Tuesday, January 20, 2015

48 hours in Maoist Captivity (Part V)

Vamsi was abducted on the eve before The Republic Day from a village pension scheme camp, Giridih District Administration had organized, in the remote Nokania village. The Maoists held captive Vamsi, Maksood (Panchayat Secretary), Chandradeo (Village Level Worker) and Shambhu Pandit (Gram Rojgar Sevak) in the nearby hills of Parasnath. The previous four parts of the series unraveled the Maoist lifestyles, their way of operating and their take on various issues. In the previous fourth part, the leader of the Maoists is answering several questions posed by Vamsi. This part will continue with that conversation.
You can read the other parts by clicking on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Part 5

While ML, the leader of the Maoist group, rubbed tobacco and kept pondering on Saxena Saab, the erstwhile Commissioner famous as Birhore Saxena in the tribal areas of Giridih, I collected some questions from my memory that could find reliable answers from ML. One of few past incidents that piqued my curiosity was Deori Beluaghati incident.
So, I asked, “Dada, What is the truth behind Deori-Beluaghati incident?”
His lost eyes turned to me and his calm face wore lines of irritation, within a moment ‘Beluaghati- Sir, you know, it was like our home- Home for all us revolutionaries.’
His pitch rose with mild anger in his voice, “Saala!! That bloody Babulal (Referring to erstwhile Chief Minister of Jharkhand) distributed weapons among his goons to kill us. Some bastards from Beluaghati joined hands with his followers and killed two innocent young boys of the village and claimed that they had killed Maoists.“
He continued, “Sir, It put our heads on fire and everybody in the leadership became angry with this incident and decided to avenge the killings. And after days of our efforts, one day we caught them holding a group meeting. All of them, we attacked and killed all of them. But after that incident everyone in our group became suspicious of the villagers’ action. We could no longer trust villagers and decided to leave the village for good.”
Without any delay and apprehension, I asked, “Then, why only Muslims were killed?”
ML, said in a decent voice, “Sir, we have nothing to do with religion. In fact, we don’t believe in religion. After they killed the innocent boys, we would’ve killed them even though they were Hindus or Christians.” He asked, casually, “Are you a Muslim?”
No Dada! I too don’t believe in religion. Actually, I can call myself an agnostic, one who doesn’t know if God exist or not.”

With the series of questions in queue, I wanted to know how they treat NGOs. I asked “Dada, I and few friends run an NGO to educate poor children. Would you people mind if our NGO comes here and works to educate the poor?”

Honestly confessing, then it was also an attempt to present my works in relation to commitment to serve the poor. I thought that would grant me some concession, may be the last person to get killed or grant of a final wish as shown in movies, if they decide to kill us.

No problem, sir. Absolutely no problem at all. Anyone can come and work here. But if in disguise of working for the poor, they work for police – then we have a problem. A serious one. And we won’t leave them then. What do you think about that Chatro school master and those SPOs (Special Police Officers) – Will we spare them?”
His way of speaking intimidated me. A blanket of silence fell. I cleared my throat and thought about other things I wanted to ask. I had read in the local newspapers about their opinions on those two storey buildings and their warnings to explode them. 

