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Friday, December 03, 2021

‘I don’t draw any conclusions, I only document’

Usually, it takes a journalist upto two weeks to prepare for a big story. For C Vanaja, it took two years. ‘‘Living in Andhra Pradesh, you cannot ignore the Naxalites,’’ she says.

Written by Nehasinha |
April 15, 2006 8:13:27 pm

Usually, it takes a journalist upto two weeks to prepare for a big story. For C Vanaja, it took two years. ‘‘Living in Andhra Pradesh, you cannot ignore the Naxalites,’’ she says. ‘‘But it took me two years of dialogue with the Naxal leaders for them to trust me enough to let me into their lives.’’

Vanaja wanted to do what no journalist had done before: She wanted to meet the Naxalites and film their lives and interactions with the villagers to understand their system of parallel governance. In the process, she hoped to map an India that didn’t exist for the rest of the country.

Convincing the Naxal leaders wasn’t easy. ‘‘They would ask me to come to nondescript areas, like a tea-stall near the jungle. Twice, they never came. The third time, after two years, they did,’’ she says.

As a journalist, she expected to be going on an investigative journey. What she didn’t anticipate was a trip that would change her as a human being. The twin strands combined to make a powerful tale.

‘‘It is true that the Naxalites rule with the gun and have well-organised divisions with commanders and secretaries,’’ Vanaja says. ‘‘But from them, I learnt what it means to live and die for a cause.’’

To say that life in the forest is hard would be an understatement.

‘‘Despite the odds, they are completely in sync with the tribal villagers. Their activities and campaigns stress on development,’’ says Vanaja. ‘‘I saw them, together with the villagers, dig up wells and tanks worth crores in a matter of days. The government takes a year to install a percolation tank.’’

Among all the images of rigour in her mind—training, hard work, sickness, ammunition, encounters—some softer strains linger. ‘‘An image that will always stay with me is that of the lean, hardened Naxals playing with tribal children,’’ she smiles.

The journey has taught Vanaja to respect her own work as a documentative eye. ‘‘I have not attempted to question the Naxalites, or their understanding of the situation in Dandakaranya. I am not going to draw any conclusions either. I will only document what I have seen and what the world today should see.’’

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