“There are five unmarried women in our district committee area. We can ask any of them except Urmila if they have any intention of getting married” said Balaram in the Squad Area Committee (SAC) members’ meeting. Balaram is one of the members of the District committee. He said this during a discussion on the issue of Sampath’s marriage that came up in the meeting.

If any of the squad members are unable to find someone they would like to get married to, the committee members try to find someone suitable to them based on their mentality/personality. Being district committee members they go around all the squads and are familiar with all the members in them. If the two parties are happy with the suggestion, they get married. Otherwise, they don’t.

When Deepa came to know that there is a rule that men cannot express their ‘interest’ in any woman directly to her, she was very surprised. Such ‘rules’ are common in outside circles. She wondered about the existence of such ‘rules’ in these circles too!

In the 1990s, there were less number of women in the squads compared to men. What would be the state of mind of a woman if multiple men proposed to her saying that they love her? Whatever said and done, it would disturb her and the whole situation would be embarrassing and may affect her functioning. Deepa understood later that the above ‘rule’ was brought in under these circumstances. It does not mean that this ‘rule’ is an answer to all problems. However, until women are able to freely express their views and handle such circumstances, this ‘rule’ may need to be in place. This may help the women comrades to grow in an unfettered manner. This ‘rule’ is, however, applicable only to men. A woman can express her interest in a man if she likes him. But, even this is allowed only a year after joining the squad.

If a male comrade likes a woman comrade, he has to tell the squad commander or the district committee member. That is how Sampath came to express his love for Sony, who had come from a neighboring squad for a camp, to the district committee member.

It was two years since Sony joined her squad and three years since Sampath joined his. Sampath is an active and disciplined youngster. He never said “will not do” or “cannot do” for any work assigned to him. He is ever ready to do any task, however difficult it may be. Even if he is ill, he never says no to any work given to him. It is up to the others to perceive that he is not well and not give him work. He is willing to do sentry duty any number of times. Everyone in the squad liked and admired him. He is not only disciplined but also trying always to educate himself politically. He reads a lot of books and writes down any questions he has and seeks answers to them. When he had joined the squad, he had studied until 5th class whereas Sony had not been educated at all. She learnt to read and write after joining the squad. Some of the Adivasi children were educated to an extent because Ramakrishna mission had started some schools in Abhujmaad. Sampath studied in one such Ramakrishna mission school.

The district committee meetings happen once in 3 or 4 months. Balaram went to the district committee meeting about two months after Sampath had expressed interest in Sony. In the meanwhile, Sony expressed her interest in her commander Prabhakar. Prabhakar also liked her. Since they were in the same squad and worked together, they had good opportunity to observe each other and get to know each other intimately.

The commander of a squad is responsible for looking after the welfare of his squad members, distribution of duties, looking after them if they are unwell and so on. In the light of this, it was natural that Prabhakar and Sony would interact more with each other. Even though Prabhakar could not openly express his interest in Sony, he showed more concern towards her. Perhaps, Sony understood his unexpressed intention. So, she expressed her interest in him.

Balaram thought of conveying Sampath’s interest in the district committee meeting. But, before he did so, another committee member, Kesanna, told them about the interest expressed by Sony and Prabhakar in marrying each other. So, Balaram did not speak about Sampath’s request as it made no sense in talking about it.

Sampath looked forward to hearing from Balaram when he returned from the committee meeting. He was very tense about the result. Balaram found it difficult to tell him about what happened. However, three days after he returned, he called Sampath and told him that Prabhakar and Sony are getting married. Sampath was pained and told Balaram that had he conveyed his interest immediately, it was likely that Sony would have married him. That was quite possible but there was no way to convey the message immediately.

This had happened a year ago. After that, Sampath had not talked about marriage at all. However, the committee members felt that they should see if there was any suitable woman who would be willing to marry Sampath. It was in this context that Balaram had made his comment about Urmila.

Many felt that Urmila and Sampath would make a great couple. However, the parties involved should like each other.

Urmila came into the squad after having worked in the women’s organization. It was two and a half years since she came into the squad. She is as disciplined and dedicated as Sampath in her work. She was transferred from south Bastar to north Bastar. Compared to the northern part, south Bastar is more developed. There are differences in the culture between the two areas.

Even from her younger days, Urmila would accompany the squad whenever they visited her village. In time, she became an active member of the women’s organization and was promoted as the range committee President. She would work day and night to accomplish the tasks given by the squad to her and not even go home for days on end even if her parents objected to it.