“Dada, what do you think about the two storey panchayat buildings being built in these interior areas by Jharkhand Government? Do you really think they are to be used against the extremists?”
Exactly, sir. It is the main reason. Otherwise, what is the need of these many rooms in a village where no staff member is willing to stay? I think 4 rooms are more than enough for a panchayat to carry out its work. And ten lakhs are more than enough to build a ground floor with 4 rooms. Why does the government spend 25 lakhs on a building with 40% utility – that too with convergence fund from BRGF which is meant to fulfil the basic needs in the backward areas? The remaining fund could have been used in the developmental activities.”
He added with a little gap “Only buildings are being built; And that too, not for people. That, only to get the percentage from the contractors.”
I hummed and apparently agreed with him. “You are right, dada!”
There was a winner smile on ML’s face probably as a sign of successfully showing that the government officials were corrupt.
Suddenly, a lightning of stupidity struck me and I said. “Dada! I heard different and opposite views about your people and your movement from two Mukhiyas. One said that you worked for people...”
Which Mukhiya? Which Mukhiya?” ML suddenly interrupted me and looked worried.
I became fearful at the prospect of putting someone’s life in danger. There were hundreds of things to talk about, why did I blurt out this word ‘Mukhiya’? Surprisingly, I remembered that Mukhiyas had rejected the boycott call and had contested the elections. A flash flood of worrisome thoughts appeared in one hundredth second and I quickly organized the statements to be spoken about Mukhiyas who had spoken good about Maoists.
I started with damage control, “Dada!” “Dada, Badwara Mukhiya once told me that you never hurt people unnecessarily and that too you help the poor in building houses and ponds etc. Also he said that you don’t collect any levy from the MGNREGA beneficiaries, but some people from Deori block said that they fear to keep the sign boards with the estimate cost– MCC collect levy from the MGNREGS. What is the truth? Do you people really collect levy from MGNREGS wells, roads and ponds?”
Ha Ha Ha,” ML laughed and added, “Much air needs to cleared. Sir, the signboard-practice was promoted by our party to enhance the transparency in the government schemes. It was started by us in Chhattisgarh. Then how can we use the same as a means to collect the levy? False allegations!”
Hmm...Also, how much can we get from small schemes of wells and ponds? We target big contractors for levy. If not, anyways banks are available if we fall short of funds – we will loot them” ML said with a mischievous smile.
M1, the first Maoist we had seen in the camp, had said that the movement had grown over the years and its reach had broadened. I thought of verifying it from the leader.
Dada. Do you feel that your movement has grown over the decades?”
The leader ML, brandished his AK47 and with pride in his voice, said “Absolutely Sir! Earlier we used to have rural handmade guns, but now we hold AK47. We have all kinds of weapons that police do have now. We have also increased our bases too.”
This particular statement from ML convinced me that he was holding a senior position in the party.
I had read media reports of China and other enemy countries were supplying arms to Maoists. I wanted to know the truth behind it. “Dada, where do you get arms and ammunition from? Do you get it from foreign countries?”
No. No, sir. We are not such strong to import weapons from other countries. In fact, we don’t need to. Your Government invests more in defence and police matters than health and education. Government itself has armed its infantry with advanced weapons. We just loot them. Any weapon you see in our hands is looted by the police.” He said this with ease and smile, brushing his AK47 gently with his left hand.
Till this time, I was listening to him criticizing Government policies. I had always believed that criticizing actions are very easy than actually doing something on ground. I wanted to see if they had any vision. What kind of things they would do if they achieve their dream of getting control over the country? Have they done anything for the areas they call liberated areas? The percentage cut, termed as PCs, in contracts and schemes of government circles is no secret but why they aren’t able to stop the distribution of cuts in the panchayats and other areas where they are in dominance?
After two days, I assumed that we had become enough familiar to ask questions in a journalistic way. I asked, “Ok Dada. You might have your reasons to oppose the works taken by the Government. I wanted to know if you had taken any developmental works in the villages that are in your fold.”
Of course, sir. We take development works. If we don’t, what is the rationale behind our existence?”
I quickly asked, “In this Parasnath area, have you done any such work?”
It seemed he was a bit happy on finding the opportunity of speaking about their benevolent actions.
For irrigation, we have constructed the Ramsagar baandh, (Ramsagar Dam) Pipradih Nala, (Pipradih Channel/ Culvert) and drinking water wells in Chatro village. To improve the status of education, we deploy teachers in schools - not here, but in Palamu district. But Police takes them away and tortures them to tell about our hideouts. So, we have consistently failed in deploying teachers.”
Talk about health, we organize medical camps for treatment of poor villagers. We get doctors from Kolkata and Delhi even. Also, we give money to the quacks (or raw medical Practitioners/Bengali Doctors as mentioned in “Poor economics”, a book by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo) to treat the poor patients. If there arises any emergency need or special case, we also send poor to private hospitals outside.”
Jechonia and I had been to Ramsagar baandh, (Ramsagar Dam) and Pipradih Nala, (Pipradih Channel/ Culvert) several times. They were magnificent structures of great utility for the villagers living in remotest and most difficult parts of the district. Images of those structures flashed through my mind and I felt good about seeing the structures before. I realized that their display of good intent through this work would have won the hearts of villagers. 
In any village where Maoists were present, I felt a sense of unity and solidarity among the villagers. Any such village was different and after several visits, it was not difficult to guess whether there was a presence of Maoists or not. In those villages, people didn’t run to the officers coming out of government vehicles. There was indifference in those areas and people seemed confident.

Picture I – Pipradih Naala from Mojh Mahato Jheel to the Pipradih village in the deep forests of the Parasnath Hills

Picture II – Vamsi at the Moj Mahato Jheel on the top of the Parasnath hills in my visit to Pipradih Naala

                        Picture III – Raamsagar Baandh
Dada, do you have your presence in the urban areas?”
You must have heard of Anuradha Ghandy!”
Yes Dada.”
She was an example and also we have many more now.”
I asked, “Dada, is there any way you keep eyes on government schemes and activities?”
Yes Sir. In every village under our fold, we form the (Revolutionary Farmers and Revolutionary People) Committee and responsibility is assigned to every member of the committee to monitor and report us about the proper functioning and irregularities in government schemes. Even in these villages, we have our committees and they report me everything- whether a particular teacher has not been coming to school every day or ANM (Panchayat Health Worker) is performing her duty or not.”
I wanted to understand the functioning of these committees in detail, but just then M1 appeared and requested all of us to take breakfast. I lost that thread of conversation amid several questions popping up in mind and breakfast and only remembered it after I got back to district safely.
Sadly, this marked an end to the set of long insightful conversations. The events that followed thereafter were too tense to afford the mind to go elsewhere than present.
While M1 and MM were getting the breakfast from a little far away, I stood very close to ML and continued the conversation.
Dada, as in Government, targets to the state/districts/blocks are given, do you also get the targets to work on?”
Same, Sir. Same. We are also given the targets. We are ordered to take up construction of wells, ponds, hand pumps and so on in the villages otherwise why would people come with us? The party will simply say – Babu, go and do the work in the villages. Don’t you get the food in home that you come here into the party? Get to your foot and go work for the people.”
And, what if you don’t follow the orders?” I asked munching the puffed rice and sattu given to us as breakfast.

