Seven policemen were reportedly abducted by Maoists in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh on 19th September. Families of four of them had come seeking the mediation of civil liberties advocate K G Kannabiran and revolutionary writer and Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao. Hoping and praying their loved one would not meet the same fate as the three other men in uniform, whose bodies were found on a tractor on 20th September.
To me, this motley group of women, with small children in tow, some on the hip, some hanging around in the vicinity of the familiar security of their mother’s legs and saree, looked like modern day Savitris. If the mythological Savitri had fought a battle of wits with God of Death, Yama, following him through unknown, hostile terrain to save her husband Satyavan from the jaws of death, these women were certainly doing something similar.
Manjubala, wife of Subash Patre, says they have already knocked the doors of the police and government in Bijapur and Raipur. They got nothing more than verbal assurances, simply saying, let’s hope for the best. That is why a woman who had rarely stepped out of her village travelled all the way to Hyderabad along with her two small children, to meet the men, who have been seen as pro-Maoist voices and whose word the naxals could heed.
The women were desperate to convey that they don’t in any way, represent the establishment. That they themselves are poor and belong to the most marginalised section of society and that the men had joined the police force because there were few other livelihood options. Not because they opposed Maoists or their ideology. And that they would not stay in the police force, if their lives were spared.
Rajkumari said she spoke to her husband Narender Bhosle last on the morning of the 19th. A class XII passout, he had joined the police force four years ago.
“Give him back to us, we will never send him anywhere. Never to the police force. We will do some farming, work as labour and feed our children. Please, please let him come back home.” the wife and the mother took turns to plead.
Tears were streaming down Manjubala’s cheeks as she shared her personal story and her very public tragedy.
“We will work as labourers and earn food so our two small children don’t go hungry. I won’t let him go to the police force ever again. If only my naxal brothers can please listen to me.”
The same sentiment is echoed by each of the others. That they appeal to the naxal brothers to show mercy, to understand that they are like their sisters. That they are grateful to the media and the Maoists for listening to their appeal to spare their husbands.
Seeing what helplessness was reducing them to, I felt a deep sadness. About how desperate a family is pushed to become, to feel so fearful about losing a husband, a son, a father, that they have to behave and `acknowledge’ the power of another human being to give and take life. As though anyone other than the Almighty should ever have that power to say “you shall live’ or `you shall die’. To be reduced to nothing more than pawns in a game of chess.
As a stream of emotions was clouding my thougts, Manjubala who had been standing carrying her one-year-old daughter Gracy on her hip, fainted right behind where I was standing. The trauma of the last few days had clearly taken its toll. As she regained consciousness, her first thoughts were `where was the baby she was carrying’ and immediately afterwards, she was on her way again, to try and rescue her husband.
“Have a drink or something to eat, Manju,” people around her were saying. But she wouldn’t listen. She must do what she can to save her little world, for herself and her two small children, before it is too late. Everthing else can wait.
When I met Varavara Rao, he was quite categorical, that this does not follow the “rules of natural law”. While he thought the demands for withdrawal of Operation Greenhunt, release of political prisoners were genuine, bargaining for them, putting at stake the lives of one ASI and three jawans was not right. Strategies to exert pressure are part of Maoist tactic, killing the enemy, say in self-defence, is acceptable but a hostage cannot be killed. Nor should they be used to bargain with the state machinery to meet demands. So he appealed for `unconditional release’ of the policemen.
“Do you think my appeal through your channel will reach them? May be we should do it through the radio as well. The Maoists carry their radiosets on the move.” Varavara Rao wondered aloud.
“Sir, I am sure they must be monitoring the televison channels as well. Unless of course it is too late.”
The 48-hour deadline set by the Maoists ends on 28th evening. It is already afternoon and all the news channels are blaring full volume of what would happen on the Ayodhya verdict.
In the heart of India, in Chhattisgarh, there is silence.
(Please post your comment to tell us what you thought of this blog. You can also subscribe to the blogsite to receive regular updates)