The Reluctant Revolutionary
by Eva Bell
Uma was dog tired. She had been out in the jungles since morning, gathering wood, leaves and medicinal plants for sale. Many a time she rued the day she was born. Poverty was a way of life for her tribe living in the Western Ghats of South India.
“One day I’ll escape,” she decided, “But first I must get some education.”
She gulped down a glass of water, and though her limbs ached with fatigue, she trotted off to the village for her Adult Education classes.
“It’s not a life worth living,” she confided in her teacher, “My father is an alcoholic and squanders all his money. He has TB too and needs medication. Someday I’m going to run away to a better life just like my brother did.”
The next day, the teacher introduced her to a lady.
“Come with me,” the woman said, “You’re life will change overnight. You’ll have good food, decent clothes and a steady income. And if you don’t like it you can always come back.”
“I’ll talk it over with my parents,” Uma said.
“No time for that. I’m leaving now and won’t be back for a few months. Your teacher can send a message home.”
They boarded a bus which took Uma to another world far away from home. That night, the lady talked to her at length.
“You are poor because the government in cahoots with industrialists is robbing the wealth of the forests which rightly belong to you. Rampant deforestation and mining is driving tribal communities out of the forests. We fight so that you can have land, better jobs and comfortable living. We will reclaim forest wealth for you.”
Uma was impressed. She had heard about the guerillas.
“The government is scared of us. We control 92,000 square miles of forest and we have 20,000 armed soldiers. There are also millions of peasants and tribals who support us.”
“I’ll gladly join you,” Uma said, “I know of tattered clothes and cracked feet and how empty stomachs growl. So I’m going to become a Naxalite!”
At the camp in the middle of a dense forest, Uma shared a tent with twenty girls. She felt important in her khaki fatigues and boots.
“You are now a member of the revolutionary forces,” said the camp commander. “You’ll be trained in guerilla warfare and taught how to wield a gun.”
“I don’t like killing a cockroach. How will I kill humans? And guns? I’ve never seen one at close range.”
“You’ll learn in good time. Your struggle is against rich people and an unfair government who takes away what belongs to you.”
Life was Spartan. At night, they huddled in their sleeping bags, packed together like sardines in a tin. The wake-up whistle blew at 5 a.m. Sleeping bags were rolled and pushed against the wall. Ablutions had to be rushed through. Then followed an hour of rigorous exercise. Uma squirmed whenever the Instructor hit her legs if she stepped out of
line. The girls were all between 14 -16 years of age.
After a frugal breakfast they were marched to the firing range. Uma shrank as a gun was thrust at her.
“Come on,” barked the Instructor, “Hold it and feel the thrill of the cold metal.”
Uma was terrified. She broke into tears, but the solid slap of the Instructor made her scream.
“Shut up. We are training you to be a soldier and not a coward. Take it and I’ll explain and teach you the functions of each part.
It was a traumatic initiation into the life of a revolutionary. After lunch there were brainwashing sessions. ‘Revolution’ and ‘Aggression’ were watchwords. Their fight was against government officials, politicians, greedy landlords and police. They had to annihilate class enemies and restore power to the powerless.
“Whoever comes here will never return to his family. Anyone who tries to escape will be shot.”
Uma was soon carried away by the momentum of their struggle. Being young and resilient helped. She was drawn into combat and forced to witness or perpetuate atrocities, often on innocent people. They were looting, robbing, and killing the very people they were supposed to protect. Uma was sent into remote villages to mobilize women. But the police were always on the lookout and would shoot to kill. Uma was good with the gun and setting up Indigenous Explosive Devices. For a while it was thrilling to watch when landmines killed groups of people and villagers. Police outposts were raided for ammunition and weapons.
But as time went on, disillusionment set in. The horrific crimes committed with such chilling ruthlessness made her wonder if she was losing her humanity. Besides, her burgeoning sexuality made her long for a normal life.
“If I could only wear a strand of jasmine in my hair or use a little perfume! Perhaps even fall in love.”
“You’re a soldier first and not a silly adolescent. And beware, the rules of celibacy are strict,” cautioned the commander.
“I haven’t seen my parents for years,” she thought, “I don’t want to spend my life running from the law in these jungles. But how to escape?”
One night she was on guard duty while the inmates slept. She felt a grip on her shoulder and a hand over her mouth. She was dragged into the jungle and brutally raped. The rapist was a senior leader. Like the other girls, this became her lot – to be violated by men who were supposed to protect them.
When she discovered she was pregnant, she was promptly sent away for an abortion. This was her chance. The woman guarding her was asleep in her chair. Uma walked out into the night, then ran for miles till she reached a police station.
“Save me,” she said, collapsing with fatigue.
Nothing could bring back her lost years. But she was free at last from a life that robbed her of her innocence. End Return to Short Stories - Main page