Maoist Conflict

Ground report: The truth about Chhattisgarh’s recent Maoist surrenders

Recently, newspapers reported that 26 Maoists had surrendered in Sukma district. This was hailed as a major success in the fight against Naxalism in Bastar. The reality is more complex.

When Budru reported to the police station in Dornapal on December 8, he found an arrest warrant was waiting for him.

The previous day, the station house officer had sent word to Chintalnar, the village where the 25-year-old handpump mechanic lived, asking him to report to the thana in Dornapal. The town is located in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district, part of the region of Bastar, which is witnessing a long-drawn Maoist insurgency.

Budru travelled 45 kilometres on a broken road, only to find that the police had dug out an old rape case against him from 2010.

He steeled himself for arrest but instead was told he could "surrender" as a Maoist. By doing so, he could walk out free and even get a monetary award.

Twenty four-year-old Ramesh, who runs a shop in Chintalnar, found himself in a similar fix. A warrant was issued against him for being accomplice in the murder of Nagesh, a special police officer from Chintalnar, allegedly killed by Maoists.

A similar case was made against another shopkeeper, Govind, who says he witnessed the murder which took place in front of his shop but denied having anything to do with it. He was given an option: either turn in as a surrendered Naxalite or face arrest.

Budru, Ramesh and Govind chose the first option. As instructed, they reported the next morning at the police station in Polampalli, between Dornapal and Chintalnar, where another 23 men had similarly lined up as "surrendered Maoists".

The surrenders made headlines in local newspapers the next morning. The papers reported that  26 Maoists, including five "warranted" Maoists, had surrendered in the presence of the Inspector General of Bastar, SRP Kalluri, among other officials of the police and civil administration. The Times of India called the surrenders "a major success for Chhattisgarh police in its fight against Naxalism in Bastar region".

"This is the first time such surrenders have taken place," said D Srawan, the police superintendent of Sukma, his voice brimming with pride. "The police will welcome all those who are willing to surrender the CPI (Maoist) ideology and are willing to join the mainstream democracy. It is not necessary they come with their weapons," he added.

Conflict zone

Chintalnar village falls in the middle of Maoist controlled territory, about 80 kilometres from the district headquarters of Sukma, located in the region of Bastar.

The village was once a bustling market hub, where traders bought and sold timber and forest produce, which was transported to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

It came into the spotlight in the summer of 2010 when in an early morning ambush, the Maoists killed 76 security personnel sleeping in a nearby village. Since then, the state has built more security camps in the area and rarely does a month pass without news of encounters, blasts, arrests from villages in about 20-50 km radius around Chintalnar.

In 2011, homes in three villages were allegedly burnt by security personnel during an anti-Maoist operation. An inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation based on the complaints of the villagers is dragging its feet even to this day.

In Chintalnar and its nearby villages, surrounded by newly set up security camps, almost everyone is suspect in the eyes of the state – local adivasis, non-adivasis from the trading community from UP and Bihar, the Bengali community that settled here in the '70s, and others.

People from the villages are regularly called into the thana and asked to divulge information on the Maoists, said Bhushan, one of the 15 young men summoned by the police.

Police summons

According to the residents of Chintalnar, on December 7, the station house office of the local thana sent verbal orders to 15 young men, asking them to report at Dornapal thana the next day.

Most of these young men belonged to the local trading community with roots in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These migrant families either ran shops in Chintalnar, or were engaged in transport business, plying passengers from Dornapal to Chintalnar, a lucrative business in these areas.

Of those summoned, many like Sunil, Arvind, Budru, Govind, Bhushan, Ravi and others dutifully followed the orders. After a few hours of inquiry at the thana, the police asked the others to leave, except Budru, Govind and Sunil, who were asked to come back to take part in the 'surrenders', as the warrants has been issued against them.

While Bhushan was relieved that the police let him to return home, he feared that this was not the end of the troubles.

Govind, the local shopkeeper, returned home the next day after the surrender drama, but he was too traumatised to meet anyone. "Govind has been running this shop for the last 15 years when he came to the area to make a living," said one of the villagers. "He has never strayed beyond his shop. He can’t even run half a kilometre, how can they cast him to be a Naxalite?"

Budru's sister said of her brother: "He can’t stand straight, he drinks so much. What made the police think he could be a Naxalite?"

As people gathered in huddles to discuss the forced surrenders, many expressed shock, others voiced disgust. "The police finds innocent people to frighten them and trap them into doing as they wish," said a villager.

Said one of the men summoned to Dornapal but allowed to return: "It was a tamasha put up by the police to earn some stars on their sleeves."

Surrender policy

The police superintendent, D Srawan, however, defended the surrenders and denied they were fake.

"We define Naxalism in the broad parameter of those having sympathy with or propagating banned Maoist ideology," he said. "Therefore any individual, whether military cadre, sangam member, or sympathiser, who is willing to forgo the banned Maoist ideology to embrace mainstream democracy will be considered surrendered Naxalite." Even if an entire village is willing to surrender the ideology, the government will incentivise them, he added.

Of the 26 men who had surrendered that day, he said 17 had warrants against them. Most of them featured in cases of murder, possession of illegal weapons, and some were booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, he said. "But if they are willing to embrace democracy and surrender their ideology, the police is willing to look at their cases leniently."

If the 17 men had not agreed to surrender, would they have been arrested? "Of course," he responded nonchalantly.

What happens to the charges against them, now that they have surrendered?  He said the cases against them would not be dropped, but "leniency would be exercised". He did not define leniency.

Many in Chintalnar felt that it would be difficult for those labelled 'surrendered Naxalite' to live in the villages. The Maoists would suspect them to have become ‘gopniya police’ (secret police) engaged in gathering intelligence for the government. Wouldn't the security of surrendered Naxals be a concern for the police? "Well, it’s a choice they have to make," said Srawan. As part of the government's rehabilitation policy, surrendered Naxalites are given monetary assistance of Rs 10,000 and also offered a house under the Indira Awas Yojana in places away from their villages, he said.

Living in fear

The police's enthusiasm for surrenders keeps the residents of Chintalnar worried.

Anil was one of those summoned by the police in the first week of December. His father received the police summons on his behalf since he was not at home. This was not the first time someone from the family had been asked to appear in the thana. Five months ago, four people, including Anil's father, were called by the police. They were later taken to Gadiras, about 95 kilometres away from Chintalnar, where they were confined, blindfolded for nearly ten days without any charges. After he came back home, Anil's father, fearing for his son, advised him to leave Chintalnar to set up a business in Sukma town.

But even the move to Sukma did not help. The day the police summons came, Anil was boarding a bus to the state capital Raipur, from where he was to travel to Uttar Pradesh to attend a cousin's wedding.

By the time, Anil changed plans, re-routed and reached Polampalli the next afternoon, where the surrenders were taking place, the show was over. "You reached late," he was told. An arrest warrant had been issued in his name. But he was allowed to go home with the promise that he would reappear when called again for another round of ‘surrenders’.

"I will have to go," he said, speaking of the possibility. "There’s no escape, after all I need to live here, can’t risk any antagonism with the police."

The names of the villagers have been changed to protect their identities.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.