Three boys entered a jungle, in a Naxalite area, on their bicycles, lived with them for four days because they were detained. Who detained them? Naxals of course. And they discovered ‘Bharat’ we do not know. (Perhaps we do not wish to know). Their purpose was to discover Bharat. Their narrations are made in to a book (in Marathi) which they could have, I mean they should have, titled it ‘Discovery of Bharat’, but instead they titled it ‘Teen Mulanche Char Divas’ meaning ‘Four Days in the Lives of Three Boys.’
This is a true story. Interestingly all the three have written separate narration, in their own way, so it makes an interesting book where you get three versions of the same experience.
Adivasi population exceeds 10 crores, and more than half of it is ruled by Naxals. Local populace supports the Naxals; or so it is believed, but it is not the complete story.
Our three heroes from Pune, Adarsh Patil, Vikas Walke, and Shreekrishna Shevale decided to explore four districts of Maharashtra: Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Wardha, and Nagpur. They made a short journey of this difficult area in the last week of November 2014, and returned to Pune with the resolve to come back for a longer exploration tour later and they did in December 2015. The boys had a novel plan; they were going to explore and visit the area on their bicycles.
And they soon landed in the hands of Naxals. Were they informants of the police? That was the question Naxal ‘authorities’ investigated and reached the conclusion in the negative. So, they were finally ‘released’ after four days of detention. Although the three boys spent four days in the hands of Naxals, they were not treated as prisoners, never threatened, though occasionally looked at with suspicion. Why would three boys enter this ‘out of bounds’ area? And that too with the dreamy thought of discovering Bharat?
The tribals treated them well, though Naxal chieftains interrogated them. The three boys saw abject poverty, yet no attempt to steal from them, instead the tribals trusted them easily. The tribals were curious about the bicycles, and airplanes (many graves were decorated with wooden airplanes). They met a young boy Hunga who dreamt of becoming a doctor. Hunga had watched Salwa Judum destroying his school, and torching the entire village. (Salwa Judum has since been outlawed).
The tribal culture has retained good old values of equality of men and women and of treating people respectfully. The poverty is combined with lack of education (Hunga is an exception) makes them easy subjects of exploitation. Naxal movement may not be the answer to their problems, and unfortunately nobody seems to care to find an answer.
In the meantime, the three boys vanishing in the jungle made headline stories in local newspapers. You can read the ‘official version’ of which appeared in The Times of India ‘Three kidnapped Pune students released by Naxals in Chattisgarh’ on January 3, 2016. There are YouTube videos available too.
On their ‘release’ they were taken to a safe place by helicopter. Shreekrishna Shevale ends his narration by an insightful observation: ‘While in the jungle we had to prove that we were not police informants. And after coming out we had to prove that we were not Naxals or their associates. This also reflects the two-pronged conflict which tribals have to confront.’
What the boys brought to light was a different India, unknown to us, and they discovered Bharat. They had slept well in their so-called captivity. I wonder if they have slept well on release. They may never be able to do it and one of the reasons will be that the problem of the tribals is not on anyone’s agenda.
(‘Teen Mulanche Char Divas’ is published by Sadhana Prakashan, price Rs 200. Available on Amazon among other sites.)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”