Wednesday, June 11, 2014

48 hours in Maoist captivity (Part-III)

After abduction, Maoists took Vamsi and the three other government staffs (Chandradeo- Village Level Worker (VLW), Shambhu Pandey -Gram Rojgar Sevak (GRS), Maksood Ansari- Panchayat Secretary (PS)) from Nokania village to nearby forest that was denser than what Vamsi had expected. The leader of the Maoists, ML, had a detailed conversation with them all, at night. They didn't mistreat but remained friendly and treated abductees like their guests. The evening passed in conversations and they all spent the night under starlit sky to wake up on The Republic Day morning. Click Part I and Part II to read in details. 

Chandradeo, the Village Level Worker shook me awake from a deep, satisfying and dreamless sleep. The sky was clear and blue except in the east where a small patch of orange cloud hid the rising sun. Occasionally, with a few seconds break, cuckoos cooed in their high pitch voices and other birds too joined the chatter. Awake with a blank mind, I felt the pricks of the prickly blanket against the back of my hand and heard the rustling of leaves whenever cold wind blew. Had it been summer, this would have qualified as a perfect day but for winter, this was a depressing one. It was The Republic Day today. I imagined the Collector, dressed in bandhgalla unfurling tricolour at Collectorate, like previous year. What more unsuitable time would it have been for abduction? With The Republic Day protocols as priority, I assumed, our case would have taken a back seat.

I sat up, and found that an extra black blanket covered me.

‘ML himself covered us up with that blanket’ VLW said.  I swivelled my head to survey the activities.  With M1 (Maoist who first came to the camp) and MM (Maoist with a big mustache) near, I could see some of them. Few cadres were brushing their teeth with small twigs of tree.  It showed 7:30 in VLW’s watch. My eyes located ML, the leader, who was returning back from the inside forest.

“So, you woke up, sir.” ML said smilingly.
I smiled in reply.
He came close and asked “Do you want to go to toilet?”
From his trousers’ right pocket, he took out a few plastic yellow sachets, made up of thick plastics, like the ones used to contain refined oils. He handed one to each of us and asked us to keep it ‘for future use’. We were supposed to fill the sachets with water at the stream and then choose a place in woods, a bit farther in other direction to our place of stay. One of their cadres was to accompany us to the new morning journey to guide and guard us.

“Not now. May be... after some time.” I told him. I and the staffs walked over to the stream. M1 handed over a twig to me. I crushed one end of the twig and made a nice brush with fine bristles. For the first time, I brushed with a twig of Sal tree. The leader came and stood near me. I discovered his interest in me had grown overnight probably because I worked at the district level or I asked too many questions. He said “We have two choices for you for breakfast. One is the last night’s boiled rice and other the beaten rice with Sattu.” He paused for a moment. “Your friends are eating the latter.”

I wanted to eat whatever other staffs would eat, not out of a sense of companionship then, but to meet the same fate they might meet.
He looked at my bulging jeans pocket and asked “What is in the pocket, sir?”
“Nothing. It’s just my wallet.”
“It seems you walk with big sum of money.” His voice mixed with mild laughter.

“No Dada. Just a pile of waste papers.”
He asked me to show my Identity card. I picked out my Identity card among various papers which had outgrown their usefulness. I explained, “I have been recruited by CAPART.”  
He nodded and asked, “How much is the salary, sir?”
I was dreading this moment for too long. I tried to avoid it by saying that I get it from Delhi but he remained focused on the number. “How much is the salary, sir?”
My reply earned a sarcastic smile from him. He spoke something that almost choked my throat with fear.

“Sir, you’re from CIA. Aren’t you, Sir? And you go every six months to Delhi to send reports to PM office, to tell them where the CRPFs need to be deployed?”
A shudder of fright passed, numbed my mind and I couldn’t sense anything except the heavily pounding heart. My new suspected identity was a reason big enough not to let me return alive. My face turned pale and I explained him again, like last night “Dada, we have nothing to do with you people. We work for areas that are underdeveloped. And we don’t send any reports to PM office. Our work is limited to the District Administration only.”

“Sir, you must be knowing how America had traced and killed Osama bin Laden, don’t you?”
I shook my head, “No.”
“They planted doctors in that area to run immunization programs. In the garb of immunization programs, the doctors used to send the DNA sample report of each and every person to USA. Through one DNA link of one of Osama’s relatives, CIA got to know Osama’s hideout. And after then, well, you know everything.” This piece of information startled me and a chilling fear ran through my spine. The warmth I felt from them at night evaporated in a moment.

