When the Naxals Speak Your Language


The Wire (India) is new media venture founded by Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia that seeks to “reimagine the media as a joint venture in the public sphere between journalists, readers and a concerned citizenry.” Debarshi Dasgupta:

It is early December. A chill has started to descend along with the opaque dark that cloaks Bijapur’s jungles every night. A few locals in Bedre, a small village on the banks of the Indrawati and next to the border with Maharashtra, have gathered around a crackling fire. Without televisions in most households, congregating around some warmth is how villagers here like to keep themselves entertained on long winter evenings. One of them, a government worker, flicks open his phone. He decides the occasion merits a song.

I await a mawkish Bollywood number. It is all I have heard public bus stereos belt out in Chhattisgarh. On these long, rough journeys, escapist refrains have turned out to be a favourite of the people here, scarred, not unlike their roads, by the persistent Naxal conflict.

Instead, a booming female voice plays out of his phone. An infectious rhythmic drumbeat and a rousing chorus roll in to keep her company. “Jaburjaburjangalte deke atina, laljhandalaltenima des kinaam…” the Gondi recording progresses.

She is singing of her love for her hero, not one who cavorts to woo her but a martyr who has died defending her land. “The beauty of the jungle you fought for misses you. Where are you? Where is your voice? We can’t hear it.” There’s little doubt about the song’s provenance and loyalty; it is one performed to support the Naxals. But this gathering is one of ordinary villagers, not Naxal cadres bonding around a boot-camp bonfire. Why would they play a rebel song openly, and before an outsider?

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