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Conflict Zone

'I was armtwisted into this life'

HUNTING OR HUNTED?: Adivasi police officers find their loyalty being tested during operations.

In the years since the Kashmir training, Somdu Madkam has emerged as one of the fiercest fighters in Chhattisgarh police. Tall and muscular, he was handpicked for a specialised unit that came to be known as the Koya Commandos. In an unexpected meeting in Bastar, over a series of questions, some of which he answers, others he deftly skips, he talks about being on both sides of the conflict.


I was born in a village near Dornapal (in Dantewada district). The closest road was 15 km away. I studied till Class V in the village school. Padhai, na padhai, ek hi matlab (classes, or no classes, it was the same thing).


My family included my mummy, daddy, two brothers and two sisters. We owned 100 acres of land and a tractor. Not many families own so much land. Most own just 5 acres each. We grew paddy, dal and rahad (a local variety of millet). We also made money from our fisheries.


The Naxals would come to our village often. They would hold meetings, sing songs, deliver speeches. We had to sit in the meetings, listen to the songs, nod to the speeches. I never enjoyed them, but I pretended I did. Those who did not nod ran the risk of being seen as pro-police.


The Naxals would say: "The police comes here, beats you up. We come here, we only ask for dal and rice. We do not trouble you. We want to capture the area and develop it. We will start jan adalat in the village. " I wondered how they could talk of developing the area without the government's help. They started collecting money from each home, around Rs 200-300. But despite that, no development took place.


One day, the Naxal 'divci' (divisional) commander called me for a chat. He said I was young and intelligent, I could do a lot. I began to work for them. I travelled to many places by train. I would transport explosives for them from factories. I even planted tiffin bombs and pressure bombs. The Naxals never trust easily. They never give arms easily. You have to first kill a policeman. But they grew to trust me.


If you work for the Naxals, you do not get any money. Once a year, you get a pair of pants, and a gamchha (towel). If they tear, you mend them and use them again.


People here want to work, build homes, buy cars. But how will they earn that kind of money? I had land, I had a tractor, but I did not have the money for fuel. Worse, the Naxals ordered us: "Do not sell the paddy from your harvest. Distribute it among the poor. " Is that fair? The poor, of course, were very happy with them. Sabse zyaada gareeb unke saath jud kar kaam kar rahe hai (It is the poor who are joining them the most).


When Salwa Judum was started, the Naxal commander Vijay Anna came to our village. "Are you going to stay or leave for the Judum camps?" he asked. I thought I would get killed if I stayed. Mere upar ghatna karenge, soochna tantra mein marenge, padha likha samajhdaar aadmi ko hi maarte hai (The educated and intelligent ones get labelled and killed as police informers).
I left the village in July 2006. At the Judum camp, I was once again noticed for being young and intelligent. A couple of week later, I was taken to Raipur where I met senior police officers. Unhone kaha ki yeh Bastar ki ladai hai, aapki ladai hai, aap hi ko ladni hai (They said this is Bastar's battle, your battle, you have to fight it).


I protested, I said I want to live like an ordinary man. They said they had evidence of my involvement with Naxals. They threatened me. They said either you join us, or lead us to Maoists camps. I decided to join them.


I was given training by the Nagas (a CRPF battalion). Then, I was sent to train with the army in Kashmir. But I tell you, the training could not match the level of the Maoists. They have a lot of jazba (enthusiasm). They taught us how to ambush, how to carry heavy loads and run, how to build tunnels, how to crawl, how to carry dead bodies away.


On the other hand, look at the central forces. If you just burst a cracker, they will all roll over to one side. The Naxals burst Laxmi 'bombs' and the CRPF exhausts its ammunition in retaliatory fire. The jungle makes them fearful.


Once, the senior officers were discussing names for our unit. I suggested 'Koya Commando'. Koya is the name of our tribe. The officers thought it was a great idea.


In my first year with the police, I got a message from the Naxals asking me to rejoin them. But I decided not to. That year, six SPOs in Bijapur crossed over to the Naxal side with their weapons. The police was hopping mad. That's why they still do not fully trust us adivasis.


Once during an operation, someone in my own party turned to fire at me. I say never trust anyone. Yes, innocents are getting killed by the police. The Naxals are always ringed by people, some carry bows and arrows, others are unarmed. We need to first eliminate them. How else can we win the war? One day, Maoist leaders will surrender and enjoy the good life. Look at Nepal. Who gets killed in this war? Mostly the adivasis.


I got married recently. I did not wish to marry, but my family forced me to. And I wanted to see what love is like in whatever life I have left. My wife lives in a Judum camp with my parents. It is not safe for her to live with me. Even in the camp, my family could become targets. Main pahad kee tarah khada hoon phir bhi (Still, I stand like a mountain guarding them).

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