ML said with one handful of puffed rice in his hand, “Same. Show cause, explanations. But if there is a valid reason, the order is not binding. For example, if there is frequent police movement in the villages or we don’t have enough force to carry out any operation or show our strength at some place, we can state the same as reasons for non-compliance of orders. Either I can reject the order outright or I can reply them to send more force for the same. The Party will not pressurize us unnecessarily without knowing the realities.”
After having breakfast, we collected our mattresses and blankets and started the journey up the hill again. It was according to their protocol to change place daily.
We were being led by MW (Maoist of white complexion), who identified the new place for each day and lead us briskly as if he was too familiar with the hills. My memory tried hard to recollect where I had seen him before, but I couldn’t fathom. Probably, down the village during my visit or in one of the camps we had organized. It is not normal to find someone of fair complexion in tribal areas where people generally have dark complexion. MW is a typical villager as his slang and dressing style suggested. Never in olive green dress, he walked with a towel draped around his waist.
During the daily movement, I realized that we never moved in downward direction. Always the next place was on higher altitude than the previous one. And all hideouts or places of stay were only a few hundred meters away from the previous places.
I got tired quickly and requested for a minute rest. After a journey of twenty minutes, we halted at the new place for today.
It would have been around 10:30 A.M. The sun had come up and was mildly visible behind the winter clouds. But even then, the new place had more sunlight than all previous places. We four, quickly chose rocks to sit and bathe in sun.

The media circulation that was halted on The Republic Day resumed on 27th January. Early morning, my cousin read a news article published about the abduction of Mr. Jay Vardhan by Maoists in Jharkhand. The name, wrongly published didn’t grasp her attention but very soon her father, my uncle, got information by a local news reporter over phone that it is Vamsi who has been abducted. Very soon, the news spread among other members of the family except my parents and everyone silently looked at the TV screen. It appeared as if a lightning of panic had stricken.
In the Giridih district headquarters, pressure was put by the state government to start the rescue operation despite reluctance of SP (Superintendent of Police), as he was well aware of the local conditions and the danger the rescue operation would push the hostages into. He expected some news from media sources and thus wanted to wait for a day. But by then, State DGP (Director General of Police), IG (Inspector General) and DIG (Deputy Inspector General) had landed in the district to supervise the rescue operation. To impart momentum to the rescue operation, extra CRPF companies were sought from other parts of the state and very shortly, the CRPFs surrounded the Parasnath hills from all sides.
Here, ML ordered M1 to stay with the three panchayat staffs while I sat few meters away from them. M1, when asked me to join the three staffs was stopped by ML “Let him sit wherever he wishes.” But I joined them.
ML started the conversation, “Sir, if you get a chance, please read Darshan Digdarshan by Rahul Sankrityan. I think everyone should read it once.”

It wasn’t still clear when we would be released. We were told to be mentally prepared to stay two more days. I hadn’t been able to speak to my family members since I was abducted. I became anxious whenever I remembered my mother. I felt sad at the thought of being heavily affected from the news.

Breaking my train of thoughts, VLW spoke to ML, “Dada, when will be your purpose of this abduction fulfilled?”
One or two days”, ML replied casually.
VLW asked, “How likely it is that your purpose of the abduction would be fulfilled?”
110%”, the leader ML replied confidently as if he was quite near to his goal.
ML walked few meters to the gathering of his members. I was thirsty and thus moved to search his bag which had a water bottle. I drank almost half of the water and took out a book that was core Maoist literature, their constant intellectual companion of inspiration.

ML came to me and asked, “Sir, if you speak to your home in Telugu, how I could know what you are talking to your parents?”
His suspicions were reasonable. I said, “I will speak to my friend who can understand Hindi”.
ML said, “Ok, then. You will speak to him in evening, possibly around 4:00 P.M. Ok, one thing. Can we send an email from your mobile?”
Yes dada. We can.” I said, being impressed that ML was tech-savvy too.
Do we have to insert your SIM card to send an email?” he asked.
No. If you have some balance in your SIM, we can send from that SIM too”.
Rs.17/-” ML replied.
That is enough. We can send” I replied.

M1 and ML moved few meters away to talk something in private and MM took the responsibility of guarding us. It was exactly 11:00AM when M1 came and offered us our 2nd round of breakfast (Flattened rice, sattu, salt and jaggery). We were happy but also a bit surprised at getting the breakfast twice. Nice gesture.

This time GRS, Shambhu Pandit actively served us the breakfast. I think he mistook it as some treat. Despite my warning, he served me sattu in heavy quantity.
Hey, don’t waste the food.” M1 warned him.
In these two days, I began loving the taste of sattu mixed with salt and flattened rice. PS and GRS took it like treat and ate up a significant amount of food to build up enough pressure to consider relieving so soon.

