Monday, March 15, 1999

Reward us, not Naxal, wail AP tribal women

Published in The Indian Express on Tuesday, March 16, 1999
By Syed Akbar
Pedamallapuram (AP), March 15: The tribal women of Pedamallapuram, a far-flung hamlet in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, are furious once again. This time, their ire is directed at the state government for its decision to announce a reward of Rs 5 lakh to a Naxalite leader who surrendered recently.
Pedamallapuram captured newspaper headlines all over the country last year when its illiterate and ill-clad tribal women raised a banner of revolt against Naxalites. So strong was the women's movement that Naxalites of the People's War Group (PWG) did not venture to enter the village for a full six months. But, one night they attacked defenceless villagers and killed two Dalits including an MPTC member.
The attack notwithstanding, the tribal women continued to fight the Naxalites and even imposed a ban on alcohol. Men who violated the diktat were tonsured and paraded in public.
Today the Pedamallapuram women are angry with the state government. The reason: Announcement of a reward of Rs 5 lakh tosurrendered PWG East division committee leader Pilli Venkatesam alias Jambri, whom the women hold responsible for all the woes they face now. ``He is behind all the violent attacks on us. We lost two of our people because of him'', the women said arguing whether it was proper on the part of the government to reward a Naxalite leader responsible for the killing of innocent Dalits.
And what do the women want? They demand that the reward which the state government has announced be utilised for the development of Pedamallapuram.
``Let there be a hospital or a pucca road be laid with the amount,'' suggested tribal women movement leader Ramulamma and Bodoju Ganga, wife of slain MPTC member Venkateswara Rao. The women made it clear in unequivocal terms that they would not tolerate the government paying the reward to Jambri. ``We were the ones beaten up and we who lost everything. We have been living in fear. The money should come to our village and not to the Naxalite leader,'' the women pointed out inchorus.
They said they were least bothered about Jambri or his surrender. All they wanted was that the government should not reward those who caused harm to others. Recalling the promise of Jambri in writing that the Naxalites would do no harm to the village and if they did the villagers would be paid compensation, Ramulamma wondered how the Naxalite leader would accept the Government's largesse. They demanded that Jambri visit Pedamallapuram and explain his role.
Though the women are against the Naxalites, they seem to have no personal enmity with Jambri, who headed the Nagulakonda dalam. ``He may not be directly involved in the attacks, but as the Dalam leader he should own the responsibility,'' they said ridiculing the way the Naxalite surrendered along with his wife on `health grounds' and was seeking the reward, which the government announced as part of its general policy towards surrendered Naxalites. The tribal women also questioned the committees formed by Jambri.
The committees, mostlycomprising non-tribals, should leave the village, they demanded. The Naxal had earlier warned the villagers against accepting benefits from the government and his turnabout in accepting cash from the government in return for his surrender has understandably infuriated the women of the village.