By Haris Ahmed
Thick rain-laden clouds filled the calm and clear sky. In the hinterlands of Jharkhand, it’s monsoon again, bringing relief from the scorching heat. The natives at this rickety village aren’t any merrier. Soon the Naxals from thick sub-tropical forests would arrive like swarms.
Between the months of June and September, when the wood becomes impenetrable, the anti-Naxal operations shall subside across the state. Emboldened insurgents shall then establish infamous kangaroo-courts across villages, savagely punishing dissenters in full public glare. Hapless adivasis have long resigned to their fate. The netas who have often promised to exorcise the Naxal menace once and for all would scramble into their hidings. This is, in fact, the most sordid tale of India’s version of democracy, which is anything but a sham and a brutal game of political subjugation of the under-classes in post-independence India.
However, the ingredients for an anti-insurgency operation were perfect: a mixture of corporate lobbying, a bit of political will and the looming elections. These would set the stage for Operation Green Hunt to flush out the Maoist ‘scums’ from their dwellings.
The lush green fields were no less than an elaborate labyrinth, brimming with monsoon rain that lashed the village last month. “Fetch me those cans of fertilizers,” he screamed. The boy was sitting on a mud pillar that had miraculously survived this monsoon onslaught. He wondered often what lay beyond the confines of the village. He had heard of people going to the cities like Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Bokaro for a better life. They said there were towering buildings, factories and cars racing past unending roads. “One day he would surely go to one of these places,” he thought. As he was about to lose himself in the myriad of thoughts, his father’s voice pierced through his ears. He ran towards the mud and straw thatched hut to fetch those greasy cans of fertilizers, which his father had bought last summer.
“Here it is, father,” he said, still panting and trying to catch his breath. His father took no notice, for this wasn’t the time for such trifling things. The kid was barely twelve now but the hardships in life had matured him beyond his years. He knew that their life was entangled with the success of rice-crop this season. Few months back, he had overheard his father talking to his mother that the loan he had taken from the local money-lender had to be returned this season.
“He’d one day free his father from this ordeal,” he vowed to himself. The clouds gathered again predicting another heavy downpour, which was quite common during these months.
His father came rushing in with a piece of cotton cloth over his head to keep the rain at bay. The heavy wooden door opened with a thud. His mother was busy preparing the meal. Often he would frown on the relentless rain. This time it was because of the thundershower the entire family would be eating together.
The following morning he was about to begin his school. Last month, a middle-school was inaugurated by the local MLA; curious faces had thronged from across the village to see this ceremony. It was, in fact, a rarity to see an important political figure visiting their village, except at the time of elections. His mother was finally successful in persuading his father to send him to school. She hoped his life wouldn’t fall prey to some vicious middlemen.
Dressed in new clothes, he stood there as his mother combed his still wet hair. The boy was zealously waiting to visit his new school. Rumors abounded that the Maoists had overrun the only police station in a neighboring village, slaying every breathing soul and setting the school on fire. They frequently accused the government of using schools as a front for anti-Naxal operations and stationing paramilitary forces, arms, ammunitions in the guise of running literacy drives.
The father-son duo set off for the school on a cycle. At times when hardship was synonymous with life, even death appeared to be an easy escape. He could see the hardened expression on his father’s face. “Maybe something ominous awaits them,” he pondered. Quickly discarding such thoughts, he saw people toiling in lush green fields. The muddy path they had taken turned arduously tough to overcome, partly because of incessant rain and partly because his father had began to lose will.
As they approached the school, he saw a commotion. The place was filled with men brandishing rifles. Fear-stricken faces of villagers sent a chill down his spine and he stammered impulsively, “Father, flee!” Before his father could turn the cycle, a young man with a rifle hanging on his back and a scar running down his left cheek held the cycle firmly. Struggling to overcome his grip, the cycle tripped and both of them were sent crashing on the ground. Some more men came running and held the father-son duo by shoulder. One amongst the men approached to check this ruckus and commanded, “Leave them immediately”. Before he could complete, the men let them off.
“You shall both witness the fate of dissenters and traitors before you’re allowed to leave, so that it establishes a fitting example for those who harbor ill-schemes compromising the cause of our selfless struggle against the elitist regime of Delhi,” he said in a thick accent. By now both of them were profusely sweating. Before they realized what had struck them, a heavy push forced them onto the ground. Sitting amongst a sea of people, they were about to witness the dreaded kangaroo-court.
Two towering men threw a frail man on the cemented platform near the school entrance. An older Maoist flanked by his guards on either side began to move slowly. And as he plodded, he began to speak, “This man dared to defy his brothers and people for petty gains, blinded by his ill-conceived ambition. He has trespassed the moral order of conduct, endangering our common cause of overcoming the shackles of subjugation and humiliation.”
The boy was awe-struck; his father clutched his hand firmly. Both of them awaited the fate of this poor guy. The man was shivering; a young lad shoved him down on his knees. Another man loaded his rifle. Before the crowd could react, the man lay lifeless in a pool of blood. The crowd began cheering and roaring in frenzy. Justice had been served well, for there was no place for dissidents beneath the red-banner.
The boy was in a state of utter shock but somehow he managed to speak incoherently, “Father, will they free us now?” His father nodded apprehensively, still not sure if the worst was over. Loudspeakers were asking the villagers to take leave. Soon people could be heard murmuring about the gruesome happening. The boy overheard some villagers discussing that the man brutally executed was a local peasant accused of spying for the police and paramilitary forces, passing on to them inputs regarding the movement of the Naxals.
Two months back, a massive paramilitary drive was launched across the red corridor with much pomp and show. Operation Green Hunt, the name erroneously given by the Indian media, soon became a part of public lexicon. However, the governments and the policy-makers never acknowledged any such large-scale anti-Naxal drive across East India. Sometimes it is imperative that the wider masses remain oblivious of the government’s greater agenda. A paradox in itself but democracy is about such contradictions.
By the time the boy and his father had barely made to the disjointed queue, he could see men clad in greens storming the main gate. They pushed and shoved villagers who stood in their way. Shocked and caught off-guard, the Maoists opened indiscriminate fire on the paramilitary forces.
The boy was trembling in fear. All he could see was people running helter-skelter for their life. He lost hold of his father’s hand in the chaos. By the time he realized, a blow to his head knocked him off.
“It still pains, mother,” he said. His mother sat by his bed ecstatic, with tears rolling down her cheek, which she wiped with her hand. It had been two days since the boy was rushed to hospital. She was grateful to the God that her child was spared in this cold-blooded massacre of villagers, which left over forty dead and innumerable injured.
The next she heard from the boy, “Where’s father?” To which she instantly replied, “He’s alright my child.” As if to validate what she had just said his father emerged through the door. The boy was relieved and could finally shun all those gloomy thoughts grotesquely moving in his head.
Haris Ahmed is pursuing B. Tech. (Electronics) at the University of Delhi. As a passion, he writes short stories and articles concerning social issues in India. His blog: harisinsight.wordpress.com.
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