“Don’t worry too much, Sir. Clean your tongue and join your friends for breakfast. They are waiting for you.” He tried to ease the tension.
After washing my face when I came back to VLW, I saw leader talking to a person. The leader called all four of us, one by one and asked our name and designation. It was to go to Media.

They used steel plates to eat and carried a few extra with them to welcome any visitor. They handled the plates carefully, not to make any sound. ML stopped me when I started eating dry chuda (beaten rice) with Sattu.  ML asked M3, a cadre, to wet the chuda and mix it with sattu. M3 washed his hands three times, to my surprise, wet the chuda and mixed it with sattu. He added some salt and chilly to make the dish palatable. It was nice; in fact great.  

After breakfast, we folded and put the blankets at one side. Then, I saw a Maoist (hereafter would be termed M4) who I fadely remembered having seen earlier in one of the camps we organized in village. He spoke to leader for some time, and then leader briefed us all on today’s movement. The mornings favour CRPFs for combat and for sure Maoists change their places after night. While we prepared to leave and the cadres ensured that every bit of waste food, wrapper, plastic covers were picked up or were buried or hidden from top. After they were sure they didn’t leave any traces of evidence for police to guess anything, we moved.

His doubts on me being a CIA spy haunted me. I pondered again if I had explained my work clearly to him. The movement distracted me for a moment from these thoughts and my awareness grew to grasp the present. Some things shall be left to fate, I thought.

M4 led the way and rest followed. He walked briskly and climbed up the steep paths quickly. He seemed acquainted to this place. Probably, he resided in some downhill village. I tried to recollect, in which village had I seen him. I couldn’t dare to ask and guess his place. M1 ensured there was always some cadre separating us.

After walking for 15-20 minutes, we reached a place full of tall Mohnar trees. Tall trees with big leaves, they reminded me of SHG women of my village who prepared plates with it and sold it on the haat day, the local market day. The place was a comparably flat place on slope of a hill and two big hills lay opposite to that location. A chain of hills seemed to join them. It seemed a strategic hideout. The place on the hill was geographically advantageous and no one would be able to see us except with binoculars from the front hills, which to my knowledge was part of deeper forest and hence out of reach of CRPFs.

Even when the sun was clearly out, light was scarce there. Only a few daylights spots appeared like islands, in ocean of shadows of Mohnar. Cool wind blowing unrestricted produced rustling sounds and movement of the cadres cracked the dry leaves fallen here and there.

Everyone chose a stone to sit on. ML asked M1 and MM to prepare bed for us. They cleaned the place and laid down a cushion of leaves. It was then covered with a thin bed-sheet and big stones were put at one end of the bed to be used as pillows. They making pillow for us reflected their tenderness, and for a moment I felt they won’t harm us.

While arranging the beds, MM began to talk to us. He hadn’t gotten a chance since we had arrived.
“You know, Sir. Once they (Police) caught us for going triple loading in village. They took us to Police Station and beat us severely. You tell me sir, is it wrong to ride triple loading in village where there are no cars running? And the chance of you hitting others is quite low. ” he went on, “In district, I have seen people riding triple loading and police doing nothing to them.”

He continued. “Now, you see, I have this gun. This gun has given me everything I had wished for. People now request me to come and give judgments in their disputes in village. I get a lot of respect in village. You see these guns, sir. We have killed policemen to get these weapons.”

“Never ever I felt this free and strong.” He paused after saying this. In the silence I pondered about his hardships and the strength he spoke about. There are stories behind, some small some big, that turn people into Maoists, he meant. Should I debate that this is not a way to live in democracy or should I tell him a famous quote I had read somewhere about democracy “The ballot is powerful than bullet” ? I couldn't muster the rational thoughts that would try to fix the body of hollow promises, he feels democracy has been to them.

The four beds had been arranged by then and MM indicated us to take our beds. We lay down on our beds. I remembered a speech by Jairam Ramesh, I had seen on youtube, “If you ask a tribal, what is the worst nightmare he had seen ever date, he’d answer “a forest guard guarding our forests.” ”

The stream of thoughts broke with MM asking me something.
“Sir, you get a good salary. Must be having a home in some city, eh?” MM asked.
“Bhai (Brother)...I don’t have savings worth even one lakh.” I said with a smile.
“Sir, you’re a contractual employee. Where you’d go after completion of the term? It’ll take 5-6 years for you to get a job again.” MM said. Probably he wanted to show, he is fighting for me too, I couldn’t hide my smile.

