It's been a little over two months since the since the murder-rape of a young girl in Delhi. The city still simmers given the arguments and emotions stirred by the Verma report. But in one of India's many forgotten corners, sexual assault seems to occur with impunity and victims have little recourse to justice. Chattisgarh more often in the news for the state's undeclared war against the Maoists, has witnessed such atrocities on a tragic scale, not by state agencies alone but also tribal upon tribal.
This theme forms part of a wider canvas that journalist and activist Shubranshu Choudhary explores in his book "Let's call him Vasu", documenting his seven year long study of the Maoist insurgency in Chattisgarh. It captures the magnificent desolation of the land the tribals call their home. Verdant jungle, rich, bountiful yet its people condemned to poverty and exploitation.
Shubranshu tells it as it is, of the weeks spent walking endlessly through jungles broken by camps at night, conversations with a range of Maoist figures from middle level commanders to lower level cadres including women. Invariably the Maoist leadership is from outside the state, from Andhra Pradesh and other places. Among them "Vasu", a Maoist known to the author yet distant and mysterious.
The Maoists are innovative, relying on human ingenuity and local skills to develop a range of crude but serviceable weapons and bombs, adequate to shell shock the police. These are the men who today are said to represent the greatest threat to the Indian state!
There are interesting sidelights, of the LTTE training Maoist cadres, insights into who funds the Maoists and by how much, Salwa Judum how it began and where it failed.
Shubranshu does not judge. If the state agencies emerge shorn of credit and lacking imagination in tackling what is essentially a human development issue, the Maoists could be seen as opportunistic and amoral, cold bloodedly capitalising on the blunders of the state and the ignorance of the tribal in pursuit of a longer term goal.
Let's Call Him Vasu is a must read to understand the roots of the conflict in tribal India, the exploitative role of the state and the long term agenda of the Maoists.