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India's forgotten people



By Mike Thomson
Today programme, Jagdalpur

Former Naxalites Baderna and Latta

There's nothing to suggest that Baderna and Latta are anything but a normal Indian couple.

Polite and dressed neatly they talk endearingly to their lively five year-old daughter, who sits contentedly on her father's lap.

But both are former communist, or Naxalite insurgents, who admit to taking part in the killing of at least 42 policemen.

Baderna and Latta each joined the Naxalite guerrilla movement, which is now active in around a third of India's states, when they were teenagers.

Baderna says he joined the Naxalites because they stood up for the poor people of the forest, like his family, who were losing their land to developers.

Latta says she was 12 or 13 when she went off with the Naxalites, leaving behind parents who had no idea where she had gone.

Latta remembers finding living in the forest difficult and frightening at first.

Indian soldier

"I used to fear animals in the jungle but I finally became comfortable with the environment," she says.

She also recalls having to waive goodbye to femininity. "In the jungle we used to look like the boys," she told me. "We used to cut our hair short and just have one dress."

I asked Latta if she also fought like the men. "Yes, they trained us like the men and we also tried our best to be like them."

Deadly mission

Last year more than 1,000 people were killed in Naxalite areas, many of them civilians.

Baderna freely admits that he and Latta took part in the planting of roadside bombs that killed scores of policemen.

"I was involved in three big operations near Dantewade (Southern Chhattisgarh). In the first seven people were killed and we were both involved in that. In the second nineteen people were killed and in the third one, sixteen people were killed. And there were lots of smaller operations too."

Baderna insists that he never killed civilians, but concentrated solely on targeting police officers.

 Lorry blown up by Naxalite rebels
Last year more than 1000 people were killed in Naxalite areas

"We planted the landmines in the road when we knew that policemen were coming in large numbers. There were two buttons, red and green, and our duty was just to press the red button and it would explode."

To help convince me that they took care not to kill civilians, Latta adds:

"We had intelligence from the village. They would tells us that the police are coming and then we would set off the explosives. We had the registration numbers of the police cars, so we knew [if] it was the police coming."

How, I asked them, did they justify the taking of human life to justify their group or personal ideology?

"I can't explain" replied Latta, "he will tell you", pointing at her husband.

Staring me straight in the eye, Baderna replies: "I felt that we were fighting a noble cause. Police are hired to work for businessmen and capitalists and we are society's policemen. So, there is nothing wrong with killing the police."

Baderna seemed untroubled by the fact that he and his fellow insurgents had been taking supplies from the very same capitalists that he despises the police so much for protecting.

 Baderna and Latta's daughter
Baderna and Latta do not want their daughter to follow in their footsteps

Not only that but he gives me the distinct impression that he still feels the killing of policemen is justified.

This despite the fact that he claims to have turned his back on Naxalism and is talking to me inside a police station full of armed officers.

The couple went on to tell me how they got married in the jungle in a simple Naxalite ceremony.

Looking coy and endearingly flustered, Latta reveals how she told their commander that she wished to marry Baderna.

Looking totally unmoved by his wife's words he simply confirms that he did agree to this. On being asked whether his decision had anything to do with any feelings he had for his still attractive wife, he shakes his head.

"No, it was because our commander supported the idea."

Baderna goes on to reveal that he had a vasectomy in the jungle to ensure they had no children while fighting in the forests.

Finally, he says, they saw a leaflet promising an amnesty for Naxalites who surrendered to police. So, they took up the opportunity and Latta gave birth to their daughter not long after that.

I ask them both what they will say to their child should she later decide to follow their example and run off into the jungle to join the Naxalites.

The two former revolutionaries, who had voiced no regrets about having killed for their cause, are united on this one. Latta laughs, and with a dismissive wave of her arm exclaims:

"No, no, never. I don't want my daughter to join the Naxalties."




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