Friday, April 18, 2014

48 hours in Maoist captivity (Part-II)

The last post was about events leading to Vamsi's abduction. He along with three government staffs had visited Nokania village to organize camps on 25th January. It was around 3:30 P.M, when they were about to leave, that 10-12 Maoists arrived and took them hostage. They took them towards the hills. Vamsi had never realized hills were this closer.  "We will sit and talk at a safe place otherwise the police will come hunting us.", the leader ML said to his fellow comrades. This was how Vamsi's journey to the mountains had begun. (To read Part 1 in details, click here)

25th January: 16:00

'Nokania' lay at the foothills of the long series of Parasnath Hills. The sun was setting down and it would've been around 4:00 P.M. Within 5 minutes of walking, the plains merged into hills and I saw a young boy grazing cattle, looking at us. Shrubs replaced the grasses and nothing was audible except the birds' chirps, heavy footsteps and my deep breaths.

                                                   Pic 1: Satellite image of Nokania Village

There were 12 of them, 10 men, 2 Women. Most of them, except the leader, seemed quite young, in their twenties.  Four of them led the front, clearing the bushes coming in the way; behind them was Maksood (Panchayat Secretary) followed by Chandra Deo (Village Level Worker). I walked behind Shambhu Pandit (Gram Rozgar Sevak) who was separated from VLW by one of their cadres. The leader walked behind me, occasionally chattering to the cadres in khortha (a local language spoken in Jharkhand.)

It had not turned 16:30 and the forest became dense. On both sides of the kutcha road, shrubs more than two meters high, ran consistently for kilometres. The faint footprints of bare feet on the road indicated that the road was used for regular commutation. The leader kept moving to and fro to coordinate with his comrades; he spoke few words like 'discussion' and 'necessary arrangements', in Hindi.

GRS whispered to me "Don't be tense." A kind of vague smile crossed my lips. Not because on the nature of the advice, but because he seemed more tense.

Silently, we moved. I tried not to concentrate on the thousand possibilities of things turning wrong, and instead focused on the road, the type of forest we were traversing in and the pattern of checks on GRS's shirt. White and Blue checks. It reminded me of similar check shirt that belonged to one of my close friends at University. For a moment, I thought of life in the university and its classrooms. Suddenly, my eyes turned towards my sandals and socks. I wear socks to avoid scratches when I move to the fields. Would the comrades think I am a rich person and lead a lavish life? I was afraid of their contempt for people leading a lavish life. 

As ML, the leader kept moving, it was M1 (Maoist who we saw first at Noknia) who walked behind me. I turned back to exchange a glance, and he didn't smile back. I just wished he didn't pierce a big knife in my back.

The train of thoughts broke with a cough sound that came from the end of the line. It lasted long and brought me again to the jungle. ML asked us to handover our mobile phones and we did it swiftly. He couldn't remove the SIM cards and so returned our mobiles saying "Take your SIMs and hand us back the mobile phones."

Meanwhile M1 added.  "Don't be tense. We won't do anything.... We will not kill you.... Feel free.... Feel comfortable.... Tension may make you ill.... "I couldn't believe M1 spoke this. Four of us looked at him to verify if he was the one speaking this. Is this the same tough hot-headed Maoist?? 

Another moment, I saw PS & GRS pleading to ML.
"Dada! We were sent here to conduct the camp forcibly; otherwise we would have been suspended immediately." GRS said.
"We can burn these forms off now if you wish." PS added.

The leader's face strained and his forehead got filled with deep lines. He sensed innocence in their worries "Ohh ho! You people are doing great work. Don't worry at all. We'll just talk with you for some time and free you. We won't kill you. You are not our target."

I shall admit VLW was a curious fellow. "Do you have any demands?"

"No Sir, we're looking for a safe place. We shall move fast.", the leader responded. His 'safe' was quite different from what we considered safe. 

"Sir, are you taking us to someone, probably your seniors?" I too asked a question in series.

ML smiled. "No, nothing like that Sir."

