The letters carry no addresses. Most don’t even have names, for those would be a giveaway. Some may have already been delivered. Others perhaps en route, in the complex, hand-to-hand postal system that is the medium of communication for Maoists in the jungles of Bastar. It is difficult to tell. But all these letters, recovered by the Chhattisgarh Police after exchanges of fire, tell stories — of increasing police and government influence in some areas; promises to intensify Maoist military and political schooling; of consolation, solace and loneliness.
In January this year, teams from the Chhattisgarh Police were on an intelligence-based operation in Doditumnar area of Dantewada district, at the confluence of Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma districts. Senior police officials told The Indian Express that they came across a small hill, where they found a Maoist hideout. “In truth, we did not expect to find them there, but it was clearly a hideout. Both sides spotted each other, and there was exchange of fire, but the Maoists fled,” said a senior official. But what was important was what they left behind.
Police found signs of the presence of Maoist commander Kawasi Bheema. Also known as Situ, Bheema has earned himself a fearsome reputation, and is ‘deputy commander’ of ‘battalion number 1’, headed by Hidma. Carrying a Rs 30 lakh bounty on his head across two states, his profile, in the Chhattisgarh Police records, says, “jhuk kar chalta hai, baye bhuja mein goli lagne ka nishan hai, subah pratidin vyayam karta hai (walks with a stoop, has a bullet injury on his left arm, exercises every morning)”, and the crucial, “ghatna ki planning karne mein tej hai (is proficient at planning attacks)”.
“Situ has been instrumental in several massive attacks on security forces and, with Sonu, is a big name in South Bastar region. It is almost certain that he was part of the Bhejji and Burkapal attacks that left 37 jawans dead,” said D M Awasthi, Special DG, anti-Naxal operations.
Much of what the police found at the makeshift camp was not out of the ordinary, such as daily use material and wire. But they also found a small bag containing letters which they believe to be Situ’s. “Some of these letters have status reports from various places. So they were either marked to Situ, or he could be sending it to the higher-ups such as Ramanna, Hidma, or other Central Committee members hiding in Bastar,” said a senior official.
One letter, written to a “Comrade Kumari”, notes the government’s push inside the AOB (Andhra Odisha Border) division of the Maoists, as well as the upcoming elections in 2019. “There are serious problems in the AOB division. Every day, the search operations by the police are increasing. They are catching hold of the public and beating them up. The situation right now is very dire. There are elections in 2019 so the government wants to finish Maoism everywhere. That is why we will study the principles of MLM (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) well, and however difficult the problem is, we will take it to the party and try and solve it. We will pay attention to the political military school and try and learn. I am also trying to learn these things, Comrade Kumari,” says the letter, which identifies the writer only as a member of the “supply dalam” of the AOB division.
Another letter, addressed to “Kumari”, also speaks of the difficulties in the Bhairamgarh division in Bijapur district, saying the ‘sangham’ members in villages were finding it difficult to work, but were attempting to “despite the difficulties”.
A four-line letter, addressed to Situ, reads, “I am writing you a short letter. Could not find mobile batteries. Will get it on Saturday and will send it to you with a letter. Sending Rs 900 and supplies with Sannu. As I finish my letter, with a revolutionary salute, Lal Salaam. Comrade Kumbha.”
Senior police officials said even letters as short as these are often revealing, giving information on the name of the supplier. “Also, for instance, there are two possible reasons Situ wants a mobile battery. One is that perhaps even senior cadre are now using these phones, or the second is that these batteries, as we have known, are being used in improvised explosive devices. Both constitute valuable intelligence,” said a senior official.
It isn’t always the substantive content of what the letters revolve around, but stray sentences that reveal the intricacies of the lives of Maoists. For instance, each letter is handwritten in Devanagari script, but the language is Gondi, later translated into Hindi by the Chhattisgarh police. At least two letters say “please forgive me if the letters that I use to write are wrong. Correct them and then read”. And in a world where names change constantly, even cadres lose track. “There used to be a Paike who was with you. Where is she now? Has she kept the same name or has she changed it,” says one letter.
“These letters give us crucial information on their internal happenings, confirm our push, and often shows us their disillusionment and sense of frustration,” said Awasthi. It was such literature which confirmed to the police the creation of a new Maoist zone called the “Maharashtra Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh (MMC)”, as reported by The Indian Express.
One letter, for instance, written to “Kumari behen”, says, “How are you at this time, I do not know. I hope you are happy with everyone else. Why don’t you ever write me a letter? We met once at that place, but even then you did not come to my dera to sit with me?” In the same letter, the un-named writer beseeches Kumari not to think about marriage. “We knew about all of this when we entered the party. We should not get angry when these small and big problems come. If you fall ill, take some pills, and learn from the political military school. We should not think about returning home. Rina is also where we left her. If there are some problems because you are not travelling home, then you should narrate this at the branch meeting and fix the issue,” it says.
Another letter, recovered from Situ’s bag, says, “It is happening such that the enemy is targeting our RPC and sangham, and their target is to finish them off. We have given responsibilities to the sangham of the villages where they reside. Whatever they know, they are doing. Therefore, you should also think that you left behind your parents, sister, brother and everyone else in the village for the people, to solve the problem of the poor people, and to fight against the thieves. Think comrade. There are illnesses, but the party is responsible. Whatever subjects the commander raises, don’t think of them as criticism. Don’t get angry and don’t think about going home. Heat, rain, cold — these are all problems that will always come. We are working for the people.”