Here wearing an olive green cargo could get you booked as a Maoist

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Photo: Kamini Bala
Photo: Kamini Bala

“Don’t wear this olive green cargo while you are in Wayanad. You’ll run into trouble,” warned a longtime friend, who is a government official. I gazed at him. “If your time is bad, you may be booked under UAPA. Police is looking for Maoists.” In the past couple of weeks I was at Mananthavady, a mofussil and a historic town in Kerala’s remotest district, Wayanad, after a gap of six months.

These digital days, six months is a long time. The district has been in news in the recent months for suspected presence of Maoist insurgents. I was taken aback by his words. “You know very well that I’m not a Maoist. I have serious problems with their romantic notions of capturing power and armed struggle,” I gently reminded him.

But pronto came his explanation. “But as a journalist you have reported issues of tribals, Dalits, workers and farmers. And, now you are wearing olive green cargo ( Maoists reportedly wear olive green cargo/trousers). You can also manage languages like Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi apart from Malayalam (Maoist cadre are reportedly fluent in several languages because of their alleged training in different states). These are enough reasons to suspect you. Several people with no links or sympathies with Maoists are under the scanner of police.”

I couldn’t buy his argument.  “I love olive-green cargo. So I’m wearing it. And I learned other languages because I was in different states in relation with education and work. Are our police officers taking a leaf out of ‘CID Dasan and CID Vijayan?” I asked.

CID Dasan and CID Vijayan were played by Mohanlal and Sreenivasan in a series of three super-hit Malayalam movies. Dasan and Vijayan accidentally became detectives and were known for doing stupid things during investigation. In their “clueless” search for offenders they ended up hurting several innocent and well-meaning people. “Yes! Activities of police deployed for anti-Naxal operation remind me of Dasan and Vijayan-fame Pattanapravesham,” my friend replied.

Images from the film Pattanapravesham flashed across my mind. How can Malayalis forget the visuals of Dasan and Vijayan beating up Mala Aravindan’s character, who played the role of a cook? The cook was sent to help the detectives who were investigating the murder of a police officer. Mistaking him for the murderer, they thrashed him mercilessly. And by the time they realised his real identity much damage had been done to the poor cook. He was not in a position to cook food for them.

Then the detectives went to a nearby hotel to have food. They overheard a conversation between two enthusiastic birdwatchers. They suspected that the birdwatchers were behind the murder, leading to a series of hilarious incidents.

“Police is clueless about the alleged Maoist activities in Wayanad. So they are following people with certain traits like long hair, beard, green shirts or trousers and those who post satirical comments about policing in social media, who read literature related to ‘revolution’, etc., are kept under surveillance. So even purchasing a copy of Maxim Gorky’s legendary novel ‘Mother’ can invite trouble,” said TK Harris, poet and social activist.

“It’s better that you burn books by and on Mao in your personal library,” he added. I have read Mao as part of my MA programme in a university funded and managed by Central government. I have got personal copies of some books authored by Mao. Why should I burn Mao Zedong’s classic essay “How to Differentiate Classes in Rural Areas” even if I have intellectual differences with the mechanical application of those insights in India?

“After CPI(Maoist) declared that Western Ghats Special Zonal Committee will take care of areas like Wayanad, police panic when they hear the word ‘Western Ghats’. Recently some school students were questioned and harassed for participating in a programme organised by sme environmental organisations to protect Western Ghats. The point is that CIDs are highly incompetent to differentiate your academic interests with the alleged Maoist activities,” Harris told me, addressing my confusion.

“You have got olive green cargo, beard, and books on and by Mao, you write about certain sensitive topics. It’s easy to brand you, man,” Harris reiterated. My two week stay in Wayanad taught me that Harris was not exaggerating. Most of the environmental and tribal activists in the district are under police scanner. Their phones are tapped. They are followed wherever they go.

Telling instance is of harassing students and other nature lovers who participated in a ‘rain camp’ organised by a highly respected public library in Chembra Peak, a popular ecological spot in the district. Because of the Dasan-Vijayan syndrome, police could not differentiate nature-lovers and environmental researchers from alleged Maoists.

It is also significant that Dasan-Vijayan syndrome becomes extremely lethal when the increasingly neoliberal state asserts its authority over any sort of critical voice. This was evident from the way in which police tortured the organisers of an alternative magazine, “Keraleeyam”, published from Thrissur. Next time I pack my bags for home, I will leave the olive-green cargo out. And, make sure my mane is shorn decent.

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