M1, who stared at the two opposite mountains, added. “See, the government of India doesn’t want us to develop. Sir, they are only recruiting policemen to torture public. And see, how we are treating you?”
“You know, if they catch us, they will torture us brutally to impotency. And if they catch a female, they torture her in unthinkable manners that is beyond your imaginination. You know, what they did in Chattishgarh with a female teacher. ” He referred to Soni Sori.
We nodded.

“See, we’ve been treating you like our brothers. But people don’t know that we have been fighting for our brothers. We are not cruel. We are fighting for an ideology, sir.” he added.
As ML approached us, they turned silent. ML searched his American Tourister bag and took out three books.  The names were “इतिहास में भारत, (India in History)  इतिहास में विश्व, (The world in History)  क्रांतिकारी जनता समिति (Revolutionary Public Committee)”

The books were printed in pure official Hindi language, and being poor at Hindi I had trouble understanding them. I took इतिहास में भारत (India in History) and returned it to him soon. Despite my poor command at Hindi, I tried and gave up, due to the cold wind blowing. GRS and PS slept quite early.

It would have been 11:00 A.M. I wanted to talk to my staffs as they would be brazenly open about their issues now. I threw a bait to GRS “Maksood, how was that officer, Ram Vilas (name changed)?” Everyone became alert at this and Maksood sat up. I saw leader listening to our conversation.

“That officer treated us like animals. He took money every month for his seniors and whenever DC would come, he would ask us to bring our bikes to take his team. ”

If we refused giving him money, he’ll threaten us, “Don’t try to play smart or your schemes will be thoroughly checked.” So from our meagre salary we’d have to give him money.

Meanwhile Shambhu Pandit, MGNREGS GRS said, “You know, sir. BPO (Block Program Officer) behaves as if he is a collector. He has forgotten he’s a contractual employee like me. He considers himself a permanent employee. Last month, he deducted 1000 Rs from my salary as fine.”

Then VLW said to me, “Sir, I am the only person in this Block office who challenged actions of Ram Vilas Ji. You know, I am doing PhD and he is a graduate. These days people get into JPSC by money. You must have read about the JPSC scam in newspapers. I never do wrong things, sir. I always question- ”, he went on. “Sir, once I prepared a list of farmers. I thought training on best practices on agriculture would help them. Let’s give them a chance to learn. And when I took that list to Ram Vilas Ji, he said “So smart, aren’t you? Don’t you dare to be a political leader.” I informed this to Secretary of Agriculture Department of Jharkhand and Ram Vilas Ji received scolding from him. After that incident Ram Vilas Ji treats me with respect. “Chandradeo Ji, now he calls me.”" he said in a voice mixed with pride.

“Sir, you know whenever a senior District official comes to Block Office, he collects 20-25 thousand. And officers like Ram Vilas cut money from our salary to pay him.” Maksood elaborated with details.

The leader smiled ‘See, this is what your government has been doing all the time with the people who serve it on field.’

ML said to VLW “Chandradeo, What will happen if Vamsi speaks this matter to DC?”
I remained silent. I didn’t have any answer. I knew these statements were probably exaggerated, very difficult to verify and none among the three would come to testify this against that
Block Official, even if a complaint was lodged against him.
“Dada, I am feeling sleepy.” I said.
“Yes, I guess everyone wants to sleep.” ML said.
We all slept for three hours and when I woke up it was around 14:00. It became too cold to sleep and wind blew quite fast. Leader asked me “Sir, You are from Andhra, eh? Must be feeling very cold, eh?”

He took out a full sleeve light green shirt from his bag.  M1 gave me a muffler. I wore the shirt, tied the muffler around head and neck and fell asleep. When I woke up at around 16:30, I saw VLW and GRS talking to each other. I joined them and when almost few minutes later, I realized that PS was not nearby, I inquired his whereabouts.

TV media report of abduction (Source: IBN 7)

“He has gone to phone his home. He has also taken our SIM cards.” VLW said.
“Why he didn’t take my SIM card?” I asked.
VLW said “You were asleep, sir. The leader asked not to disturb you”
My mood went foul. Probably, my mother could have known I am safe.
We hadn’t had lunch till then and felt hungry. M1 brought a packet of namkeen sweets, one for each of us. MM turned Mohnar leaves into plates by folding them and then handed one to each of us.

M1 said “The news of abduction has come on Radio.” We three gave blank expressions probably because we knew this would happen sooner or later. 

