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Caught in crosshairs of Chhattisgarh’s police-Naxal war, 14 who surrendered

Under an initiative launched last June called ‘Lon Varattu’ (which in Gondi dialect means ‘return to your village’), the state police appeals to those who have turned naxals to come back home.

ON JANUARY 6, 28-year old Nanda Midiyami, one of the 14 tribals who the police recorded as a Naxal, was restless, and scared. The next day, they had to present themselves at the SP’s office in Dantewada, and put their thumb impressions on a surrender document.

Gumiyapal is a village 45 km from the district headquarters in Dantewada. It is difficult to access the village, with the nearest road at least 25 km away.

The 14 men, aged 25-40 years, are subsistence farmers and grow paddy in small plots of land around their village, for personal consumption. They had gathered on the outskirts of the village along with their gaayta (the tribal head), siyaan (the elders), women and children, to speak with The Indian Express. Besides the police, the dozen-plus men also feared retribution from Maoists, who they feared would brand them as police informers, working for the lure of money.

Under an initiative launched last June called ‘Lon Varattu’ (which in Gondi dialect means ‘return to your village’), the state police appeals to those who have turned naxals to come back home. They print pamphlets and nail posters in the walls with the names and other details of those who are members of Maoist-affiliated organisations. Under the scheme, every surrendered person gets Rs 10,000 in cash, and this is mentioned in the surrender document she/ he signs in the police station. Naxals who carry cash rewards on their heads, are paid that sum too.

There are, however, conflicting claims on two counts: whether those who surrender are genuinely naxals, and whether they are actually paid the Rs 10,000 cash promised under the scheme.

On January 7, besides Nanda Midiyami, the other 13 men who surrendered were: Somudu Kunjam, Mandavi Ura, Somulu Murami, Kowasi Hidma, Nanda Mandavi, Joga Wanjami, Lakhma Midiyami, Baman Midiyami, Deva Wanjam, Bhima Midiyami, Budhra Murami, Bhura Midiyami and Raju Midiyam.

The posters put up by the police described the 14 men as members of the jan militia or the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sanghathan, an unarmed front organisation of Maoists, or the Chetna Natya Mandi, a cultural offshoot. “They left these pamphlets around our houses, nailed these on our walls or doors, as if we are some castaways,” said 37-year old Kowasi Hidma, one of the 14.

Nanda, who cultivates paddy on around 0.10 acre for his family, and an alleged jan militia member, said they were told by the police in December to surrender before January 10. “Security forces would accost us when we were out grazing cattle. One of them told me, I would be jailed for more than 35 years. He told me my children will forget my face,” he claimed.

“For my children, I borrowed money to go to Dantewada on January 7, to sign and get over with it. But I never got the promised Rs 10,000,” he said. All others too claimed they did not receive any money.

Abhishek Pallav, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, who is the brain behind the Lon Varattu scheme, said, “We collated a list including those accused in several cases, and those whose names came up during interrogation of naxals arrested earlier.” The list has identified about 1,600 people as naxals.

But village elders in Gumiyapal said the 14 men were not naxals. “These men have been accused on the basis of hearsay. When we received the pamphlet, we asked the police to prove if these men were involved in anything illegal. But our village representatives were pressured to get these men surrendered,” said Unga, a siyaan, or a village elder.

When pointed to these claims by Gumiyapal siyaans, Superintendent of Police Pallav said, “All these people, who have surrendered, have been found to be involved in actively working for the banned organisation.”

According to Pallav, the idea is to get all the working cogs of the naxal or Maoist force to surrender. “Many of these grassroots workers are fed up and disillusioned. We are giving them a way to join the mainstream. After surrendering, they can live with the law and prosper peacefully,” he said.

But it may not be turning out to be a peaceful life for those who surrendered. They live in anxiety, fearing retaliation of some sort by the naxals. “It was not even a week since I surrendered that I started getting messages to come and meet them (naxal cadres). They think we have done this for money. I told one of the messengers I didn’t get any money,” said Joga Panjam, 30, one of the 14 men, who the police alleged was a jan militia member.

The others too said they did not receive any money so far. “On January 7 when we surrendered, we were told we would get the money another day. We expressed it is difficult for us to come again, but we were shooed away,” Nanda said.

What is hurting these men more now is the likelihood that naxals will demand the money they supposedly received following the surrender. Bhima Midiyami, 25, said the Maoists would not only want them to hand over the money, but might also punish them by ruling in a jan adalat (a kangaroo court of sorts).

“We have been getting messages to go meet them and attend the jan adalat. They might ask us to work for them, now that we have posed as naxals. They might also ask us to leave our village and go away if we want to save our lives, as they think we have turned police informers,” Midiyami said.

Under the Lon Varattu campaign, 320-odd people have surrendered so far. Of these, over 177 people had been paid under the government policy. The others, district officials claimed, did not give any bank details and thus money couldn’t be transferred to them. “We give them Rs 10, 000 from our side in cash. Under the government policy, however, all this needs to be registered, and the money gets deposited directly into their accounts. Some of them don’t provide us with their account numbers, mostly out of fear,” a senior district official said.

In Gumiyapal, villagers claim they do not hold bank accounts, and are further scared to access accounts even if they have one. Maoists still hold sway in these areas, and can order the tribals to leave the village or at times even be killed if they find their movements to be suspect.

SP Abhishek Pallav, however, believes the villagers are being forced to lie, as he has paid Rs 10,000 cash to each one of the surrendered cadre under the Lon Varratu campaign. “The reason we pay Rs 10,000 directly is to counter this situation. The villagers take the money and then lie under pressure from the Maoists. I will still send my men and check what is the hold up in Gumiyapal,” he said.

The scheme, Pallav claimed, has shook the militant organisation. He, however, believes an entire lobby is out to defame the campaign. “We have managed to get several senior leaders to surrender. Earlier, these same people would get arrested again and again. The lawyers used to take hefty sums to get them off. We are now offering a better solution, which is why an entire lobby is against it,” he said.

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