‘You can work for the poor in non-violent ways’

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Subhashree Panda Wife of expelled Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda
Subhashree Panda | Wife of expelled Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda Photo: Vijay Pandey

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

How did your life take this turn?
I met Sabya in college when he was a social worker. I shared his commitment to work for the upliftment of the poor. We fell in love and got married in 1999. In 2000, I had a daughter. A few years later, I was shocked when my husband told me he was going underground. I thought, what will happen to our life together? How will my daughter grow up this way? We argued, but he was convinced. I had to accept it because I loved him.

How did it impact your life?
We couldn’t openly go out or walk on the streets. It was a scary life. In 2010, I was arrested for being a Maoist’s wife. But by 2012, all these cases were proved false. My husband was wanted by the police. They were clearly trying to get to him through me.

In what ways did jail affect you?
During those horrible days in jail, I decided that as soon as I get out, I will work openly for the poor. I was enraged with the police, but also with the rebels for putting an innocent like me through this injustice.

Has Sabyasachi changed too?
In 2012, Sabya wrote a letter to Maoist leader Ganpathy, criticising the party’s hierarchy and their unthinking violence. But he was expelled. He is now slowly moving towards non-violence, though he continues to be underground.

How have you continued your struggle for people in the mainstream?
I’m now contesting as an independent candidate from Ranpur in Nayagarh district. I believe that change can come only if we participate. Many believe that after getting a Maoist tag, like I did, it is difficult to mainstream yourself. But even a former Maoist can embrace non-violence and work for the poor in other ways.

So, what is the way forward?
Nothing will change overnight. A leader has a five-year term. In that time, fix five villages. All it takes is for people to care, and to do their job. To the Maoists too, I say, leave this adamant approach. They are now killing just anyone. Killing a politician or government servant means a severe backlash. Their own people are killed.

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