I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a special police officer, then released thanks to a habeas corpus petition.
In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targeting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being slain Maoist leader Azad’s successor and a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader.
‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara T-shirt?’
‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’
Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.
A young man who is repeatedly targeted by the state wants to wear a T-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.
That alone is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the Chhattisgarh government. That alone is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathiser.
A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.
Lingaram was arrested again on September 9 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.
He was arrested along with BK Lala, a contractor. As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.
Lingaram would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.
His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on Youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want karvai, nor kranti. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1’.
But why is he really in jail?
The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organise, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new land acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanisation is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.
Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.
They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.
The Maoists too, claim to help the adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathiser, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his granduncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.
Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free from being called something, free from what others want him to be. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’
Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now.
— The writer is a journalist