Bijapur, Chhattisgarh: Dear Comrade Kavita didi, I send you a lal salaam (red salute). Kavita didi, I don’t know how you are.
“You must be well. Comrade, I was very sick for four months. I am fine now. I was then in the village, I was very upset. I didn’t even know what disease I had, but if I hadn’t recovered, I was considering going home. But now I won’t. Whatever hardships I face, I will not leave the party, I won’t go home. I will keep fighting to protect the people.”
Committed to the cause: A 3 July letter addressed to Comrade Kavita is written in longhand on a notebook, later seized by the police in a raid. Even in personal letters, young Maoist guerrillas talk only of their war.
Even in personal letters, young Maoist guerrillas talk only of their war.
The letter in the Gondi language, signed by “Comrade Kital” of the Indrawati National Park dalam (military unit) was written in longhand on 3 July on a school notebook, later seized by the police in a raid.
This, and numerous other letters, give a window into the tough life and resolve of Maoist guerrillas who have for 42 years fought the Indian state, living in the forests.
That battle has spiralled now, with its shadow across a quarter of India, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls it the country’s biggest internal security crisis. It has gritty foot soldiers.
“Their military company is equally well trained as the police and paramilitary,” says Vishwa Mohan, director-general of Chhattisgarh police, who has for long studied the Maoist insurgency, and as a student bought a banned 32-book set of Mao’s teachings at the College Street market in Kolkata.
The Maoists have a complex structure that rises from the “sangam”, a small village unit that is their eyes and ears on the ground, also arranging meetings of rebels and villagers and arranging food for the guerrillas. The militia, a rank above, is armed with bows and arrows, including those tipped with detonators. The local guerrilla squad (LGS) forms the strongest local base, merging into platoons and companies and divisions.
Even police officers have grudging admiration for their adversary.
“The beauty is their structure. You can eliminate fighters, but (it is) very hard to kill the structure,” says an officer, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to talk on the subject to the media.
“He (the Maoist) is very smart, very intelligent, very systematic, very methodical. Every operation could be preceded by months of preparation,” the officer adds.
Like the one on 5 June, in Dhanaura village in the Nelnar area.
“Dear Comrade Chaitu dada... Policemen used to go for ablutions every day at 5am, so our comrade was waiting in ambush in civil clothes, with a bow and arrow,” says a 20 July letter from Comrade Rita. “They emerged like every day, our comrade got him with the arrow. He was wounded but did not die…we ambushed again on the 8th in civil clothes from three places. One policeman died and another was wounded.”
There are accounts of operations, including one that went horribly wrong.
“In the Pallamandi area, we carried out an explosion assuming it is policemen, but seven teachers died. In another incident, we have ambushed and killed 15 policemen and seized 16 guns,” says a letter of 14 June from Raju of the Manpur division, operating in the Bastar region in southern Chhattisgarh. He listed details of how they carried out 28 other police killings.
There are allegations of police excesses: “In the month of June, policemen came to Benchapal, they burnt down homes. They killed dada in firing, and raped women and killed them.”
“Dear Comrade Raju…I am fine, I am working for the party with all my heart and soul,” says another seized letter, the sender’s name is not legible.
“During the last assembly elections, the police had forced people of this area to vote. So our party workers have explained to the people that on the day of the Lok Sabha elections, no villager will remain in their village. A committee has been formed to hide the people.”
Maoist guerrillas are even transferred, and promoted. The letters give a glimpse of friendships forged on the battleground.
“Comrade, please read out my letter to Comrade Chaini, Comrade Mannu, Comrade Budhram, Comrade Ayte and Comrade Sundru, who are with you. Tell them all to write to me,” says a letter signed by Ashok, of the National Park LGS in southern Bastar, near the Andhra Pradesh border.
“Dear Comrade Somali…Sukko of my village is also in the Maad dalam. To take forward the revolution, Comrade Supal is also in the Gadhchiroli district—his name has been changed,” says a letter of 14 June from Raju of the Manpur division, operating in the Bastar region.
“He is now called Comrade Kishore. If you meet him, tell him Raju sent a red salute.”