After breakfast, we walked few meters away to stay in sun. Chandradeo, VLW and Maksood, PS found a nice flat place over a big rock and spread a blanket to lie down. GRS and I sat on a big rock reading the materials we were handed over to have a look at. M1 took a higher vantage point to see everything and MM sat a little away from my back.

I wanted to talk with GRS about the prospects of our release and the demands that were sent to the Government through media, but I didn’t find it appropriate with M1 and MM enough proximate to listen to our conversations. Silently, I flipped the pages of the book Revolutionary Public Committee- Policy Program.

Thinking they would not release us for two days I didn’t focus on the contents of the book and looked here and there to engage attention. I heard sound of grass being uprooted by cow and the sound of Axe hitting wood. Probably, there were people from village down the hill who had come to collect firewood. Soon, ML came and instructed us not to make any noise as people from the villages came to the forest for firewood. “Read books or sleep calmly.”
I tried hard to concentrate on the book and had merely turned two to three pages. Chandradeo’s watch showed 12:30PM when ML came and told us “I have received reports from the village. But I am sad that there is negative feedback about the working style of the GRS and PS”.

VLW asked “What about me?”
ML said “Good feedback”.
Chandradeo seemed happy at knowing that his honesty was valued, if not in government then at least among public. I looked at GRS and PS. Frozen with fear, their faces turned pale. Their limbs started shivering.
Dada! We have done no wrong. We don’t have any power to harass the public. We just follow orders. Please forgive us Dada.” They said in their quivering voices.
ML questioned, “Wells are allocated in the Tuyyo proper village only but not in the other villages. Why?”
GRS replied in his shaking voice, “Dada! District sanctions the wells. Also the villagers do not construct the wells. Please excuse us, Dada.”
ML tried to comfort them, “No. Don’t worry. No Problem. I am just stating the feedback I have received from village”

Then, ML took M1 and left the place. MM took the vantage position of M1. I became utterly confused at ML leaving without saying anything about me.
What about feedback on me? Is that positive or negative? Does he still believe I am a CIA agent? And what will happen with these two? Will he shoot them dead? No, it should not happen.

I resolved that I will try to negotiate with them and if situation would worsen, I will come forward to save my staff. Thoughts were rushing like high speed bullet train in my mind. Suddenly, a sound of explosion caught our attention.


It was exactly 1’O Clock afternoon.
A mild cacophony of birds' chirp followed the loud sound of explosion coming far away from the south-west alerted all of us and I asked MM about it.
Might be some hunter.” He replied with a poker face.
But as the sound arrived, all Maoists started packing their bags and suddenly every face appeared tense. Everyone was highly conscious of the happenings.
ML suddenly rushed to us and spoke in an apologetic voice, “Sorry Friends. We are extremely sorry to put you in trouble. We are also sorry for making your family members distressed. Please be active as we have to shift the place immediately. Take your all belongings.”

I became sure that the explosion had a relation with them. Either they had carried out the explosion or Police had started the rescue operation.
What a dangerous situation? What if the firing takes place between the police and the Maoists? Both possessed technologically advanced weapons and would protect themselves, but what about us? I cursed the situation heavily. All the scenes of Hindi and Telugu movies where people die accidentally by a bullet flashed in front of my eyes and I foresaw me and my fellow abductees wet with blood, mistakenly hit in crossfire.

To add on to our nervousness MM said, “If the police comes, don’t run towards them thinking they will save you. Bullet can hit you in between”.
This scared us deeply. Did he just think of shooting us or he is really concerned about our lives? Was the encounter inevitable? And what we should do?
Simply raise our hands like they do in the movies or hide behind any rock so that the bullet doesn’t hit us.

At home, when my uncle silently revealed the news to my mother, she grew restless. My father was in bank at the block headquarters. He was at the counter when the Police Inspector of local police station called him over phone. Soon, he rushed towards the police station. The SI (Sub Inspector) revealed the incident to my father and arranged a call with the district police headquarters where my district SP spoke to my father and assured all the possible help from the district police to get his son safe back. The SI assured my father that Maoists generally kill the police but not the civil administration officials. In a bewildered state, he left the police station and suddenly found himself surrounded by a group of newspaper reporters for an interview. He requested them to leave and started his bike towards home.

Both my parents were confused over the news and could not believe their ears. By that time, several villagers gathered at my home. Everyone gave their own foresight on the various possibilities of the abduction by Maoists.

Suddenly someone in the group gathered there said “Naxalites? They are very dangerous. They will not leave him. We should not hope for his safe return.” One old man said, “Na. They don’t harm good people. They wouldn’t hurt him.”

Four Electronic media vehicles with antenna arrived at my home. Both my parents didn’t know enough about Maoists. They were just sure in their hearts that nothing bad would happen to their son. My mother bursting into tears called up my sister to know the situation.

There in Hyderabad, my sister and brother-in-law skipped their offices and went to meet Prof. Hargopal with my friend. “I assure you that your friend will be left free unhurt. I can even give you in writing but it may take some time. A day or two, to get him back. I might have addressed that fellow in one of my lectures at TISS Hyderabad or TISS Mumbai. Don’t worry and just wait till 4:00 PM today. I have some of my students working in AIR (All India Radio), Delhi. I will ask them to appeal the Maoists for safe release of the hostages. Maoists do actually listen to AIR regularly.”

