This was the time when I was still working in Dantewada. A recently appointed IG invited some journalists to his office. I also tagged along with a journalist friend. Two adivasi teenagers, a boy and a girl, were sitting there scared to the bone. They were both wearing green Naxalite fatigues. Since the attire was quite new, I immediately suspected something, wondering how these Naxalites who had purportedly been nabbed from the forest were in possession of new and clean clothes.
The IG introduced the two hapless teenagers to the journalists, and said that they were dreaded Naxalite commanders, and that they had surrendered before the police, and that they had taken an oath in the Maa Danteshwari temple that they would never ever abet traitors to this country.
Thereafter, the IG also distributed a press statement to the journalists. He added that as a precautionary measure, keeping in mind the security of these two ex-Naxalites, the journalists did not have permission to question the two. Before giving them leave, he encouraged the journalists to publish this news prominently. Everyone was ready to go, when I interjected and said, “Hold on for a minute! IG sir, can I ask the two a question?” The IG thought for a moment, and then gave me permission. I addressed the two and asked them in their language (that is, in Gondi, the language spoken by the Bastar adivasis), “Iv ghisid meekin benur ittor” or “Who gave you this dress?” The boy was visibly disconcerted by this question, but the girl, with disarming innocence, pointed towards the IG, and responded that he gave them the clothes. We left the office thereafter.
Since none of these Dantewada journalists has even a working knowledge of Gondi, I explained to them that these alleged Naxalites say that it is the police who had given them these fatigues. So how can one believe the police’s claim in this context? As a result, no journalist published the ‘news’ of the surrender of the ‘Naxalites’.
Later, the same IG was in the news because of various corruption related cases. As a result, he was suspended. It also came to light that fake surrenders were a common occurrence under his command. And he would pocket the money that the Government would send for the ‘surrendered Naxalites’.
In his new book Let Us Call Him Vasu, Shubhranshu Choudhury sings paeans to the honesty of this same IG. One of the fictional characters in the book, a Naxalite, also praises the IG for his honesty.
It is not clear to me why Shubhranshu uses a fictional Naxalite character as a conduit to praise the IG. But people who know Shubhranshu from close quarters say that Shubhranshu wrote this book in Bhopal, and this IG also lives in the same city. While writing the book, he had to often ask for the IG’s assistance to cross-check certain facts. The IG was able to take advantage of this situation. And it didn’t cost Shubhranshu any skin off his back to add two sentences in his book.
At one point in the book, Shubhranshu argues that the 19 adivasis killed in the Singaram massacre were not innocent, since one of the victims, a girl named Seete used to be an assistant to the chief accused, SPO Madkam Mudraj, who is an ex-Naxalite. Shubhranshu also alleges that Seete was, in fact, holding a meeting of the adivasis at the time.
We are still fighting a case related to this massacre in the Chhattisgarh High Court. In fact, Madkam Mudraj and his gang had attacked the Singaram village and killed 19 adivasis. Among the dead were four girls who had been raped.
Shubhranshu claims that the dead girl was not innocent because she was holding a Naxalite meeting. Even Dantewada’s yellowest journalists who have been bribed by the administration do not write such trash. This is a crude and mischievous attempt by Shubhranshu to justify barbarism and brutality of the State.
At another point, Shubhranshu writes that Gandhians (an obvious reference to me) have rehabilitated the Nendra village. The erstwhile Sarpanch of the village, Tamaiyya, had, in collusion with Naxalites, looted the Errabore market, and as a result was in prison for a year and a half. According to Shubhranshu, Tamaiyya had never told him about this incident, although Shubhranshu had stayed with him in the village for several days.
Everyone knows how we had initiated the human shield programme among the Nendra adivasis to defend themselves against attacks by the Salwa Judum, and how the Government had been condemned because of it . What Shubhranshu is trying to say through this book is that even the Gandhians were defending the Naxalites. It does not take a genius to figure out who stands to benefit from such propaganda.
The fact is that Shubhranshu wishes to whitewash State crimes. And he wishes to besmirch the reputation of those people who have exposed the misdeeds of, and hence embarrassed, the Government. For example, what he writes about Binayak Sen is the standard story that the police has manufactured. And this story is published daily in Chhattisgarh newspapers. One need not meet and confabulate with any Naxalite to spin such yarn. Any policeman from Raipur would be quite glad to recount the juicy details of this story to anyone willing to listen. As far as Naxalites go, I have also met them, but never have I seen any Naxalite provide a list of his comrades to any journalist. But Shubhranshu’s book is really amazing! In his version, not only does a Naxalite board a plane to Delhi, but sits in a restaurant with a journalist named Shubhranshu, and readily provides a list of all his comrades.
There is another point to consider. Shubhranshu runs CGnet. A vigorous campaign to free Binayak Sen was launched on this newsgroup. If Shubhranshu already knew when Binayak was imprisoned, that Binayak acted as a courier for the Naxalites, then he should have promptly dissociated himself and CGnet from the campaign. So a natural question is why Shubhranshu had a sudden change of heart. In Chhattisgarh, everyone knows that Shubhranshu has ambition to spread and to get State funds for his CG Net project and he wishes to insinuate himself into the good graces of Raman Singh. So now Shubhranshu suddenly remembers that such and such Naxalite alleged that Binayak Sen was his courier, and that Gandhians working in Chhattisgarh were actually defending Naxalites.
Such yellow journalism is neither going to benefit Bastar’s public, nor would it enhance our understanding of Naxalism. But it is clear that this book is a crude and clumsy attempt to reinforce and justify the silly claims of the Chhattisgarh Government that human rights workers are actually working for Naxalites.
The author is a social activist