Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The return of a Naxal

Vivek Deshpande Posted online: Wednesday, Dec 09, 2009 at 2322 hrs

Gadchiroli : He was an impressionable, idealistic boy of 14 when he joined the Naxal movement. He would rise through the ranks, becoming one of the three tribals in the 22-member Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee created in 2007 to oversee Maoist activities in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Last week, after 22 years of life as a Naxal, a disillusioned Jalamsai Sadmek alias Rainu surrendered, becoming the highest-ranking Maoist in Maharashtra to do so.

It was in 1987, while studying in Class VII at his ashram school in Hindewada village near Bhamragarh in south Gadchiroli, that Rainu first came into contact with the Naxals. He was impressed by everything about them — their military fatigues, their guns, their songs of revolution. It wasn’t long before he followed the “awesome looking saviours of the poor” into the jungles, leaving a shocked father Lalsai, mother Durgi and his four brothers to deal with not only his loss but also police attention. “As a child, I was very interested in history, battles against oppressors. I thought I could really do something for my tribesmen. The Naxals showed the way by daring to beat up forest staffers who tormented us,” Rainu told The Indian Express.

After four months, his father managed to trace him and begged the Naxals to let him go. “He was afraid of police backlash,” says Rainu. The prodigal son did return, but it took him only two days to flee back to his comrades. What followed was years of suffering for his family.

Whenever in Hindewada, Naxals would visit Lalsai’s house for food, making him a suspect in the eyes of the police. Lalsai ended up in jail, where he remained for two years. He eventually reached breaking point and committed suicide by setting himself on fire. “I felt guilty and couldn’t speak for one week... But my seniors rationalised it, saying it’s all part of the revolution,” Rainu recalls.

The Naxals, meanwhile, continued to visit the Sadmek family, particularly Rainu’s eldest brother Kishore. “In 1990, he was among 11 suspects arrested in an incident in which a policeman was shot dead,” Rainu says. “He spent all his money fighting the case but was convicted under TADA in 2000. He is now serving a life sentence in Nagpur jail.”

Ironically, Kishore was also on the Maoist hit list for delivering “an anti-Naxal speech” at a police awareness rally. “I pleaded with my seniors on his behalf, but they didn’t listen. They beat him up and gave him a dire warning.”

It didn’t take long for Rainu to realise the predicament he was in, or that he wasn’t alone in it. “I started realising that being a tribal was a disadvantage and that Naxals, who ideologically oppose hierarchy, also function within a rigid framework where the Andhra leaders rule the roost,” Rainu says.

Meanwhile, Rainu found some succour when while serving in Etapalli dalam (squad), he met and fell in love with Bharati Ported. The two got married. “Coincidentally, Bharati too had started getting disillusioned with the movement since a hardcore Andhra leader called Shekhar and his wife Surjan Akka used to reverse decisions taken by tribal leaders. He disapproved of her act of beating up a rich villager at Gattapalli village who had grabbed a poor man’s land,” Rainu says. Bharati eventually surrendered in 2007. “For that also, I was blamed. Tribal cadres do all the hard work, but it has no value,” Rainu says.

Few dared question the top leadership, but Rainu was an exception. “I once asked the party’s (CPI-Maoist) Central Committee member Bhupathi why the tribal cadres don’t get equal status. He said there is no such problem.” But Rainu’s outspokenness turned party leaders against him. “They started blaming me for the police not falling in Naxal traps. I used to visit my family once in four-five years and would go with other members, but they still thought I was working against them then,” he says. “Besides, two of my cousins are in the police. It made me very sad to think that I was being viewed as a kind of police stooge.”

Rainu also grew increasingly uncomfortable with the Naxal system of ‘justice’ against cadres who didn’t toe the line. “At Otegatta, they killed Bandu two years ago for attempting to join the police. He used to serve us food and they still killed him,” Rainu recalls.

The former Naxal also claims to have clashed with his fellow cadres over the issue of development. He says while he was in favour of allowing some government works, his comrades were against it. “They had their own Janatana Sarkar (people’s government) idea where they would do works like lay bodis (ponds for paddy crop) and run schools where only revolutionary literature would be taught. Roads, they said, would be built only after the area becomes liberated.”

Twenty-two years after he got into the movement, Rainu says, the Naxal idea of liberation started feeling like imprisonment. Surrender became his release.

Now he wants a normal life. As a Naxal, he was not supposed to father children and underwent vasectomy. He says he will reverse it. “I want to have kids. I hope it is not a difficult operation,” he grins.

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