Himanshu Kumar must sometimes feel like he’s stepped into a parallel universe.
He’s a committed Gandhian, accused of being a sympathizer to the Naxalite armed struggle. He’s spent 17 years emotionally and spiritually connected to the adhivasis of Chattisgarh in eastern India, and now he lives a shadow life in a faraway city, forbidden from returning to the place he calls home. Every day, he receives phone calls from the people he used to work with, pleading with him to come home, but he can’t.
“It’s so painful, I feel disturbed, I feel lost. I’m nobody now - there I was doing something for society and here I’m doing nothing – just listening to the cries of the people. They trusted me to help them and I feel I’ve left them when they most need me.”
Himanshu Kumar stands accused of abducting an old lady called Sodi Sambo, a tribal who was shot in the leg after witnessing government forces killing several people in her village. Himanshu was trying to drive her to Delhi for medical treatment when they were stopped at the state border and arrested.
“The police themselves abducted her and they’re accusing me” he says mournfully. But it’s all par for the course. Last year, the police bulldozed the centre he’d spent 17 years building – the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram - and drove Himanshu, his wife and two daughters out of their home. Today Himanshu goes from city to city in India trying to plead the cause of the tribals of Dantewada.
It’s not an accident that the Naxalites or Maoists are strongest in the areas of great social inequality where there is an almost total absence of government services. And it’s no accident that these are the very same places that have abundant mineral resources. Kumar believes that the government is protecting the interests of the mining lobbies by forcing tribals off their land. These same tribals are stand accused of being Maoist sympathizers, but according to Himanshu Kumar, this is nothing more than propaganda for the distant urban citizenry.
The Naxalites are also not just the Robin Hood characters they would like to portray themselves as. There is evidence that they are making unholy alliances with criminal organizations to extort money from mining corporations as well as bleeding funds intended for development. So should the government be throwing more money into delveopment in areas when it could be siphoned off by the Naxalites?
Himanshu doesn’t believe the answer lies in money – they just need basic attention, basic services that don’t need much funding: a teacher, a health worker, a ration shop. Small things really, but they could be the key to cooling down a hot war.
Photos courtesy of Priyanka Borpuraji