But what could console a mother’s heart. I got to know later that she was tearful till the news of release reached her. My sister was unable to explain her and asked my friend to console them. He told my mother that he spoke to me yesterday. He told her that Vamsi went to a village in the forest but lost his way while returning.

They all left the university with a hope on the professor’s words. Meanwhile he also tried getting the update over Internet. He got contact details of a journalist from internet and tried to get some updates.

Again, ML walked up to me and in a very sentimental voice said to me, “I am really sorry sir for putting you in such a situation. But, we take the responsibility of sending you back home safely. We will make sure that don’t get hurt. If a bullet comes in your way, I will make sure that that bullet hits me but not you. Death cannot reach you without passing me”.

The statement touched me deeply. And in that moment I believed that even if I was a CIA agent, he wouldn’t have killed me. There is something strange about human behaviour, I realized that day. From the person who you consider being strong and dangerous and that person would have killed you simply, even a normal caring statement can move you to tears. This statement overwhelmed me and I tried to control my tears. I was convinced that he believed in the ideology otherwise how come a person gets ready to sacrifice his life for another person?

He continued “What can we do, sir? We have to work in accordance to our ideology. After all, it is the only reason we have got to live and fight for”.


Suddenly, we heard five to six more blasts in the same south-west direction. It was exactly 1:15 P.M.
There were no doubts that police had begun the rescue operation. The 46 hours tension free environment in no time filled with tension and volatility. Why did they come? Do they really think that they can rescue the abductees safely in this difficult terrain? What they are playing with our lives? I wasn’t able to believe that they will be able to recognise me or the other three. Wouldn’t they mistake us as Naxalites and fire at us? I wished they would have waited one more day until the news and demand came out.

Hearing this sound, ML swiftly left us and gathered around six comrades making a circle and after a minute or two returned back. Maksood, PS, who had had the pleasure of heavy meal, said, “Dada. I am feeling uneasy in the stomach. I want to relieve.”

ML handed over his own plastic cover, to be used as water container for toilet purpose, and asked one fellow Maoist to fill it with water. ML asked Maksood not to go too far and a Maoist guarded him.

As PS returned, GRS took his turn to relieve. MM offered PS a toilet soap to wash his hand. I didn’t know whether to laugh or get irritated at this situation of Maksood (PS) and Shambhu (GRS) going to defecate when police had launched the rescue operation and there could be a barrage of bullets coming at us any time.

At home, news of the rescue operation reached along with the breaking news of the blasts and suddenly the situation at home turned inexplicable. My mother called my sister who herself was inconsolable. Anxiety spread all over.
At the district headquarters - everyone, except police, turned to be mere spectators. Mr. Lal felt tensed after receiving a call from SDM asking for a photo of mine. Jechonia, the other fellow was quick enough to crop one of the photos captured in the fields and sent the same to the SDM via mail. None could restrain themselves thinking if something bad had happened. They thought it was for identification of dead persons.

ML and his group rejoiced after the blasts and he came to us with small box full of sweets. “Sir, have stomach full. We don’t know whether we can provide you lunch or not. We are changing the place now.”
After two breakfasts, there wasn’t any space left in my stomach to eat anything, however, I took two sweets. But why were they providing sweets?
Where did they get sweets from? We are finished I thought. For a moment, I compared us to sacrificial goats which are fed before sacrifice. No, ML wouldn’t do this to us. I ate two milk-cakes thoughtfully and doubting if poison or any anaesthesia was mixed in the sweets. ML moved forward to distribute sweets among his comrades. But seeing everyone having sweets from the same box comforted me a bit.

M1 said, “Sir, please have sweets. We don’t know how far we may have to move. If the police come, we would keep fighting and two of our comrades will take you to other place.”
Meanwhile, the leader ML returned to us and said “Our purpose of this abduction is fulfilled. The sounds heard were not from a gun but from the blasts we made against the forces. Few Policemen have died and we have decided to leave you now.

Release was definitely great news. But it came with the bad news of death of policemen. “So one poor policeman died and you are celebrating that with joy?” Chandradeo (VLW) asked ML, fearlessly.
No Sir. It is not that police died and so we celebrate. We know that he too is a poor man. But, we are helpless, sir. If we don’t kill them, they will come after us and kill us.” ML said.

There was a brief pause. 

ML resumed, “We will leave you soon but with eyes blind folded”
I looked at Chandradeo’s watch. It was 1:30 P.M.
ML ordered his fellow comrades to get ready to set us free. We all came back to the place where the baggage was kept. MW was asked by ML to blindfold me with a cloth. I was on the front along with MW. He wrapped a cloth around my eyes. The cloth used was porous enough to be seen through. I asked MW to change the cloth so that my own vision wouldn't act as a hindrance in following their directions. Suddenly, everything turned dark. 
The journey had started.

I was completely blind. The first thing I guessed was that ML and VLW were just behind me. MW held my left hand and began leading me. I realized it was down the hill journey and I was very poor at it. I fell down as soon as I started walking. ML anguished over MW and told him to give a stick that can support me. MW took a little extra care. Suddenly I hit a stone on my way causing the little finger on my right foot to bleed.

