Sick in the jun­gle

How Maoists came to the res­cue in Ch­hat­tis­garh

The Hindu - - OPED - Su­vo­jit Bagchi

In Au­gust-Septem­ber 2010, dur­ing the peak of mon­soon in the Dec­can Plateau, my friend Ruk­mini Sen and I were in­vited by some Maoists to visit their mil­i­tary camps in south Ch­hat­tis­garh. The stay was ini­tially planned for 60 days to en­able us to cover as much of the mas­sive area spread across 30,000 sq. km as we could.

It was around eight in the evening dur­ing the third week of our stay when we reached Tak­ilore, a sleepy vil­lage by the In­dra­vati river. Brav­ing heavy rain, the vil­lagers came to us with lists of their rel­a­tives who, they said, had been killed by the se­cu­rity forces. A woman in her late twen­ties, Jay­moti, gave a de­tailed ac­count of her tragedy. The po­lice came in the early hours of Fe­bru­ary 3 to “take” her “husband away”, she said, only to hand over his body later. Then came Bhima and Rukhmati, then Man­gri, and they all said their hus­bands were “taken away alive but re­turned dead”. I slowly lost the nar­ra­tive and stopped dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing one tragedy from an­other as I started shiv­er­ing and soon col­lapsed.

In the mid­dle of the night, when I woke up, I saw pour­ing rain out­side our plas­tic sheet tent. Inside, Maoist guer­ril­las were sleep­ing next to me with their AK-47s rest­ing calmly next to us. I could con­cen­trate enough to see through the dark­ness sur­round­ing the camp the con­tours of trees swing­ing wildly in the mid­dle of that alien for­est. As I shiv­ered and my body ached, I felt, for the first and only time in my re­port­ing ca­reer, that I would not be re­turn­ing home from the for­est.

I imag­ined all the happy mo­ments of my life and told Ruk­mini that I was “pass­ing away”. She said that she had had a word with the top Maoist com­man­der who had as­sured her that what I had was “sim­ple malaria”.

“You will sur­vive,” she said. More peo­ple die of malaria than con­flict in Ch­hat­tis­garh, I replied.

Next morn­ing, the Maoists gave me parac­eta­mol and a very strong qui­nine tablet that made me sweat pro­fusely. They sug­gested that I cut my trip short. In two days, we started mov­ing to­wards the high­way that was south of the In­dra­vati river to leave the area. “Keep hav­ing this,” said a Maoist, hand­ing over foils car­ry­ing Crocin and the green qui­nine tablets that were sap­ping my en­ergy.

But I sur­vived thanks to the com­man­der who cor­rectly di­ag­nosed malaria with­out car­ry­ing out any tests. The com­man­der later left Ch­hat­tis­garh to start a fam­ily in Te­lan­gana, while I joined this news­pa­per to re­port from the same alien for­est in 2012.

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