A revolutionary since childhood, he dodged the police for over 15 years before he was caught and sent to jail for involvement in Naxal activities. It was 2002-2003 when the Naxal movement was at its peak in Jharkhand.
Fourteen months later, when he walked out of jail, he was a changed man, transformed into a social worker championing the cause of education in Ghagra, a Naxal hit block in Gumla district, around 120 km west of capital Ranchi.
HT travelled to Ghagra to meet Thimbu Oraon, 32, an icon in Gumla's tribal society, who silently runs a school in his village Badri besides empowering the community brethren by initiating several community development programs. Not long ago in Ghagra young men either joined the Indian army or walked into the Maoist camps for livelihood. Farming was scarce due to lack of irrigation facility and there was hardly any business avenue for local citizenry.
A picturesque place abound with majestic hills, tall trees and lush green fields, the countryside in Ghagra is no less beautiful than any popular hill station in the country. But years of neglect, underdevelopment, illiteracy and poverty gave the Maoist leadership ample opportunity to trap the local youth into its fold.
When Thimpu joined the Maoist camp after matriculation impressed by their ideology, scores of youngsters followed him. But such was the influence of this former Naxalite that when he decided to disassociate with the Maoists, he brought back almost all the youngsters of his panchayat into the mainstream.
"In the countryside, shops used to shut before 5pm and even police dreaded to travel after sunset," says Pushpalata Dubey, a Ghagra based teacher credited to have inspired Thimbu into joining the mainstream. "…But then Thimbu fought with his former friends to bring back normalcy. It's peace all over again," she said.
Acquitted of all Naxal cases in 2008, Thimbu contested the panchayat polls for the post of mukhiya held in 2009 and won with record votes. Now popular as mukhiyaji, he has taken up overall development of his panchayat on a war footing.
"I want to set up a school in every village," he said pointing at the disparity in government and private schools. "I wanted to become a doctor, but poverty accompanied by poor quality of education in our village school pushed me into rebellion and addiction," said Thimbu, pledging for a bright future of every youngster in his panchayat.
Villagers support his cause by contributing Rs. 1 and a fistful of rice every week to his Kisan Bank. Impressed by his missionary zeal Rajya Sabha MP Parimal Nathwani has donated him Rs. 14 lakh while local legislator Chamra Linda has released Rs. 7 lakh from his MLA fund for construction of a state-of-the-art School in Thimbu's village.
Thimbu says he never picked up arms." While with the Maoists, my job was to put posters and distribute pamphlets. "Pen is mightier than gun. If the state stops its dual policy for the rich and the poor, there would be no rebellion in the country," he said.