National Geographic : 2015 Apr
India’s Insurgency 95 see them express any such extreme emotion. The village men brought her over to me. Sarita was her name. Her face was waxen with sadness and shock, but she was proud and stared me di- rectly in the face when she spoke. She was just 19, an Adivasi girl from the Maria tribe. She wore a light tribal dress and carried herself with the same straight-backed, sure-footed poise I always saw in the Adivasi villages. She had arrived in Kutru the previous night along with 30 others, most of them extended family members. They lived in Kerpe, a village deeper in the jungle, but had fled their home as fugitives from a Maoist ultimatum. The Nax- alites had emerged from the jungle and occupied their village the previous week, Sarita told me, cutting it off from the outside world. She said there were more than a hundred fighters in all, men and women dressed in olive fatigues and heavily armed, and that they were commanded by a large woman known as Ranjita. The Naxalite armed cadres usually appeared in the area in April, emerging from Abujmarh and traveling from village to village along the jungle fringes extracting a levy from the tribes on the sale of their tendu leaves. On this occa- sion, though, the Maoists had more than levy on their minds. Sarita’s relatives had made a fateful mistake. An educated family, three months ear- lier they had collected signatures from locals as part of a petition to the state authorities request- ing that a police station be established in Kerpe. The attendant benefits of a police presence in the village included a road. The militants seized Sarita’s father, her broth- er, and a cousin from their home. Next Ranjita and her cadres summoned the village to witness a Jan Adalat, today’s incarnation of the infamous People’s Courts established by Mao in the 1950s as a way for Chinese peasants to put landlords on trial. First Ranjita read out the charges against Sarita’s family. Next three alleged government collaborators, bound and blindfolded, were beaten with clubs and fists before the silent crowd. “Then it suddenly finished,” Sarita said. “Ranjita addressed us one last time. She told the village that anyone with relatives in the police or local government had one week to leave their homes or be killed. Then she walked up to me and said I would find my father and brother ‘sleeping’ on the path home. The Naxalites made us chant Maoist slogans a few times, and then they disappeared.” Sarita did find her father and brother on the trail home. They lay beside her abducted cousin. The men’s hands were tied, and they had been beaten to death with the flat edge of axheads. Her brother’s eyelids had been cut away with a knife. I left her standing at a point near where the jungle fell upon the edge of the village. She had stopped crying by then and looked about with the cool, practical regard of a newly anointed refu- gee assessing the rules of necessity, weighing the prospects of life on each side of the road’s end. j Adivasi bride Rani Kumari—her head daubed with turmeric paste for purification and good fortune—is 15 years old. In Jharkhand nearly two-thirds of girls are married by age 18.