The story of the 20-year-old’s arrest began with a football match. Shiv Charan Soy had walked all day to meet his sister. He arrived at the Jharkhand village just in time for a game of football the village’s favourite pastime with a feast of goat meat awaiting the winners.
That evening set off a dramatic turn of events that catapulted him from being an ordinary village youth to a porter with Naxalites, to an overground worker for the rebels, eventually a police informer and finally arrested with sister Meera on charges of being a terrorist for possessing a camera flash and battery.
It is a story resonating across India. The state and guerrilla groups have ended up pushing hundreds of youths across 12 insurgency-affected states into becoming, or being called, militants.
Hours after the football match – in which Soy’s team won — and the goat feast, Naxalites appeared and forcibly took Soy, his sister and seven other youths with them. <b1>
“They said they would take one boy and one girl from every home for their cause,” Soy casually said in his video-taped interrogation. He said he soon gave it up. A year later, he helped the police find bombs buried in forests across the Jharkhand-Orissa border. But now Soy finds himself in jail on terrorism charges.
“We know he is not guilty. He actually helped us. But other officers were keen to show results, and he got sucked into the system,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
In Ghatsila town, on Jharkhand’s border with West Bengal, lawyer Deepti Singh has ensured the acquittal of 26 people including three women all imprisoned on fake terrorism charges.
“People are being blackmailed. If someone has resources, he or she is threatened into either parting with money or being labelled terrorists,” Singh said.
There is a jigsaw of reasons actually: rage against Indian rule, forced recruitment by rebels, high-handedness of security forces, social discontent, unemployment, poverty, ethnic and tribal rivalries, and the promise of thrill and power for the adventurous.
Many women are also joining the rebels. “The reasons behind this could be dowry demands, oppression by in-laws, sexual assaults and the need for revenge, or the killings of a family member over property,” said Gouri Shankar Rath, Jharkhand’s police intelligence chief.
But there’s another side too. In Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, when 22-year-old Sunita refused to return to the jungle to resume her “duty” as a Naxalite cadre, her 55-year-old father Lapasodi was killed.
“Lapasodi was murdered by the Naxalites to send a signal to the entire region so that nobody would dare desert them. The militants are getting jittery about retaining their cadres,” said local Superintendent of Police Ratanlal Dangi. Sunita fled the village.
In Chintoor in Andhra Pradesh, Firoz (28) lives in constant fear — he was forced to join the Naxalites after he offered them water in his village.
“I pleaded that my parents were old and could not take care of the fields, but they said my parents would be respected in the village if I was a Naxalite,” he said.
“I know I can be killed any day by the Naxalites … but I am prepared for that,” said Firoz.
And then there are those who join the rebel ranks to feel powerful. “For an unemployed man, if he gets guns, power, an aura and girls swoon over him, what else does he want?” asked a top military commander in Manipur.
M Inao (24) from the state’s Thoubal district did odd jobs with a passenger bus service until four and half years ago. His father and uncle taunted him for not earning enough, so he joined a Manipur Valley-based rebel group in sheer anger. Inao was arrested in 2005, released on bail the same year, but went underground again.