Saturday, July 01, 2006

Gadchiroli: Inside the Red Line

Gadchiroli: Inside the Red Line

In the jungles of Gadchiroli in interior Maharashtra, it is clearly the Naxalites who call the shots. Caught between the gun-wielding ultras and the forest guards, impoverished locals say they prefer the Naxalites, whose presence has reduced harassment from the forest guards and forced the forest contractors to pay them higher wages

My informed source reclined in his office chair when I asked him about the presence of Naxalites in Gadchiroli. It was my first day in this far-eastern district of Maharashtra. Having arrived in town the previous night in pitch darkness -- the usual power cuts, the hotel owner explained -- I could not hold back my urban curiosity about Naxalite activity in the surrounding woods.

"Naxalites are not as dangerous as you urbanites think," said my source. "They have issues with the authorities, specifically the police, but hardly ever bother the common people."

I was not entirely convinced, having read how the writ of the Naxalites or Maoists, or whatever you call them, runs across 92,000 sq km of central India. From Bhamragad in Gadchiroli to Abujmarh in Chhattisgarh, it is they who make the laws, not the government, and also implement them. In fact, this roughly 40 sq km area on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border is considered a 'liberated zone' where even the police dare not venture out.

On my way back to the hotel, in the evening, I picked up the latest edition of a pocket book in Marathi titled Gadchiroli Jhilyache Samanya Dnyan, from the local newsstand. The general knowledge book on the district was meant for local aspirants to jobs in the police force, forest, education, health and other government departments. It revealed some interesting facts.

Under the heading 'Naxalite dalams and their commanders in the district' was the basic information: Tipagad dalam -- Sureshanna; Charmoshi dalam -- Joganna; Aheri dalam -- Sudhakaranna; Permili dalam -- Narmadakka; Ettapalli dalam -- Goganna; followed by further details, like three commanders of the People’s War Group in the district -- Goyanna, Madhavanna, Bhupatianna; chief commander of Naxalite (military) dalam in the district -- Karan alias Santosh.

In the question-and-answer section I found: "From whom do the Naxalites get their training? Answer: from the LTTE"; "Which year did Radhakka, the first woman Naxalite recruit from the district, join a dalam?: 1983."

The villagers also say the Naxalite presence in the forests has reduced harassment at the hands of forest personnel and the rampant cutting of trees by contractors


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