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Shades of life: from red to khaki

Shades of life: from red to khaki

Author: Debabrata Mohanty
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 6, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/shades-of-life-from-red-to-khaki/513422/0

Introduction: Four years after she gave up her life as a Naxalite, Kandri Lohar is a homeguard with the Orissa Police

Kandri Lohar sits in her ramshackle hut, breastfeeding her emaciated three-year-old son Kanha. She doesn't talk easily but when she does, she unravels a splendid story-of rebellion, of life in the jungle as a Naxalite, of rifles and keds, of her decision to break free, of a troubled marriage, and now, of her job as a homeguard with the Orissa police.

"I was the sentry in my platoon and we were in the jungles of Serenda in Jharkhand. Every morning, I used to put on the olive fatigues, wear my keds and cap and do the regular drill with others. I always carried an INSAS rifle and had bullets with me. I was asked to keep a tab on the movement of the police and keep the group informed," says the 21-year-old, before quickly saying that she didn't take part in "encounters" and didn't kill any policeman.

That was four years ago. Last week, she joined the Orissa police and now takes home a monthly salary of Rs 3,500. Kandri's Maoist fatigues have given way to khaki and she doesn't carry guns anymore, not even a baton as she guards traffic squares, busy markets and thoroughfares along with her colleagues in the steel city of Rourkela in Sundargarh district.

At first, Kandri stonewalls all questions about her past. "Why do you want to know? I have nothing to say," she says. A little persuasion and she drops her guard. "I come from a tribal family in Jharkhand. I hardly studied and dropped out after class V. My father was a blacksmith and I have five siblings," she says in Hindi.

Kandri's home in Sagjodi village of Jharkhand's West Singhbhum district had always been a hotbed of the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) rebels. The village was near a forest and the MCC rebels often camped there and the 15-year-old Kandri was fascinated by the life they led. "One day my father yelled at me for some reason. I ran away from home and met someone from the MCC. They asked me if I was willing to join them," she says, sitting in her house in Bondamunda in Orissa's Sundargarh district.

Kandri was christened Madhuri by the MCC and she started roaming the forests with the rebels. But after about three months, she became disillusioned and had enough of the hard life. "Every time I made a mistake during training, the Naxals took me to task," she says. In February 2005, while on night duty, she fled from the rebel camp and returned to her village.

Worried about their daughter, Kandri's parents hurriedly arranged for her to be married. Her groom, Shankar Kandri, was from Bondamunda in Orissa's Sundargarh district and knew nothing about her past. But in July 2005, the Orissa police arrested her while she was at the Rath Yatra with Shankar. During interrogation, Kandri broke down and admitted to her past involvement with the Naxals. "She told us she had cut off all links with the rebels," says then Sundargarh SP Y.K. Jethwa, who is now DIG of police (northern range), and Kandri was let off. While she was afraid that her fiancé would call off the wedding, Jethwa persuaded the groom to marry her. "We told Shankar that if Kandri had the courage to flee the rebels, he should have the guts to accept her."

The police assured Kandri that she would get a job, financial assistance of

Rs 50,000 and a house under the Indira Awas Yojana under the State government's Naxal surrender policy. But like most promises, these came to nothing and her marriage soured. "My husband turned out to be a drunk. He used to come home and beat me," she says. Unable to bear the torture inflicted on her by her husband and in-laws, she left Bondamunda and went back to her parents' home in Sagjodi along with her two-and-half year-old son Kanha.

All this while, she met police officials to remind them of the relief they had promised her. As the local media took up her case, the cops and the district administration finally gave her a job and a house. She was recently given a land in Bisra, Sundargarh, where she plans to construct a house under the Indira Awas scheme. "We have fulfilled our promise," says Rourkela SP Diptesh Patnaik. Kandri is now back with her husband after he gave a written undertaking, promising he won't torture her.

Though she joined the police a few days ago, her colleagues say they haven't heard of her. But despite the khaki, Kandri is scared for her life. "The homeguard job may have given me a source of sustenance. But the rebels are angry with me. Even now, I get death threats. If I die, who will look after my child," she says.

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