SOUTH BASTAR: Eighteen-year-old Radha looks too young to be called a comrade. But there’s no mistaking the gun she swings over her shoulder.
Radha’s desire to be a part of the ongoing festivities in Dandakarnya forest’s Bhumkal divas is almost infectious. But it is a measure of her guerrilla discipline that she skips the festivities until her sentry duty is over. For all her teenager-enthusiasm, Radha carries the significant mantle of being a third-generation Naxal fighter.
Her grandfather joined the rebels and his two sons followed suit. Radha, her older brother and a sister are gun-toting comrades, familiar with the terrain, comfortable with their way of life. There are several young girl comrades in this group. On the one hand innocent, on the other trained to shoot and debilitate, these girls are a strange mix of girly behaviour and warrior grit. Comrade Soni, 18, transforms from soldier in olive fatigues to a dancer in a red-and-white sari, her gun resting on the ground as she takes to the stage, with the intensity of a focused soldier. Not everyone is in fatigues here, although all the women are trained fighters. Comrade Sanjini for one doesn’t wear the olive uniform and could pass off as any other tribal woman if it weren’t for the black plastic holster she casually slings over her right shoulder. Sanjini heads the chetna natya manch. As head, she reworks traditional Gondi songs to include Red lyrics.
To each his peace, and these women find peace in their fight against the State. No matter the risk to their lives or the sacrifices they make, these women are almost fierce in asserting that this is the chosen way of life. Comrades Sanjeev, Sonai and Ranita were injured in an encounter. Comrade Janila’s was the first stop they made. Fluent in Gondi and barely able to speak Hindi, Janila is the resident doctor-nurse. As part of the Doctor Squad, she tends to the injured trio, dresses their wounds and gives them ‘‘ampicillin injections’’. She rejects a safer life. ‘‘I would never have been happy raising children and tending to the fields.
I have greater control over my life here. Working for the party, for the people is the life I enjoy,’’ she states. For the only married woman we met, Comrade Roopi is a picture in contrast. Tall and lean, the bespectacled Roopi is from Andhra Pradesh and her Naxal husband is with another cadre. She does not want to talk about the life she has left behind. ‘‘It’s been six years since I saw my mother. I do miss her,’’ she says but is quick to add that it would be the same if she were working in some other city.
Her role as educator involves daily classes with the tribal locals, where she teaches Maoist philosophy. She tells them, she says, of how imperialist forces have oppressed them, looted their forests and destroyed their way of life. The present day government is equally oppressive, she adds.