School boy during the day

Schoolboy during the day


A revealing conversation in Jharkhand’s Porahat forest

We were lost in Porahat forest. Even the two CPI (Maoist) sympathisers riding the two bikes on which a photojournalist and I were seated were not sure of the direction of the village in which the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army’s squad was camped.
The message we received in Ranchi, 130 km away, was that a Maoist commander wanted to meet us. By November 2014, Porahat remained one of the last strongholds of the CPI (Maoist) in Jharkhand, and all those within it were high-value targets for security forces.
Aware that winter would end the day early, we stopped the few people we encountered on the way for directions. At one point, mostly to make fun of them, we asked a group of children who were on their way back from school if they knew of any Maoists in the locality. Some of them pointed in the vague direction in which we were already heading.
When we finally made it to the village, Platoon Commander Jeevan Kandulna was waiting for us. He took his time opening up, reluctant to even part with his name for the first hour, but when he did, it felt like he had been waiting for someone to listen to him. The conversation became more personal than tactical; instead of troop movements, we began talking about how the murder of one of his sisters by a Maoist splinter group made him join the CPI (Maoists) to exact revenge.
At some point, a second platoon joined us. It had a large number of young boys. Mr. Kandulna explained that they had a recent recruitment drive, which is essentially a conscription for nearby villages. A short, dark figure walked up and sat quietly on the floor behind Mr. Kandulna. During a lull in the conversation, he introduced himself as Platoon Commander Suresh, but I had recognised him already as Dimba Pahan, the brother of Jharkhand’s most famous Maoist, Kundan Pahan. I was not supposed to identify Mr. Dimba Pahan; I had seen his photographs among a set surreptitiously clicked by a source. Curiosity about Mr. Kundan Pahan’s whereabouts got the better of me eventually and I mentioned him tangentially. Mr. Dimba Pahan did not speak again.
When the meeting ended, the youngsters lined up with their guns to pose for pictures against the setting sun, so that they could only be captured as silhouettes. One boy of about eight walked up to me, lugging his .303 rifle. “Do you know the way back?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so. Why?”

“It’s just that you asked for directions to some of us on our way back from school,” he said.


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