Journey uphill for around 45 minutes made me really tired and thirsty. My knee-joints pained badly. I had been advised by doctor not to walk too long in one stretch. We reached a flat place where the road divided into 3 roads.

   Pic 2: Dense forest near Nokania Village 

ML announced a little break in the journey. "Please take a 5mins break. You all seem tired. We are searching for a safe place for the discussions, and to avoid the unwarranted attacks by the police."


We squatted where we stood. M1 exclaimed: "No! No! What are you doing, sir? You're our guests, sir." and then took out a mat from his bag and spread it on the ground. We were puzzled. I didn't understand if it was a joke or general courtesy, we sat on the mat keeping our legs on ground.  All four of us took turns in de-stressing the pressurised bladder. Everyone took permission from ML before taking their turn. 

I went almost 50 meters away from the place we were sitting. While relieving, an idea of running away came to mind but soon evaporated at the memory of AK- 47s being carried by them. I took longer than usual and slowly walked back to the place we were sitting.  

From a few meters, I heard M1 speaking to VLW. His face smelled of sarcasm "We are not Sirs... You people are officers.... We are just your brothers.... Call us Bhaai !! Ham aapke bhaai hai !!"

The lady cadres were returning from some far place and the men stood alert and kept looking for any movement signs around. We were given with water to drink. A few meters away, ML was speaking to other comrades probably about the plans further.

The cloud of stress and fear begun to wither slowly as communication grew between us. I had thought this point to be the place for discussion till ML coughed and waved his hand as a signal to move forward. We took the leftmost road that diverged from the main-road. The topography had changed. From now on, we would be meeting big rocks and steep hills. The kind of trees also changed and forest turned denser.

He repeated again "We will not kill you. We want some information from you and that's all. We'll leave you then."

None of us was a military official or an ISRO scientist who could provide them with sensitive defence related information. Then, what kind of information they are expecting from us? I thought "Are they just trying to console us so that we could walk with them quickly all along the journey?" No options whatever.

Halting my train of thoughts, the leader repeated again that they will leave us in an hour or two. The regular communication from their side had assuaged some fears and I felt a bit relaxed.

And see my unholy curiosity that shot too many questions then, when everybody else (PS, GRS, VLW) was even not sure if they would return alive or not. What if they really leave us in an hour? Is the leader true to his words?  "Vamsi, you may lose this golden chance of speaking to them if they leave you this soon!!" My mind told my common sense.
Yes, I wanted to speak to them. I wanted to know about them and their movement. I wanted to verify in person about the things I read in 'HELLO BASTAR' and 'LET'S CALL HIM VASU'.How and when should I ask them these questions? And would they entertain my questions?
Whatever! I should ask them.   

I saw my fellow friends sweating and I smiled over my thoughts. If I revealed this to them then, it'd be them who would kill me, and not the Maoists.


The Sun had already set. We reached a flat place on the hill, at a significant height. It was as plain as the village field. I could notice the deep wide valley filled with green trees with zero presence of men or men caused pollution. It was green, perfectly calm and beautiful.

I tried to search for the Parasnath peak. (Parasnath peak is the highest mountain peak of Jharkhand and remains visible from almost whole Giridih.) I could see a series of nine to ten hills all lying side by side. Few cows grazing at that height indicated some habitations in proximity.

These 45 minutes were like two years, unlike the first 45 minutes. Travelling this far, and becoming familiar just by being with them for two hours, gave me enough courage to attempt to ask questions. But ML had announced another break.

HALT - 2

M1 again spread the plastic sheet for us to sit on. This time I chose a stone to sit on, as walking this long inflicted pain in my calves. ML was a little far away, speaking with other comrades. After few difficult minutes of tumult, I couldn’t resist my curiosity. "I'd like to ask a few questions if you don't mind." 

"Not at all. Ask anything. You can open up yourself. We are just like your brothers." M1 responded.
The lone conversation drew attention of almost everyone except ML and the comrades he was speaking with.
"How do you see the progress of your movement? I mean three decades have passed since it began. Has the support increased or decreased? "I asked.
"Obviously increased. Our movement has spread over to many states. Many people are joining the movement and people understand it more than they did before" M1 answered.
"I've read in books that mostly it is them, who get frustrated with the system's evils join this movement. Why did you join? What incident made you join this movement? "I asked M1. 

