In the last 10 years of reporting from the Naxal zone of central India, I have extensively chronicled the tragedy that has befallen the forested zone connecting parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. And yet, the sorrow of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar Adivasis continues to find new manifestations. One morning last month, I met a police patrol team in the jungle along the Sukma-Bijapur border. The policemen had detected an improvised explosive device less than 30 minutes before I took an adjoining lane. It was the most treacherous kind of an IED that didn’t require any trigger to explode. The pressure of an unsuspecting human step was sufficient to blow you into pieces.
As I asked them about the method of planting and detecting such explosives, it occurred to me that I had met one of them earlier.
He was a surrendered Naxal, like two others of the team that morning. I had met him in Rajnandgaon, some 600 km in the north, after he had surrendered with his partner in 2012 with an overwhelming desire to become a father. He was an Adivasi from the Gangalur region in Bijapur and had undergone the near-compulsory vasectomy at the age of 20, a little after he joined the Maoist ranks. Believing that childbirth and the subsequent childcare will be a hurdle for the revolution, the Maoists have prohibited sex between unmarried cadres and imposed strict control on the married ones — vasectomy is one way to ensure the goal.
But this man, having surrendered, now wanted to reverse the operation. In October 2012, I wrote a report on him — the first surrendered Naxal to undergo reverse vasectomy and “reclaim the right to fatherhood”. Soon, several other surrendered Naxals, with the Chhattisgarh Police’s help, underwent the reverse operation.
On that January morning, I learnt that he couldn’t bear a child. It seemed that he had developed medical complications either during the original operation or the subsequent reversal. Upon digging more, I found that he was not alone. Of the many Naxals who surrendered with their lovers and opted for the reverse operation, several couldn’t become fathers. The desire to raise a family that prompted them to come out of the Maoist ranks remained unfulfilled. They had believed all these years that vasectomy was reversible, but now faced some undiagnosed complications.
I then learnt from a doctor friend that the success rate of the reverse surgery declines with time. The later one goes for the reversal, lesser the chances of its success. And yet, it seemed that the Maoist leaders who forced their cadres to undergo this operation and the senior police officers supervising the rehabilitation of surrendered cadres were unaware of it. Worse, even the doctors who conducted the first and the reverse surgeries did not tell them about the declining success rate.
The tale of Hemalkasa
The doctors who conduct the first operation are mostly from Nagpur and Gadchiroli. One such doctor who conducted vasectomies on a large number of Naxals is Prakash Amte, the son of Ramon Magsaysay award winner Baba Amte. Prakash and his wife Mandakini are also Ramon Magsaysay awardees, making it the only family whose as many as three members have received ‘Asia’s Nobel’.
On the western edge of Abujhmad, the tribal village of Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli district borders Chhattisgarh and Telangana. Baba Amte set up Lok Biradari Prakalp, a project to serve the local community, in Hemalkasa in 1973. A year later, Prakash opened a medical centre in a hut and settled down in the village with his doctor wife Mandakini. The area came to be dominated by the Naxals in the 1980s. They visited the Amte’s centre for medicare and sometimes sought vasectomy for their cadres. The Maoists who underwent the surgery at Hemalkasa included teenagers. “I was only 18 when I was sterilised,” a cadre once told me.
Amte’s was the only clinic for tribals in a large area without any government health centre. While Baba Amte won the Magsaysay in 1985, Prakash and Mandakini won it in 2008 for “enhancing the capacity of the Madia Gonds through healing and teaching and other compassionate interventions”.
Speaking to me in 2012, Prakash admitted to have conducted the operations but said that he only performed his duty as a doctor and medically it was less risky compared to abortion. “Maoists came to me for abortion for their wives, and vasectomy of their cadres. Abortion was risky for women, it endangered their life,” he told me. “There was also a possibility that if we conduct abortion once, they may come again for another abortion of the same woman. It involved great health risk for her, so I opted for the lesser evil — vasectomy. Also, I knew vasectomy was reversible.”
Prakash Amte perhaps didn’t tell them that the reverse operation had a limited success rate. Since these men are yet to learn that their fatherhood had, for all purposes, been snatched away long ago, some of them are still trying various options to become father, as well as to grasp the reasons for the inability thereof. Who is to be blamed for this absurd tragedy — the revolutionary ideology that snatched their right over their body and sexuality; the doctors who didn’t inform them about the exact consequences, knowing which at least some of them might have protested against their comrade bosses; or the police officers who didn’t know that the reverse operation had a limited success rate?
One can go on with this futile exercise of counting the lost possibilities. The only change the surrendered life of a decade brought to the man I met that morning was this: earlier he carried an AK-47 as a rebel, now he carried it as the state’s soldier; earlier he planted IEDs, now he detected and diffused them.
The author is an independent journalist. His recent book, The Death Script, traces the Naxal insurgency. Views are personal.