But soon, a synchronization developed between me and MW and we began to move faster. I could not hear others coming behind. ‘Are we being taken in 4 different directions to be shot? ’ my mind became ruffled with the thoughts.
Dada, is everyone coming?” I asked MW with some apprehension.
Yes, sir. Everyone is coming.”, he replied casually.
But I couldn’t trust him. I deliberately slowed down my pace of walking to know the reality.
Soon I heard ML telling MW, “Go Slow!”

Yes, they were coming behind us.

Go Slow. Let Sir walk on the path and you on the stones. Support him so that he does not fall down” ML said.
I am thirsty, Dada. Can I get some water?” I asked ML.
I and VLW drank some water and resumed our walk altogether this time. I asked ML if he received any report on us to confirm if we were going to get punished as per the report he received. ML replied, “Hmm.. Bad report against GRS and PS. and VLW is nice. And anyways you are a CIA agent”.

I was worried. Still ML thinks that I am a CIA agent. Does that mean that VLW will be left free and all other 3 will have to suffer?

We walked slowly rather we were made to walk slowly. Forces from all sides had entered into jungles to fight Maoists. Police must have been in large numbers and would easily outnumber Maoists, I thought. But what to say, no one could say when a flash army of hundreds of Maoists may assemble in limited time.

Everyone was cautious and I realized that the sound of footsteps were not as intense as in the beginning. Probably, there were only a few Maoists walking with us. It might be at least 45 minutes that we have been walking. ML spoke some code word and immediately MW left my hand and all the other Maoists ran away.

I could only hear the noise of the leaves being crushed under the feet of Maoists running. The sound slowly faded as the Maoists ran sufficiently far away from us. Not all the Maoists ran but only few of them. I could only hear my heartbeats and the sound made by air rushing out through my nostrils.Why did they run away? Are they aiming at us? Yes! Yes! They are. And that is why few ran away and rest remained here to shoot and finish us. 25 years of my life would end any moment.’ I thought.

I was hardly breathing. My nervousness reached its peak when I heard the sound of a gun being unlocked. I started shivering in high fears and I stood helpless, blind and extremely nervous just waiting for the bullet to hit my chest any moment. My throat was frozen with fear to utter a single word, “Chandradeo”, I spoke to VLW in mild voice.
Yes” he replied. I felt relieved at knowing that If I were to die I would have someone by my side.
Silence! Don’t speak.” MW said.
Those were the two longest painful minutes of my life. Somehow they passed. I heard the footsteps approaching us. Probably the Maoists were returning back.
There was some noise. So, we went to check if police had come but they were villagers.” ML said.

I felt relieved. We resumed our journey again. “Have you ever seen me before dada?” I asked MW. I was thinking from the first day itself that I had seen him somewhere in a village and wanted to clarify by asking if he had met me before.

Smartly, MW replied, “No. I did not see you before”.
We again walked continuously for 45 minutes. It was down the hill journey. We took many turns - right & left and crossed some dried streams in our way. I was feeling relieved from the words of ML and suddenly the same situation returned. All Maoists left us running a little away on some code by ML.

ML and other Maoists returned soon and said “Sir, Please unfold the cloth around your eyes” and started to unfold. Almost one and half hours later, our eyes were exposed to daylight and it took me some time to adjust to the light. I was relieved that if anything happens it would happen before my eyes. I could not explain the happiness and satisfaction of returning to certainty. Probably, all of us felt the same. The clock showed 3:00 P.M. It was almost the same time when they had abducted us. 
48 hours of captivity were over.

The stressed leader, ML, looked at me with stressful contracted eyes and said, “It’s exactly 3:00 P.M.” He pointed towards a road and said, “You walk along this path for one hour and you will get a village. From there, the National Highway is hardly ten minutes far away. And yes, don’t deviate from the path. We have planted land mines here and there. Your first job is to get into any vehicle on the highway, reach home first, speak to your family members and then inform your administration about your release.”
Do you have money for the fare?” He drew a bunch of notes of 1000 rupees from his trouser’s left pocket.
No Dada. We have sufficient money.” I spoke on behalf of everyone.
Show me if you really have money with you.”

The leader, ML, became satisfied with the money we took out from our pockets. We seemed prepared to go but he suddenly turned back and said, “Don’t reveal anything about our identity and the place we kept you to the police. Tell them that you were abducted blindfolded; our faces were covered with masks all the time and we left you blindfolded.”

At the moment of departure that was certain, he turned emotional, “We have caused you all great trouble. Please forgive us.” He looked at me and said, “Sir, you too! Please forgive for what we have done. We have given a great pain to you and your family members”
We all collectively said, “No Dada! It’s okay. Thank you so much for leaving us.”

Watching someone getting very emotional, who just few moments ago was strong enough to take our lives, caused my heart to melt. Tears had moistened my eyelids in those moments he asked forgiveness. He was the ideology personified. He told me that ideology is of paramount importance for him, greater than my life, his life and any other life.