He didn't start at once. He seemed to articulate for a moment by looking in some other direction and then said "Nothing personal.  I was inspired by the ideology. I wanted to fight to set things right. I came for society. Too many people are dying. So, I took up arms." 
ML returned and signalled us to continue our journey. We started our journey - some comrades leading, some comrades in between the hostages, some comrades trailing behind and leader moving back and forth to coordinate the journey.  

That time MM (Maoist with a big moustache) and M1 were leading the group; I walked just behind M1, with a hope to speak with. The rough path, we had taken this time, was grassy and full of pebbles and boulders. Despite heavy sweating, I could feel the coldness of the weather. MM was tired and gave one of his bags to M1. As M1 was struggling with 2 bags, I offered him my hand to help carry his bag just to make him feel that I am not a typical government employee who makes their office assistants carry his dairies and personal belongings. But he denied, on grounds of me being their guest. Phew!

It must be around 6:15 P.M, and darkness covered the forest. We walked, and walked and got tired. Slowly, several glowing torches started to light the road. To my amazement, I heard a stream flowing nearby. Cool wind blew and the silence got filled with sound of water and crickets' chatter. ML advised us to move slowly and carefully. At the very thought of a running stream nearby, I grew thirsty. 

"Daada, can I get some water?" I asked.
Smiling sarcastically, ML said. "Hmm... Water..? We have to drink the water from that stream... You wait a moment” And he announced a break. “Please take your seats...  We'll have a small break for some time."


The sky was lit by shrunk moon, almost a quarter of moon. The place was cold, and green and beautiful. You could have gone there for a picnic, if it wasn't situated this far.

ML asked M2 (A young cadre) and MM (Maoist with moustache) to fetch some water from the stream, in plastic bottles. He made sure MM has a cloth to filter.

M2 (A young cadre) and MM were crossing boulders in the dim light of their torches to reach the stream. Suddenly, ML in his suppressed voice burst on one of his cadres "How many times do I need to remind you not to turn the torch beam upwards? When would you understand?"

Torch beam could serve as a clue for vigilant Police forces and the location of the Maoists can be tracked. It was a very narrow path, and so we sat down on the boulders one beside other. Leader took the seat behind VLW. GRS and I sat opposite VLW. M1 stood beside me. 

I never knew my curiosity was this diligent seeker of silence. As everybody turned silent, I asked if they were from Jharkhand or from some other state. GRS sitting beside me interrupted saying that they cannot reveal those facts. I was confused watching GRS speaking for them; probably he thought the Maoists will give him some concessions while they kill us. The darkness obscured my disgust at him.

ML asked M1 to go up the hill and find some place to stay for the night. M1 obeyed.

ML took out shawls from his bag and gave one to each of us. I did a brief reconnaissance of the bags. There were plastic sheets, torches, shawls, First Aid Boxes, biscuits etc in the bags. He took out few packets of biscuits and gave one packet per two persons. I and GRS shared my packet. I know of no taste better than that of those six Parle G biscuits. That moment, while eating biscuits, I became sure about spending the night in forest. Done with our biscuits, I threw off the wrapper and drunk some water. 

A little later, ML, the leader asked me for the wrapper. "Where is the wrapper? It may become a trace left behind to help the police find us. Please search if you've thrown it."

Surprised by his cautioned approach, I searched for the wrapper. I luckily found it and handed it to ML.  It would have been 7:00 P.M by now.  M1 was not there. After 20 minutes, I heard M1 speaking to ML in Hindi "There is a place up there. We can stay there."

M1 along with ML led the group and we halted after walking for almost 15 minutes. ML scanned the surroundings with his torch light and declared there to be the place of stay for tonight. 

Though he said that it was a halt for the night, I doubted if it would be the last halt for my life.  

