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Monday, February 24, 2020

Citizen Hope: This Life of Mine

Article 21 - Protection of Life and Personal Liberty

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Updated: August 9, 2015 6:00:04 am
Citizen Hope, Fundamental Rights, Article 21, Independence Day, EYE Independence Day issue, EYE Independence Day, Protection of Life, Article 21, Indian Constitution, EYE Korram and Asmati (Source: Express photo by Ashutosh Bhardwaj)

# He once shunned the Constitution, and is now its protector. But is it a better life? A surrendered Maoist ponders as waits for his first Independence Day celebration

The rights to freedom and life for him were demarcated two decades ago when, fascinated by a bunch of armed guerrillas and their call for an equal society, he left his Bastar village for a revolutionary struggle against the state. As commander of the 6th Military Company of CPI (Maoist), Usaru Korram alias Sampat lived at a bullet’s distance from death and participated in major ambushes on the police.

He denounced the Tricolour;  Independence Day was “false”, meant for a privileged few, not for the likes of him. This August evening, staring at the sky above his Narayanpur home in Chhattisgarh, not far from the Abujhmaad forest where he spent years, he imagines his first salute to the Indian flag. He watches his fellow policemen rehearsing for the August 15 parade every day, sometimes standing with an umbrella in the torrential rain. And then he shakes his head and smiles, unable to conceal the irony that he was part of a Maoist squad that had killed 29 cops, including police superintendent VK Chaube, in neighbouring Rajnandgaon. Perhaps, some policemen in the rehearsal were present during those encounters, firing at him from the opposite ranks.

In July 2014, six months after his Maoist wife Anita had left the party to return to her parents, Korram surrendered with his comrade lover Asmati. The Party frowns upon any intimacy between comrades, but such bonds are not unusual, even if they are kept a secret to avoid censure. He was inducted as a gopniya sainik in the police force and made a constable this June. His life is now within the ambit of the Constitution he had once shunned; as a policeman, he is the protector of constitutional rights.

“Life inside was tense. We had no security. We were not allowed to move anywhere,” the couple says. Korram and Asmati now live in a rented one-room-kitchen home in Narayanpur’s Mukhbir Basti, a locality which mostly houses ex-Maoists or tribals who left their villages during the police-Naxal conflict to settle here.

Korram doesn’t know what freedoms or rights his life guarantees him now, but he feels lighter, more secure. The rhythm of daily life has a strange charm for the two. He has purchased an Atlas cycle. Asmati drapes a bright yellow sari and rides with him around town. “We now go to the market, buy vegetables and other things. We can do whatever we want,” she says. They own a small movie player, a luxury they had not known in their earlier life. It does not matter that they still cannot grasp moving images or the narrative. There’s a strange thrill in being able to watch pirated Hindi DVDs. Jaani Dushman was the last one they watched.

For Asmati, though, the city life has also thrown up many challenges. “Even if a senior Maoist leader misbehaves with women, he is expelled. I felt much safer inside,” Asmati says. “Yahan ki sanskriti alag hai,” Korram adds.

In this new life, Korram hopes to marry Asmati soon, and then become a father. His former comrades had got him sterilised over a decade ago at a remote clinic of Gadchiroli. He has requested the police superintendent for a reverse vasectomy. A few surrendered cadres in Chhattisgarh have already undergone this operation in recent years and have become fathers. Every month, from the Rs 16,000 he earns as salary, he saves a chunk for his unborn child.

Nevertheless, his life is still tethered to the sharp edge of death. He goes with the police for anti-Naxal operations in forests, exposed to the same risk he had faced as a guerrilla. Curiously, the persons he is now supposed to fire at are his former comrades. “So what?” he laughs, a sudden hysteric laughter of a stout man entering his forties. “Ladne mein josh ata hai (Fighting energises me). Earlier, I targeted people on this side, now that side. Some day or the other we will all be dead,” he says. His muscles flex through his white shirt.

This Gondi tribal has switched sides effortlessly. He has forgotten that the police, whose team he now leads, had often rounded up his brothers and relatives when he was on the other side. Without any fault, they were kept in jails because their relative, he, was a Maoist. “The younger brother of my jijaji (sister’s husband), died in Jagdalpur jail. He had nothing to do with Maoists,” he says, but quickly shrugs such memories off. “It did hurt when I was on the other side. Not now. I am a policeman now,” he says.

He is past his earlier commitment to equality and justice. “There is still inequality and poverty. But the administration is giving (money) me now. I do not know how others will get it (equality),” he says. He praises the Andhra Pradesh police that offer various kinds of jobs to surrendered Maoists, unlike in Chhattisgarh, where surrendered cadres are mostly deployed in police. A special force called the District Reserve Guard comprising surrendered tribal cadres  has been constituted to counter their ex-comrades. Several such former Maoists have been killed by the rebels.

For an outsider, his present life might amount to negation of his right to life. The couple has not received the promised compensation amount of over Rs 10 lakh, no home under Indira Awas Yojna or skill training and jobs under various schemes. But they have got hope. It makes them comfortable with their new life, makes them long for the day the government would meet its promise and pay him the amount.

On the front, he carries an AK-47. Otherwise, a 9 mm loaded pistol is always tucked at his waist. “I am on their (Maoist) hitlist,” he says.

He was a major military hand in the squad and the 6th company has dwindled after his exit. A slight glitch, and he will be dead. Maoists show no mercy to surrendered rebels. But he enjoys living with the gun.

“That’s the only thing I can do. That’s what I have been doing since childhood. Main sirf lad sakta hun.” It’s only when he talks of wars and strategies that he is at his most assured. “Maoists also send junior tribal cadres for fight. It’s the same situation here. Adhikari thode ladega (Why would the officer fight?)” he says. For the police, he is an asset, a crucial cog in the fight against his former friends.

His new friends are mostly ex-comrades, now inducted into the police after surrender. They live in the same area. Sometimes, old memories of guerrilla life crop up, but the physical comfort and monetary gains quickly wipes off such thoughts.

His dream is now to be a head constable. His bosses say that if he nets big fish or ensures major encounters, his promotion is due. After head constable, the next step is the post of assistant sub-inspector. He is unsure of ever reaching there. He just awaits his first August 15.

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