I knew he had blasted a land-mine in which policemen would have injured and killed. And I knew he had been and would be reasons for several deaths in future. He was sure of his death someday but unsure of the time. But till he was alive, he said, he was devoted to the cause, which he firmly believed to be just and nationalistic.
I had asked him for a photo, “Dada! You had said you will give me a photo.”.
Sorry Sir. We have kept your mobile in the treasury and left it there. Sorry for not providing you the photo you had asked for”.
It’s okay. Dada!” I said.
Panchayat Secretary Maksood said, “Dada, I am a poor guy and you kept my mobile with you.”
Sorry sir, it will be a great risk for us if we return you the mobile. Please tell me the cost, I will pay you.” The leader said with his hand almost reaching his pocket.
No. It’s okay. Dada” Maksood replied.
ML collected his final words, “Sir, we are returning back. You people safely reach your respective houses. Our love blessings are with you all.”
Sir, you remove the shirt and hand it over back to dada. In forest, he needs it more than us.” GRS Shambhu Pandit, said pointing the shirt I wore.

I began to remove the shirt, but ML told me not to remove it now. “You can send it back to us through any of the villagers. Raju (name changed) can get the shirt back to us’.
The name of Raju brought many questions to my mind that if he had any contacts with Maoists or if he had been a part of this abduction plan.

DC, SP, DIG, IG and DGP were at Topchachi police station overlooking the rescue operation. As the operation failed with causalities on the police side, DC left for Giridih with no hope of release for that day.
The leader started his journey back into the woods with his fellow comrades. And within no time, the men in olive dresses disappeared in the bushes. Some young armed Maoists were guarding down the path we were about to take. One among them was MW who was my blind fold guide just few minutes back.

For a moment, my heart wanted to stay back with Maoists, to know more about their lives, convictions and plans, but my mind wanted to get back home as soon as possible. There was a tussle between my heart and mind for few moments. I was taking heavy steps.
You were noting down something on a paper last night, what was that?” MW asked.
I was noting down the discussion points and I had taken permission from Dada for that” I replied.
Yes. Yes, Dada knew it and he saw that paper too” GRS and PS supported my answer.

As we moved down the path, there were four more Maoists guarding the path and everyone apologized individually for creating panic among us and our family members. It reflected as if each Maoist took the responsibility of abduction and each sought personal apology from all of us. It was part of some of their codes of conduct while releasing abductees so that the freedom was cordial and safe.
I felt relieved at being released and thanked my fate for the freedom I was allowed to enjoy.

          Picture IV: The map depicting Nukania, where the abduction took place and the red circle where abductees were freed.
At the same moment of my relief, fate had brought heart-tearing toll on someone. One of the CRPF policemen was severely injured in the blasts done by the Maoists and was fighting to take breath. He mistakenly kept his leg on a land mine and that land mine was blasted by Maoists. The ambulance that the police department arranged didn’t have the O2 cylinders to facilitate his breathing. He was immediately air lifted to Ranchi but without any first aid which cost him very high. Some other CRPF jawans who were injured were being treated at the local hospitals. Jawans were called back by the authorities from the other side of the hill.

Ironically, the halo of safety I had shortly been used to under the captivity evaporated at the thought of CRPF policemen injured in the land mine blasts. A sudden flash of them being infuriated in such condition turned me extremely vulnerable. There were several media reports of fake encounter killing of innocent villagers labelled as Maoists. I didn’t know the amount of truth in such reports but there is something weird thing about being in fear: You think only those things you consciously try to avoid. All the wrong thoughts of something going wrong made me shiver. Every movement in the bushes around brought me the imagination of guns being pointed at me.

I remembered a scene from a Tamil movie where the journalist hero holds his ID card in one hand while there was crossfire between Maoists and Police. I immediately took out my CAPART ID card and kept holding it for display.

Well, the need never came.

After an hour long walk, we reached a village. The village seemed familiar. It was the same village where we had held the pension-scheme camp just two days before the abduction. I became elated to know that we were in the Giridih district. The feeling of being amid the familiar and known replaced the nervousness.
Blood stains!” GRS exclaimed suddenly.

I also spotted few blood stains at short intervals along the road that leads to the National highway. Some youngsters were coming towards village from the highway with a cot on their shoulders.
Blood here too!” VLW pointed to the cot over their shoulders.

I could identify the youngsters. Two days before I had handed over the application form for the skill training to them. They also recognized me.
Sir, there happened a heavy blast in the forest between police. Also, in firing, several policemen were injured. We carried few policemen till the National Highway.” One of them who had recognized me first told me.

They pointed fingers in the direction. I mentally assessed the place of blast to be near Dholkatta village. We bade farewell to the boys and moved faster towards the highway. In the way, I crossed over a bridge built over a by District Administration upon our first recommendation. A breeze of satisfaction passed over the body smoothly.

Soon, we saw few journalists going towards the direction of the blasts to record the news. We identified ourselves and asked for mobile phone. I dialled Collector's number.

Picture V: Professor B D Sharma and Shammi Madam meeting Collector, Giridih and Vamsi after release

Meanwhile, B D Sharma Sir and Shammi Modi Madam had reached Ranchi and were at AIR (All India Radio) station to request the Maoists to release us without hurting. The Collector just got down from his vehicle and was entering his residence in Giridih when his mobile started ringing. After some time, Jechonia informed B D Sharma and he thanked the Maoists for our safe release on All India Radio.