Night 1 HALT

Though there were patches of flat floor, the place couldn't be said to be regular. Leader asked M1 to clean the flat place. M1 cleaned the flat place; took out a plastic sheet from his bag and spread it on the ground. ML gave us one more plastic sheet from his own bag. Everyone has their own sheet to sleep on. ML told us to sit on those sheets. I remember ML saying to me, not to remove my socks and not to put my legs on the ground. He was very emphatic in saying that socks will keep my body a little warmer.

I sat on the so-called-bed prepared by the cadres and shook off the dust stuck to my socks. Rest hostages too followed the same practice and settled on the sheet in a straight line. The leader sat with us and asked us to form a semi circle opposite to him. It was a half-round ground conference where he took the centre and we all became the periphery of semi-circle.

It was pretty cold because of the place's proximity to the stream. My eyes remained fixated on actions of the leader and his comrades as we sat down. Constant cricket's chatter and sound of stream confirmed the sense of being in deep woods. My calves had some relief, but the pain persisted. In a while, my alertness seized the moment and I looked around to see other cadres. I realized I hadn't seen anyone of them properly but just had glanced at them.

As we sat they spread in all directions; I guessed it was according to their in-group protocols they had set. In the centre, we were positioned along with the leader, and M1, MM sitting on a boulder little far away. On the inner circle, of around 20 feet, there were four people and on the outer, of around 50 ft, there were the rest. Probably, it was their practice to keep the young and the inexperienced at the outermost circle.

"Tell me about yourself." ML started with Panchayat Secretary.
"Dada! My name is Maksood Ansari. I am Panchayat Secretary of TUIO panchayat. I didn't want to come to this village. Only due to fear of punitive action from district officials, I have come here. I am from Gandey Block."

GRS also spoke in same tone "My name is Shambhu Pandey and am a resident of Palganj Panchayat. I am a poor fellow. I am a local resident and also have high respect for you people."

I saw both of them changing colours and putting the entire blame on district administration for their each and every intervention. Though I felt like beating them, I remained silent. 

VLW said "My name is Chandra Deo and I am from Raj Dhanwar block. I am a Jansevak (VLW) of TUIO Panchayat."

                                   Pic 3: Vamsi and Jechonia in course of their work in a village

Next was my turn. "I am Vamsi Vardhan from Andhra Pradesh. I am pursuing two years rural development fellowship in DRDA." I was very sure he’d ask me to clarify further. The brief introduction of PMRDF and his/her work always needs some Hajmola for digestion. I was ready to give one.

Leader: "Fellowship?? What is this fellowship? Are you some kind of research fellow?"
"No Daada, not entirely research. I also work for DRDA"
"I am not clear Sir. Someone, please explain this in Khorta" ML asked three of them. Khorta is one of the local languages in Jharkhand. 

Very swiftly Maksood (PS) asked Chandradeo (VLW) to explain the fellowship to ML, in local language. PS knew that VLW had applied for this PMRDF, but couldn’t get into.

VLW started to my dismay "He is a Prime Ministers Rural Development Fellow and is directly from Prime Minister’s office. In Naxal areas, two fellows are posted per district. They do research, to find where development is more needed and where Naxalism is growing. Every six months, they visit Delhi and submit their report to PM office."

ML listened to him, without blinking his eyes.

"Oh, my God!" What the hell is he making here? And who the hell told him that I am from PMO and visit Delhi every 6 months to report? Somebody please shut his stupid mouth.

"I thought of stopping him, but remained silent as the leader was sitting very near to me. I felt, I was deliberately put in danger by these panchayat staffs.

Halting my thoughts, ML turned to me and said "Oh! So you people visit and research these areas, about Naxals and their presence, and then send reports to Government of India. The Government of India, then based on your reports, sends the forces here to fight us. Isn't it? You are helping them eradicate us. If that is the case, I can say that Naxalism in India will never end."

Afraid of his interpretation of this fellowship, I quickly responded "It’s not like that. Dada! RD Ministry has posted two fellows in each underdeveloped district to assist the district administration in facilitating the implementation of government schemes, in the backward areas of the district. There are many places where even the basic necessities haven't reached. We have been assigned to DC and we give regular inputs to him. We have nothing to do with Naxalism. We just work to assist district administration in bringing development to the far flung areas.

