by Rupam Jain Nair – Tue Nov 10, 1:36 am ET
JAGDALPUR, India (AFP) – A quick exchange of guns and a pledge to undertake a vasectomy is customary for India's Maoist "comrades" when they wed in their isolated forest hideouts.
Some 10,000-20,000 heavily armed rebels are believed to be hiding out in India's forests following a revolutionary communist ideology that paints the state and landowners as the enemies of the people.
"This is how I got married," says 36-year-old Ramesh Podiyani, a surrendered Maoist commander who fought for more than two decades in Chhattisgarh, a central state at the heart of India's "Red Corridor."
The vasectomy, he explained, was because children could weaken a fighter emotionally, distracting him from the cause of waging class war and destroying capitalism.
"Comrades" undergo the surgery in private clinics or with sympathetic doctors, avoiding government hospitals where they might be detected.
Podiyani, who now works for a private company, grew up in a Maoist training camp from the age seven where, instead of going to school, he was trained with bows and arrows, then with guns and landmines.
"I killed several people, but I'm not sorry. It was my duty to kill as a comrade," he told AFP, sitting inside a police conference room in the town of Jagdalpur, 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Chhattisgarh state capital Raipur.
Podiyani and his wife served two years in prison after they surrendered to police and are now waiting for a promised government job and a house.
Most of the recruits who end up as Maoist fighters are from India's marginalised tribal groups. Some are forcibly enlisted, others join by choice, attracted by the fight for the poor and justice.
"I was excited when I joined the Maoists. They gifted me a uniform and leather boots," Podiyani says, adding that he was enlisted after his parents fled the village when the recruitment drive began.
Ratha Werna, a former Maoist soldier now training in a special police camp in Jagdalpur, is also prepared to speak openly about life in an organisation that is challenging the authority of the government in 20 of India's 29 states.
The strength of the decades-long insurgency has finally prompted the government to launch a major offensive, with thousands of police and paramilitary forces set to surge into the rebel strongholds.
"We thought the Maoists were the government and they are good because they were working for us," says Werna, who was expelled by the Maoists after he failed to rob a bank in Raipur and is now a police de-miner.
Robbing banks, killing landlords, attacking police stations and holding up trains are regular activities for the guerrillas, who work in a highly structured organisation topped by former teacher Mupalla Laxman Rao, better known as Ganapathi.
Inside the Maoist camps, there are strict rules forbidding corruption, lies and adultery and leaders keep a close eye on the conduct of every cadre, four former rebels told AFP in a series of interviews.
All disputes between the camp members are decided within 24 hours by the camp leader, with punishments ranging from demotion, detention to physical labour.
Religion and superstition is also forbidden.
"I was not allowed to worship the trees and the birds in the camp," said 32-year-old Dhuna, a former rebel and tribal villager from a Maoist-dominated area of the densely forested, impoverished state.
"From humble forest dwellers we were forced to become brutal soldiers."
Women generally cook, collect wood and act as soldiers. Some have been known to abandon their children on state highways in order to better serve the cause, Kathihar Ras, a worker in a local orphanage, told AFP.
Men's tasks include patrolling, organising propaganda exercises and collecting protection money from wealthy business leaders to guarantee their safety.
The Maoist propaganda machine -- an essential part of the movement that the government is countering with its own communications efforts -- uses printing presses, hired translators and professional writers.
"India is nothing but a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state under neo-colonial form of indirect rule, exploitation and control," is one idea contained in a strategy manual obtained by AFP.
Podiyani remembers some of the songs used during the regular workshops in which fellow fighters were taught about strategy and tactics for a revolution to topple the democratic government by 2060.
This target date is mentioned in dozens of training manuals seized by the police in raids over the last seven years.
One song, he recalls, went as follows:
"These villages and land are ours.
Why are the rich here?
Let us all kill them, stab them and burn them."
Human rights activist Durge Rao says his research shows that the Maoists depend on young boys for the bulk of their recruits.
"The tribal boys are the fodder. They are enrolled and brainwashed, age being no barrier to the start of a revolutionary life," she said.
A recent arrest in New Delhi, however, shows that the movement might also draw support from unlikely quarters.
In September, police arrested Kobad Ghandy, whom they allege is a top Maoist leader despite his upper-class background and elite education in India's top-class Doon school and then in London where he studied accountancy.
"Many rich, educated people in India are committed to the Maoist movement. It is difficult to pluck them (single them out)," said Chhattisgarh's top police officer Vishwa Ranjan.
For Podiyani and his wife, the brutality of the camps eventually turned them away from the movement. But they are clearly having trouble adapting to life without the direction given by the daily struggle against the state and capitalism.
"We still think like Maoists. It has been a challenge for us to settle in a city and abide by the government's rules," he says.
Friday, November 13, 2009