of Jurmil Morcha, from Rajnandgaon district in Chhattisgarh.


Sometime in the morning, when all of us were basking in the winter sun and talking to Himanshuji, we were visited by a gentleman from Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which is the social service wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He asked Himanshuji how could he embark on a Satyagrah when he was disallowed to do the same by the state. Himanshuji replied that he was only fasting for personal reasons and that the state could not impose any restrictions on the same. The gentleman argued, “If you are observing a personal fast, then why are you making it public by sitting like this under a tree with a charkha to keep you busy? Why have you brought in journalists here?”


Himanshuji replied stating that the journalists were only his friends who were visiting on their own will. But the man was tempestuous and wouldn’t be satisfied with such calm replies. He went on to explain how a group of Koya tribals had gone to meet Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, but was denied the meeting, as, according to Singh, all Koya tribals were Naxalites.


For a change, I could identify the CM’s words. He was in tandem with the modern fascist notion, ‘Either you are with us, or against us’. That’s how all Muslims are understood to be terrorists.


The countdown drama hadn’t come to an end for the day. A team of officers from the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board (CSEB) arrived, stating that they needed to check the electricity load within the house. Himanshuji said that the house would be soon vacated and that he couldn’t help it if the owner of the house had earlier written a lower figure of electricity consumption. But the officers would listen to no explanation. They went in room by room, checked the number of electrical appliances, and drew an estimate of electricity consumption. While their assessment was on, they were getting nervous as their words and actions were being recorded on camera by filmmakers Nishtha and Satya.


The officers were saccharine sweet in their language, and went on to state that they were writing only the lower limits, i.e., even though there are about eight CFL bulbs in the house, they said that they would mention that there are only six. Did they think that we would love them for being so kind to us and dishonest to the CSEB?


Finally, it was found that while the limit for electricity consumption was only 1,600 watts, the consumption here at gone up to 3,400 watts. They said that while 400 watts of consumption would be ‘excused, a fine would have to be paid for the excess of 1,400 watts. They said that a bill would be sent on Monday, mentioning the fine amount that would have to be paid within a fortnight, along with a form so that we could change the limit from 1,600 watts.


Himanshuji later told us that VCA workers had raised the issue of non-availability of electricity in some villages, in April 2009. The CSEB officers arrived at VCA’s erstwhile location the very next day and accused Himanshuji of stealthily operating computer course classes, upon seeing the many computers in the VCA office. They slapped a fine of Rs 28,000, which was duly paid. A week later, VCA was demolished.


Such instances have truly shown me how creative our governments are! IAS officers and their juniors should be made to write film scripts. They would infuse drama in creative ways into the film at the precise junctures. What is happening in Dantewada is truly a film, whose tagline could be, ‘One man’s mission to save the tribe from the forces of annihilation and terror’. The film can be rightly called ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’. But will the Clint Eastwood in Dantewada have the last word?