Also we don't have anything to do with police and we seldom go to Delhi, and even if we go we have never been asked to submit a single report there. We have been sent for the developmental work and to help poor access their rights."  My vocal cord dried up answering this.

"Development!!" Leader exclaimed and asked "What do you think development is?"

I felt being drawn to the TISS classrooms. I tried to remember one of the development classes and started sizing the definitions to fit the example of my work at Giridih.

"Development is the process of helping societies become self sufficient and sustainable. In present context, societies where people do not lack the basic necessities at least" I replied.  
"So what all development have you done so far?" ML asked.

I felt the question quite difficult and thought I should have prepared better. For a while a thought flashed my mind.  Man, what are you doing here? This man needs to be on the review committee of Fellowship. I could have asked this as a joke, but I didn't want to take risk on the first day. I didn't know what may bring him to chop off my hands and feet or give a bullet. Later he told me that he had got a job, but he didn't go for it.

I took a moment to recollect. "Wherever there was a problem of safe drinking water, we installed hand-pumps. We have installed over 200 hand pumps in more than 100 villages. We constructed irrigation ponds. We connected these villages to roads. Numerous check dams were constructed."

Leader spoke "So, a hand-pump and a pond is all what the development is? No, development is comparative and progressive. If you walk on foot, then cycle is development for you; if you've a bike, then car is development for you. If you've food for one time, making it for two times is a development. It can't be universal and it can't be generalized.

So, you think you can give Lolly pop to the poor and eat Biryaani yourselves. This is what you all have been doing. Not you! I mean, your government has been doing it. You relish the comfort of Air-conditioners and give us Hand-pumps and Ponds. Even after giving them, you eat commissions in them. And you're so ruthless that you don't even come back to see if it is working or not."

I couldn't do anything except watching his angered face. He didn't stop. "It is always yours. Your targets. Your people, your choices, and your Hand-pumps with Public Money. You just waste money."

Is this some kind of ideology sessions? I thought.

His face turned serious. Midway, he also spoke some English words which made me sure he was educated. From his bag, he took out some magazines, newspapers and pointed to a newspaper article. And said "Raman Singh constructs his house with 81 crores of rupees. We can make more than 16000 Indira Awaas with that money. And can't he run his government from the same house that he used to do?"

I didn't respond. I kept my eyes on him.
"Your minister, Mannan Mallik, is getting furniture worth 6 lakhs from Kolkata. Can't he use the same old furniture? Would his wisdom leave him with the old furniture?"

"Your Planning commission constructs toilets. No, it actually repairs toilets for 50 lakhs. Man, this is height, do they shit gold or do they need to preserve their shit as a relic for future generation to see." 

He paused. No one laughed. Many a times, it was me who debated against it; now being from the government it seemed I had been held responsible for this.God promise, I haven't even seen that toilet. Please don’t hold me responsible for this.

"You give 75 thousand for poor's Indira Awaas and take 50 lakhs for your toilets. So great is your government, isn't it? And yes, the same Planning Commission says that if you earn 27 rupees and live in a village, you're not poor. Lollypop, Lollypop.... this is what you're giving us." He added.

I glanced briefly on the panchayat staffs. While I sweated, they were cool and calm. Probably, they felt that Central Government was being criticized and they were field employees of State Government. They all mentally shifted the blame over me.

For a while, I felt like discussing the issues of practicality but I didn't want to get killed this early. If I was made their hostage, I should let them take the first step. He was trying very hard to convince us about what he thought was right. 
Again he searched his bag and came up with a new article.
"See, this lady is going to sell her children just because she doesn't have enough money to feed her children. What schemes do you have for this? What scheme do you have to bring back her children?"

This wretched news crushed everyone's heart and few moments of silence followed. ML took out the health report of Jharkhand. "See, you have one doctor for every three hospitals. Is this what you call development? Everybody in government is doing nothing but their own development. You construct only buildings, why?" ML kept speaking.