Two days had passed and I was not the same when I had entered the jungle.
Hello”, Collector said in a calm voice over phone.
Good evening, sir. I am Vamsi.”
Vamsi! Vamsi, where are you?” suddenly his voice went full of emotions and concern.
Sir, near Dholkatta, Dhanbad border. Probably a few kilometers from Topchanchi Police Station.
You walk to the highway soon. BDO will reach there immediately.
Ok, sir.
He hanged up and I called Rajesh, my childhood friend to know if everything was fine at home. He asked me to call home immediately. I understood that the abduction news had made its way to home.
I called my father. He felt heavily relieved after hearing me. Mother was panic stricken and despite my several attempts she couldn't stop crying. I tried to comfort her and assured that I would call her once I reach Giridih.
The Journalists offered us tea in a tea shop on the highway. Just then, the BDO of Dumri block reached there. I had pestered him several times to arrange an appointment with the Maoists. He met us with a big welcoming smile.
Let's go.”, he said.
We got into the jeep and moved towards Dumri on the highway. From very far, I saw the Collector's vehicle approaching. Soon, both vehicles stopped and the Collector came out of the vehicle.
So, how are you? Is everything okay?” His tired face had worn a happy smile. He came closer to me and hugged me. In those moments, I forgot everything, the pain in my joints, the hardships and the anxieties. I melted into relaxation.
The Inspector General asked me, “Are you the one from Prime Minister's Office?”
I smiled, “No, I am from MoRD.”
We all moved towards Topchanchi Police Station where DGP of Jharkhand was waiting along with other Police officials.
Do not reveal anything to media, Vamsi. Tell them that Maoists left you because the pressure from the police was high” said DGP.
Neither I nodded nor I denied. I responded with a blank face.
While we all four were free, the thoughts of the Jawans killed in the operation spread gloominess all over in my psyche. A dilemma persisted. After expressing gratitude, we all left for Giridih. On the way, the Collector asked me to phone my vexed sister. I called up and comforted her.
After reaching the Collector's residence, we were greeted with sweets by Jechonia and Mr. Lal. All faces were happy and relaxed; some faces were wet with tears of happiness. I thought of calling up home. I spoke to everyone of them and comforted them by repeating that they didn't harm me.
Meanwhile little Anini, the Collector's daughter came running to me. I took her into my arms and we moved a bit to see the small pond. She threw a big stone in the water. The calm water disturbed and then slowly calmed again, just like my memory. 
It was still difficult to realize that those 48 hours were over. Anini and I kept watching the ripples for few moments. Lost in deep thoughts, I kept mentally articulating thoughts, as if to bring them to my conscious mind. Of the deaths of jawans. Of the pension camps. Of the definition of development. Of lives of the Maoists. Of lives of villagers in conflict. Of the policymakers. Of the politicians. Of the battles of jawans and Maoists.
I was in those moments for years, until Jechonia patted me on my back.
Talk to your mother.” he said and handed over his phone to me.

 This is the final part of the five part series "48 hours in Maoist captivity." This has been jointly developed by Aman Bhardwaj, the author in close communication with Vamsi, Giridih PMRD fellow. Please give your valuable feedback in the comment boxes. These experiences have been recounted and published objectively. No one would be answerable to any subjective interpretation of this published piece. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Love and Absence

"How do I fill the void of your absence, do you realize?" The warm words mixed with smoke flew out of her lazy lips. Her gaze fixed at the zig zag curve resting at top of the hill that separated the blue sky from the green hill. The old philosopher turned his glance at her and then at the rings of smoke coming out of her mouth. After a long time he had come from jungles to meet her.
She rocked the cigarette and looked at the butts lying around. There was no sound except the occasional chirping of cuckoos and feeble sound of rushing fountain. Understanding her without judging, he was an opportunity to unburden which she longed to love, yet could never got hold of him. The more she grasped him, the more he slipped out of her hands. He was among a few people, actually a very few people, who touched her soul and departed with a kiss on her cheeks.
"Oldie," she called him "did you ever wait for something?" Her gaze beholding his long grey beard and disheveled curly hair which time to time danced upon his wrinkled face.
He nodded.
"God's heaven, Oldie. It's a moment. You too wait for something, Oldie." Her fit of laughter, mixed with hatred and anger, echoed back from mountains. "Well, what is that thing?"
"The moment of forgiveness." He said and looked at her eyes. Red eyes met each other. Eyes red with insurmountable amount of anger and then suddenly an irresistible longing looked at the eyes red and welled with tears of remorse.
He passed his fingers through her dark shining hair and waited for her to calm. At once her anger shattered to pieces and she drew him closer.
He felt smoke coming out of her lips against his nose. He opened his arms and embraced her. With every moment of strong presence, the embrace tightened and tightened as if to crush her with his love.
"I am the Gunpowder, Oldie. Burn me. Love me. I have taught you to love, Oldie.." she whispered "Love me madly. Love me always. "