In 1990, a 15-year-old tribal girl left her poverty-stricken parents and seven siblings at Arkapalli village in Aheri tehsil and walked into deep into the forests of Gadchiroli.
Enamoured by the olive-clad men and women who carried rifles and who promised to herald a ‘people’s rule’, she trudged behind them, deaf to the pleas of her parents.
But after a year of living in forests constantly on the run, in tents, under the sun, in rain and with a nagging malarial fever, the romanticism died a natural death.
But when the teen said she wanted to go back, her armed comrades said she could not. The fact that she had been part of the movement was enough for the police to get her, they warned.
It was then that Rikki Pote Portey realised that entry into the Naxal movement was a one-way street. Once in, there was no turning back.
Seventeen years in the movement transformed Rikki into Bharatakka, a dreaded Naxalite who rose to the position of area committee secretary, learned how to handle weapons, engineered blasts and filled the hearts of tribals and policemen with fear. Last December, she surrendered.
Bharatakka’s tale is similar to those of surrendered Naxals Renuka, Shuklal, Lakda or Najuklal. They all came from small, poor, uneducated, ideologically unexposed, underdeveloped tribal villages in the hinterland of Gadchiroli. They were all drawn into the Naxal movement in their teenage and they all wanted to leave within a year.
It was the fear of the police that kept them from leaving the movement and continue as reluctant, yet helpless, Naxalites. It was only when the police announced the surrender policy that the tide turned.
The first step towards becoming a Naxal is rooted in romanticism. Bharatakka recalled with a smile: “The partywallas (CPI Maoist) would come to our village, sing and dance. It was so much fun.”
It proved to be equally attractive for 14-year-old Renuka, the uneducated daughter of a tribal forest guard in Kamlapur village.
“The uniform and the gun were alluring,” she said. Renuka went on to become an area committee member of the movement. Her husband Shuklal, whom she met while within the movement, was also lured by the “uniform and music” when he was 15.
A year after joining, Shuklal wanted to leave the existence of an animal. “We went without water during summer, food was not always available. When the police chased us, we could not even eat or rest for days. I sought permission to return but was told that the police would make my life miserable.”
Unlettered Bharatakka found the ideology classes even worse. “The dalam commander would teach us about Marx, Lenin, Mao, Stalin and of people’s rule in Russia and China. It was difficult to understand,” she said. Neither can these Naxalites tell much about the ideology they were taught, nor can they list any welfare activity they have conducted for poor tribals.
Bharatakka said she is now sure that the kind of rule the Naxals dream of is not showing any signs of materialising. “I don’t see signs of it happening in these times.”
Budhra Rafel Lakda (19) has already spent three years as member of the dalam. “I think there are others who want to leave the movement. But no one talks openly.”
They live under police protection but fear has not left them completely. While within the movement, they were warned that police would get them, now they fear their former colleagues. They have got cash for surrendering, but cannot go back home. “I’m thinking how to stay alive,” said Bharatakka. In a strange way, they are still on a one-way street.