"Tuyyo Upgraded Middle School has 400 children but has only one teacher." VLW said.
"Yes Daada, neither doctors nor teachers work in the villages." GRS added.

It seemed everyone was trying to make ME understand. Rest of three already agreed with ML about the Government's carelessness and heartlessness. "Let me explain you your development through this example. Even after 66 years of independence we are still dependent on ANM and SAHAYIKAs for our treatment." ML continued.

"You get crores to construct buildings but nothing to recruit man power. The contractor takes out 20%. The Engineer takes out 20%. Your collector takes out 20 %. And even after you construct it, do you even care if it the building is being used or not? No, you don't even visit it."

I stopped him in the midway. I couldn’t have listened more. I said "If it is the right time for me to speak, I can say that my Collector is honest. I know him closely. He is an honest man."

He said "Reckon he is honest, but can you guarantee the collector who will come after this collector would be an honest one or the one who preceded the current one was an honest one? Is your District engineer honest? Your DC belongs to a tribal community and so he is concentrating on these tribal areas. How many DCs of this kind can you assure? See, my fight is not with people. My problem is with the system. Even if I am made the chief minister and left to work with the system, I'd do the same. "

VLW interrupted "But see Arvind Kejriwal is doing it. At least he is trying."
ML responded. "Let's see how many days he remains alive, and also for how many weeks he would be able to work. I have my doubts. What can he do? He is the single man in the system. The system will change him. As I told you, the present system of bureaucracy needs to be changed. The bureaucrats frame the policies and these can make everyone change. Until and unless the entire system is not changed, the development is not possible."

Now, the panchayat staffs spoke something that made my face pale.

Pic 4: 17th January camp at Chetro Village 
"On 17th, you would have met a number of district officials if you'd have come. Almost every officer had come from district" GRS reiterated. 
"Oh! We didn't have information about it. They planned and executed it quickly."

I could connect the 17th January camp to this conversation. On 14th Jan, Collector Giridih had gone to Chatro Village of the TUIO panchayat. We had to prepare a report on IAP, so he asked us to stay in the office. DC went to see the place where the check-dam was to be built. He also went to see the alignments of roads to be built. And also distributed blankets to the needy.

In the evening, we received a call from DC asking us to come to his residence. As usual, we went and played badminton with him. After having some refreshments, he told us that he found that place unusual.

"No one spoke to me. Even, when I tried to speak to villagers, they didn't speak to me. You know, this check-dam would be really helpful for that village and no one was ready to accompany me to TITENBHEDA stream. They resented me. Probably, they resented Government. This village had their supporters. We shall reach out to them. Prepare a plan to reach out to those villages and make them believe that administration wants to help them." Collector said. "Why don't we organize a camp at Chatro and get all departments that deal with the tribal affairs there. We have also got new targets for Social Security Pensions." 

'Pensions and new targets' the statement injected hope as we used to hear a lot of complaints about the eligible people being missed out in the existing pension list. "Yes Sir!!" was our immediate response.

He made calls to Welfare, Social Security, Agriculture and Public Relations departments and ordered to arrange a camp on 17th Jan, 2014. 

And a camp was organized in Chatro on 17th Jan. There were four district officials (District Social Assistance officer, District Welfare Officer, District Agricultural Officer and District Public Relations Officer), two agricultural scientists, two assistants apart from two PMRDFs. 

DWO briefed up the details about the camp and requested the villagers to collect the various kinds of applications forms from different counters. (E.g. Pension applications, FRA Patta Applications, Medical treatment for the tribals under the welfare department etc.)

Camp was successfully conducted without any disturbance. Suddenly at around 3.15PM, I received a call from Collector. He asked me about the camp and instructed to leave the camp by 3.30 P.M if everything was done. By the time I hung up the phone, to my surprise, everybody except fellows and DWO had left the camp.  We somehow managed to get a bike from a teacher and moved back to the block office. When we reached the office, we came to know that they got information about the probable attack of Naxals. We became more surprised then.  

Now, let’s come back to 25th January night. I wanted to clarify if ML and team were about to attack us, on the camp day. He denied. "We were very far then, and we did not have any information. Otherwise we would have."  