I asked M1 “Dada, how did you know we were there in Nokania village?” I just wanted to know if the vehicle I travelled with has been the reason to mark our presence there.
M1 said, “Villagers had this information quite before.”
“So, vehicle was not the reason for the information?”I asked.
“No, sir.”
“Why didn’t you burn our vehicle?” I asked.
“We’d have burnt it had it been our target. It was not part of our plan. We can’t afford to distract, sir. If we work on things apart from the target, we have chances of getting caught. So, that was a government vehicle?” M1 said.
“Yes. Acha Dada. Why do you people burn vehicles? ” I asked.
“Suppose we have declared a bandh and still industries and Government officials are disobeying our orders. If we don’t take any action, people might think our words don’t carry weight and nobody cares to follow our orders.” M1 said with quite a serious face, filled with lines.
“Dada, why did you say that after establishing a police camp in Khukra, you all are going to assemble Gram Sabhas in village? Are you people against Gram Sabha?” I tried to dispel another doubt.
“No, the issue is that Government doesn’t take GramSabha seriously. It is assembled to meet your agenda and people’s voices aren’t taken account of. Almost everything is pre-decided and then it’s merely eyewash.” M1 replied and asked.  “Sir, how many people will get their pensions sanctioned?”
“Around 400 to 500 people will get pensions.”  I replied.
“No sir, not more than 30-40 people will get pensions. You may do your work honestly but the person who has the authority to sanction pensions will not sanction.” M1 said.

Silence was a better option than voicing my hope in face of a dismayed experience. I chose to remain silent.

“After I spent this much time with people, I don’t think you people are to be scared of.” I felt and then said.

“Sir, we know that media is the agent and writes in favour of government. Media has to take advertisements from Government. And there are many more things, sir. Leave it. You tell your friends that we are also humans. Even when we know someone is working as a Police informer, we first warn him. If he doesn’t stop working for Police we then beat him. The person, even then, doesn’t stop working for them, we kill them. ” M1 said with a grave face.

By then, Maksood, PS, returned with leader walking by his side. He said to GRS “They took me around 5-6 kilometres away from here and then I dialled home. I called my wife and said I am safe and there is no need to worry. They will leave me in two to three days.”
“What about our homes?” Chandadeo, VLW spoke for himself and Shambhu Pandit, GRS.
“The leader himself spoke as one of the abductees and said “Everything is fine here and it’ll take one or two more days.” That’s it. He said the same things to your relatives too. ”Maksood said. “It seems they won’t leave us for one or two days. ”
In Police control room, the phone was recorded by police and they had noticed that there was no call from my SIM.

My evenings have a deep spiritual connection with tea. My heart longed for it. And just after few moments, the leader said “Let’s have tea.” It was probably telepathy with tea and I felt happy. M1 collected the dry Mohnar leaves around and put it on fire in a temporary stove created with stones. The milk turned sour and I felt the spiritual connection with tea is not strong enough.
Disappointed with the tea and discomfited by the back pain, I lay back on my bed and we (I, VLW, GRS and PS) discussed when Maoists will leave us. Slowly, I fell asleep again amid the discussions.

When they woke us up, I was shivering with cold. I gargled with water from a plastic bottle and took my seat.  A steel plate filled with rice, vegetable curry and dal had been put for me. It was still warm. Probably, it had come from one of the nearby villages. The food was delicious after a long journey of hunger. With a content soul, I had difficulty rising from my seat. I woke up and went to wash my plate. While I was washing my plates, I saw leader coming and bending near me. He lifted one end of my blanked that was about to get wet from water. After I washed, I took the other end of the blanket and threw it on left shoulder. That was a tender moment.

I handed over the plate to MM and went back to my place. Amid some flashes of torchlight, I could barely see anything but it seemed that the cadres have taken their pre decided strategic locations. The young ones on the outermost ring, with the senior ones in the inner circle.

I lay back on my bed, covered myself with the blanket and wrapped my head completely with muffler except my eyes. Tall Mohnar stood in my way and I couldn’t see any stars. 

The fear, in those moments, had subsided. I recalled the questions I had to ask them tomorrow.

Usually, once in a day my mother calls me up. She probably would have called Rajesh (my friend) or Jechonia (the other fellow) to know why my phone remained switched off and where I was. 

I thought about her requests to visit home soon. 

It had been long since I visited home.

My gaze at Mohnar turned dark and I didn’t realize when I fell asleep, again.
to be continued.........

This is the third 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! 


These experiences have been recounted and published objectively. No one would be answerable to any subjective interpretation of this published piece. 

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