Photo: Shailendra Pandey
It was a Sunday morning and Om Shanti Om was playing on television. For a tiny shack, the TV was too big – a hideously odd addition. Apart from an old man and two kids sleeping on the floor, a young man was having brunch watching TV. Travelling in a remote village in the Kalimella block of Malkangiri district in Odisha, I was meeting someone who could speak Hindi. “Chhattisgarh se hai…” he said responding to my surprised look. I had by then visited enough Adivasi villages in the block to believe that Hindi was non-existent here. As it turned out, 25-year-old Ranga, an adivasi teacher from a village in Dornapal, Chhattisgarh was in Kalimella, visiting his wife and kid as the summer vacation allowed him to.
Our conversation was supposed to be about mundane subjects related to village development. What do you do about circumstances though?
Even as we were talking about development in the village, Ranga got a call from his cousin in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh giving him every detail of the Maoist attack that had taken place the previous evening. Mahindra Karma had been killed. So were Nand Kumar Patel and 28 others. Once the conversation was over, Ranga came back inside to fill me with details. This 25-year-old teacher (who teaches class four students) evidently had enough exposure to the media to know what interests journalists. He began with all the details of the incident as was told to him. I listened with equal interest. He ended it with, “Karma ji nahi rahe. Diggaj neta the.” Ranga was an admirer of Mahendra Karma, the founder of Salwa Judum.
The conversation that followed, has kept me thinking till now.
Me: Karma ji diggaj neta the? (Was Karma a tall leader?)
Ranga: Haan. Judum ke chalte bohut accha kaam kiya unhone. Judum ne shanti laaya… (Yes. He did a lot of good work by creating Salwa Judum. Judum brought a lot of peace in our area)
Me: Accha? Toh aap Judum ke samarthak hai? (So, are you a supporter of Judam?)
Ranga: Naxali bohut tang karte the gaon walon ko. Zameen cheen ke baant dete the… Agar mera chota sa zameen hai toh aap usse kaise cheen sakte ho? Dhaan bhi le jaate the aur baant dete the… (The naxals used to trouble villagers. They would snatch our land and redistribute it. How can you snatch the small plot of my land? They would also take away the grains and redistribute it…)
Me: Lekhin Judum ne toh bohut saare gaon jalaye… Balatkaar kiya mahilaon par… (But Judum also burnt a lot of villages… They also raped a lot of women)
Ranga: Tension mein har koi hinsa karta hai… Aap aise socho. Agar mere friend ko kal koi marega, toh main kisko support karoonga? (Everyone indulges in violence when they’re in “tension”. Think of it like this, if my friend is going to be killed by someone, who will I support?)
I smiled and chose not to probe him further. He too smiled. No, he did not bear a look of satisfaction of having won an argument. His tone too did not have an assertiveness that you would find in people who really want to prove something to you. Here was someone’s lived reality that needed no assertion or crafty presentation. Mere narration carries through the message.
This conversation had begun to bother me, doubting my ability to understand and place politics in historically identified categories. A friend came very close to the answer. “It is the Brechtian choice. This one has made the choice. Survival comes first. Everything else comes later,” said the friend.
‘The Brechtian choice’, well, is something like this. As Eric Bentley observed in his review of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht: “What is the philosophy of this philosopher? Reduced to a single proposition, it is that if you concede defeat on the larger issue, you can achieve some nice victories in smaller ways. The larger issue is whether the world can be changed. It can’t. But brandy is still drunk, and can be sold. One can survive, and one can help one’s children to survive by teaching each to make appropriate use of the qualities God gave him.”
But then, in Malkangiri district itself, for every Ranga, I could find ten young men who would support the Naxals. In Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, I could easily find a hundred. They have made their choices too. Their friends had been /are being/will be killed by SPOs, policemen and the security forces. These would often be extra-judicial murders. The police torture them. The courts speak a language there is absolutely no way they can understand. Hell, I have been to villages where young men and women do not know when Independence Day is, who the Prime Minister is or for that matter, what their country is. But these were young men/women who support the anna log (naxals, as referred to in Odisha) because the Forest Department and police are bad news.
* * * *
From far away, I think it’s too bad Brecht never wrote ‘An instruction for the illegal adivasi’.
Here’s Brecht’s An instruction for the illegal agent
Part from your comrades at the station
Enter the city in the morning with your jacket buttoned up
Look for a room, and when your comrade knocks:
Do not, o do not open the door
Cover your tracks!
If you meet your parents in Hamburg or elsewhere
Pass them like strangers, turn the corner, don’t recognize them
Pull the hat they gave you over your face, and
Do not, o do not show your face
Cover your tracks!
Eat the meat that’s there. Don’t stint yourself.
Go into any house when it rains and sit on any chair that is in it
But don’t sit long. And don’t forget your hat.
I tell you:
Cover your tracks!
Whatever you say, don’t say it twice
If you find your ideas in anyone else, disown them.
The man who hasn’t signed anything, who has left no picture
Who was not there, who said nothing:
How can they catch him?
Cover your tracks!
See when you come to think of dying
That no gravestone stands and betrays where you lie
With a clear inscription to denounce you
And the year of your death to give you away.
Cover your tracks!
(That is what they taught me.)
Author- G Vishnu has worked as a cameraman and assistant script-writer on two documentary films on tribal issues with Shri Prakash, a prominent film-maker in Jharkhand. He has reported on matters like Naxal-State conflict and politics as is seen in New Delhi. He has been a part of TEHELKA’s investigations team since August 2011. He finished his post-graduation in Communication from Manipal University in 2009.
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