"Dada! We are small people. We just follow orders. What you'll get by catching us?" VLW asked. 
With a grave face he replied. "We catch anyone we are able to. You came under our scope, so we caught you. DC coming to my den with police, returning safely and that too twice in a week is just like slapping me on my face.” He grew louder. “If your DC can do fun on my face, then I too should show my fun and my guts, eh? Media reports that administration has been able to enter the den of the Maoists regarding that Chatro camp; it's a matter of grave shame for me. My superiors, for sure, will question me. I must have an answer for all these and this is the answer."

ML continued his discussion: "Do you know how many staffs are available in PHC?"
I was silent. "The government is doing everything on contract. Para-Medical Staff, Para-teacher, Para-Rozgar Sevak… even you are Para-fellow. Now, you live here. Very soon you'll have to go back and search for job." He added. I couldn't help smiling at his choice of words "Para-fellow."

 "But tell me one thing, have you ever heard of para-collector or para-Inspector, or para-darogra or Para- SDM? No, they will be permanent. The police would be permanent and rest would be the same contractual staff. Government has only two main jobs: Giving away contracts to contractors and recruiting more people in Police." He continued.

"Why is there a vast difference in the salaries of a regular teacher and a para teacher? It is just that they do not want to spend the money on the poor, and it is very easy to fire the contractual staff when compared to the regular staff. It is another kind of lollypop." The leader said.

"You told me you'd construct roads. Just answer me one thing, what my villagers would do with a road if they don't have food to eat? They don't have cars to drive; few have cycles. How far you want me to go on to explain? If you can give, give food, ponds, irrigation and then when my people grow rich and buy motorcycles to drive, build roads. Try to improve the livelihood opportunities, Sir. Bless our people with work, Sir."

This time, I had many points to counter his claims. Too many terminologies started racing in my head. I began "MGNREGA is there to....."

"Do you think that MGNREGA is being implemented here? If it is, how effective you think it is?" he interrupted me.

GRS and PS again took his sides with excessive nodding, "Yes! Dada, you're absolutely correct!"
"Does the money from Delhi reach here completely? No, it doesn't. Everyone, your BDO, your DC, your district engineer, loots in the name of development. We won't let you defame the poor people of the rob you commit in the name of development?"

I again interrupted "Not about the DC, sir. He is honest."
My interruption turned him louder "Tell him to write me a letter that there will be no corruption involved in the construction of the pond/check dam/road or tell him to accept in writing that they will eat up to 40%. Then, I will allow you people to construct it. At least I am saving up the Public Money this way."
I then thought of asking him about levy they collect, but I didn't want to get killed that early.

PS and GRS started flattering him. Soon, VLW also joined. "Yes! Dada, you're absolutely right." Possibly they thought the flattering would provide them some concessions when they would be deciding to kill us. In the time, when the leader went for a leak, I thought of what concession, would he make.If I'm killed, would he chop off their arms or would he chop off their feet? Or would he turn them dumb.

It had turned 8:30 PM then. The leader turned the radio on, and tuned to BBC Hindi. He expected the abduction to be in the news, but it wasn’t there. Then, we listened to some political discussions. Somnath Bharti was being questioned by public on phone.

He laughed and said "See how the system is responding to Aam Aadmi Party." After listening to that he tuned to Jharkhand All India radio. The news about the abduction was not announced there also. 

"Radio!!!" That took me back to TISS once again where I had learnt that Maoists keep themselves updated with the current affairs, with the help of radio

After half an hour, he turned the radio off.

"What about Titenbeda Check dam? When is it going to be started?" ML asked me.

"Yes, it would be built very soon. The scheme has been sanctioned by the DC and very soon they may call for tenders." I replied enthusiastically.  
My enthusiasm sparked laughter inside him. He laughed like villains in the movies and then said. "But how you can build it without my permission? We have to give permission to that. Ha Ha ha. People are mine and they will work as per my orders."

