EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Why did you join the Maoists?
I joined them because I saw nobody else caring about my people, who are dirt poor, sick and uneducated. There is no irrigation or drinking water. We were not hungry because we had forestland for generations. When that too was being taken away forcibly, we suffered. Maoists held committee meetings in remote villages and people gave them meals. I was fascinated by them. At 17, after school, I wrote a pamphlet criticising the Constitution and the laws for not giving equal rights to tribals. I wrote how we hate the police because they rape our women and murder our men. This was circulated widely before a Maoist committee meeting and the police came looking for me. That same evening, some Maoist leaders came and called me by name. They spoke to me and discussed their ideology and mission. From that day on, I was marked as a Maoist.
What happened after that?
I stayed away for a few years, but I was tired of hiding from the police who had lodged false cases against me. The police raided my village every few weeks, arresting innocents. I was fed up and joined the Maoists. I was there for several years until I was arrested in 2002. I was in jail for 14 months. There I read all the library books in the history section. I read about great men, about the magic of social change. I thought a lot about the dead-end mission of the Maoists. If they succeeded in dismantling democracy, what would they replace it with?
On my release, I was a changed man. I decided to adjust to democracy — the very thing that had never worked for my people. If I joined it, as an inside man, maybe I could educate the tribals, make the system work, give them the tools that could make the use of guns redundant.
How did you start to change the system?
I run a school, a farmers’ cooperative and a tribal union. Earlier, there were only two options for the youth: join the Maoists or the police. Now, they at least finish Class 10. When I was acquitted in 2008, I contested for the sarpanch’s post. I won with record votes. Now, I want to set up a school in every village.
Why do people still join the Maoist movement?
Maoism continues because injustice does. The courts haven’t worked for us for years. State schemes for the poor bypass us, or we have to pay bribes to access them. People have lost faith in democracy. There are bauxite mines in my area, for which land was seized and the environment polluted. The Supreme Court judgment says companies that acquire tribal land must set aside 26 percent of it for the benefit of locals by setting up schools, medical clinics and providing jobs. But that is not followed.
What is the way to end armed struggle?
The only way to escape Maoism and still challenge the State is to be educated. To all the politicians here, I want to say that people want development. So what is your excuse for not providing it? To the companies, I say, please do your share, follow the good land laws recently passed. Maoism will end only when the system is fair to the underprivileged.