Arundhati Roy during a visit to the forest where she broke the taboo of of interviewing Maoist guerrillas in their base areas.
Last month, quietly, unannounced, Arundhati Roy decided to visit the forbidding and forbidden precincts of Central India’s Dandakaranya Forests, home to a melange of tribespeople many of whom have taken up arms to protect their people against state-backed marauders and exploiters. She recorded in considerable detail the first face-to-face journalistic “encounter” with armed guerrillas, their families and comrades, for which she combed the forests for weeks at personal risk. This essay was published on March 21, 2010 in Delhi’s Outlook magazine. Arundhati Roy made the pictures in this 20,000 word essay available exclusively to Dawn. The following was first posted on Dawn.com.
Walking with the Comrades
by Arundhati Roy
The terse, typewritten note slipped under my door in a sealed envelope confirmed my appointment with India’s Gravest Internal Security Threat. I’d been waiting for months to hear from them.
I had to be at the Ma Danteshwari mandir in Dantewara, Chhattisgarh, at any of four given times on two given days. That was to take care of bad weather, punctures, blockades, transport strikes and sheer bad luck. The note said: “Writer should have camera, tika and coconut. Meeter will have cap, Hindi Outlook magazine and bananas. Password: Namashkar Guruji.”
Namashkar Guruji. I wondered whether the Meeter and Greeter would be expecting a man. And whether I should get myself a moustache.
There are many ways to describe Dantewara. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a border town smack in the heart of India. It’s the epicenter of a war. It’s an upside down, inside out town.
In Dantewara the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail-superintendant is in jail. The prisoners are free (three hundred of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.
Across the Indravati river, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call ‘Pakistan’. There the villages are empty, but the forest is full of people. Children who ought to be in school, run wild. In the lovely forest villages, the concrete school buildings have either been blown up and lie in a heap, or they’re full of policemen. The deadly war that’s unfolding in the jungle, is a war that the Government of India is both proud and shy of.
Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister (and CEO of the war) says it does not exist, that it’s a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilized for it. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all. Continue reading