Pic 5: TITENBHEDA stream in Chetro Village of TUIO panchayat 
Now, not to my surprise, GRS and PS joined him in his laughter.
He paused for a moment and then added. "Check-dam is good for the village. Ponds are also good. But police, you know."

"If the government thinks that they can carry up the development work with the police, what is the need of you people over here? Why DC/Research Fellow/BDO and all are needed? Development cannot be done with the police, Sir. Police are here to fight us, kill us and nothing else. As far as government recognizes us as a threat, we'll keep fighting. 

You people are not our target. We fight with the system. Police is the one protecting this system and so it seems we are fighting the police. That is not the actual case. If we want to change the system, Police will stop us. So, we have to fight them. Or else we'll be killed. Survival tactics, you know."

"But most of them are also adivaasis. Why you kill them?" I asked.
"We request them to surrender and give us their arms. If they give us their arms we won't kill them. We leave them. But if they tried to fire on us, then it's a different game. Then, they are no longer our brothers." ML replied.

"If they attack you first then it can be said survival tactics. But why do you attack forces that were on their regular duty?" I asked him.

"Fighting the system is our regular duty!! And basically we launch the attacks for arms. We first fire for a round and then announce to surrender their weapons. If they don't, then only we fire the latter rounds."

He said. "It is getting late for the food to arrive. Can I demand levy for you people in hostage? Na Na Na... You people are poor, what can you give?"

He had spotted a golden ring on my left hand. "Sir, I think you are rich. You wear gold. Ha Ha Ha.. Let's leave the levy thing!" That brought me a heavy sigh of relief.  At least he was not interested in levy. He seemed to be a learned Maoist unlike the ones we heard about, from GRS and PS in the morning.


"It has turned 9:30. You all must be very tired. Please take rest. It is a daily affair for us to walk several kilometres, but for you it would have been difficult" ML said while standing up from the mattress. 

I lied down but kept myself alert all the time thinking to respond to any sudden attack of dagger or bullet. I tried numerous permutations and combinations about the probability of them kill us, this night. But my poor probability (since my 12th class) forced me to give up on it.

I was not sure, if we would wake up alive the next morning. Would they kill us as we sleep and leave the place? But, we had no options other than accepting his directions. If I am left safe, there will be no issue to worry about. If I am killed in my sleep, I don't have any role in worrying.

My friend, Rajesh, will take care of my parents and AaKanKsha. I was very happy to have a friend like him. One of such friends is better than life insurances. I thought the news of abduction would have reached Collector and he would have been worried. I remembered my mother who would've been trying to call me up.

Then, I looked at the stars and focused on the sound of water. My calves were hurting. I spread my legs and remained alert for 15 - 20 minutes but I don't remember when I slept off.

Soon I found VLW waking me up. It must have been midnight. It seemed that food had arrived. It was very cold and I shivered like hell. I scolded myself for my habit of leaving my sweater in the vehicle when I move to the fields. I woke up quickly and sat on the mattress with full alertness. At home, my mother needs to push me 4 - 5 times to get me out of the bed. 

ML called me to take up my plate of food. I stood up and took my plate, filled with rice, dal and mixed vegetables (Potatoes and Cauliflower) curry. I doubted if they had mixed any poison in this.

Can I reject the food and sleep without eating?
What could be their probable reaction if I deny eating – would they kill me?

But the knowledge of "Hello Bastar", "Walking with Comrades" and "Let's call him Vasu" reminded me that the leaders of Maoists are not of that kind. So, I decided to finish my plate and lay down as quickly as I could. 

Probably, knees didn't hurt then. 

I looked blankly, at the grey starlit sky, and listened to the slow music of water stream.

The tranquility patted me back to sleep.

to be continued.........

This is the second part of the five parts of the series "48 hours in Maoist captivity." This series is being written by author in close communication with Vamsi, Giridih PMRD fellow. The other parts of this series are in pipeline and would be updated as soon as they are finished. Please give your valuable feedback and post your queries, if any, in the comment boxes. Vamsi would be more than happy to answer it. Stay tuned for future posts! 


The experiences have been recounted and published objectively, and no one would be answerable to any subjective interpretation of this published piece.