There was another reason for her not going home and going around the villages. Her parents were forcing her to get married. But, Urmila resisted it. Despite that, her parents may have gone ahead except that the influence of the party was strong. Also, Urmila being a member of the women’s organization, they were worried what the “dadas” will say if they force her. But, still they went ahead with trying to find matches for Urmila.

Urmila is beautiful in the sense that her hands are like iron rods and the calves of both legs are firm. As soon as you see her, you know that she is a hard working person. What other beauty do you need? She will certainly fetch a large amount as bride money.

Urmila was aware of these attempts of her parents. Every time she met the squad members, she would ask them how long it will be before she would be taken into the squad. The squad felt that since she is such an active member, having her in the women’s organization was more useful. However, finally they had no choice but to accept her into the squad.

“Why can’t we ask Urmila about marriage?” asked the SAC committee members Sunitha and Mangdu. Deepa came out of her thoughts. Commander Bhimal, SAC members Deepa and Subhash also waited for Balaram’s answer with interest.

 “Oh, that’s a long story. I think it is near lunch time. Shall we go?” said Balaram. He loved keeping people in suspense.

 “If you don’t mind, please tell us. We are not hungry”, said Deepa looking for confirmation from others.

 “Are none of you hungry?” asked Balaram.

Others said “Let us eat after half an hour”. So, Balaram started narrating the story.

“All of you know Mahesh, the comrade from Gadchiroli, I think?”

“Yes” they said. Mahesh is also a member of the district committee. His wife died in an encounter. After that, he got transferred to north Bastar.

 “He told me he would like to marry Urmila” said Balaram. “I sat down with Urmila and asked her ‘when are you going to get married, Urmila?’. ‘Why, Dada, have you seen somebody for me’ she asked. I thought she may be interested and told her about Mahesh”. Before Balaram could finish, Deepa asked him about Urmila’s response.

There was a reason behind Deepa’s curiosity. Deepa was once in the same squad as Urmila. She had witnessed Urmila’s reaction personally when Pandru of that squad had proposed to Urmila. Pandru is from north Telangana. He is educated and has a degree. He became a member of the students’ union while studying Intermediate. While studying degree, he became a full time member of the party. From there he came to Bastar. He is a hard worker. If anyone falls ill, he looks after them with great care. But, he is a rash speaker.

The squad had marched a long distance that day and finally made camp. Everyone unloaded their kits in their covers and spread their polythene sheets from their kits. It was getting dark. Urmila was drying her hair which was wet with sweat. Pandru approached Urmila and chatted with her for a while. Then, he told her that he would like to marry her. “Have you joined the squad to get married?” asked Urmila softly but sternly. Pandru was frightened and went away. Deepa, who was nearby, heard the whole conversation but pretended as if she didn’t. She wondered if she should report it to the commander. But, decided not to, thinking that Urmila will do so herself.

Balaram answered Deepa’s question saying that he got a tongue lashing from Urmila.  Everyone laughed. All of them liked Urmila. Deepa liked her especially as she was absolutely straightforward and gave straight answers.

Deepa felt surprised by the fact that Mahesh wanted to marry Urmila. Mahesh was at least 35 years old whereas Urmila was at most 20 years old. When thinking of marrying, should not Mahesh have thought of it from the woman’s perspective? There are so many youngsters in the squads. She would probably prefer to marry someone closer to her age. Did he think that she would agree because he is a district committee member and came from outside? It is true that some of the women were influenced by these factors.

“If she did not want to marry him she could have said so politely. Why speak so rudely if it were not for arrogance?” said Sunitha. It looked as though Sunitha had an axe to grind with Urmila.

Hinting that Urmila had her reasons to talk in that fashion, Balaram said that Pandru also told him that he would like to marry Urmila.

 Deepa realised that Pandru had chosen to hide the fact that he had approached Urmila on his own from Balaram and pretended to follow the rule set down by the party. She thought he was ‘cunning’. Subhash asked “Did you convey that to her?”

Balaram said, “I did. She told me that she did not wish to get married as of then”.

 “Oh?” said Deepa realising that Urmila also had chosen not to reveal the fact that Pandru had proposed to her. She might have decided that she would report it only if Pandru troubled her further. By the time this had happened, Deepa had moved to another squad and so was not aware of further proceedings.

“This happened more than a year ago. So, I thought I can bring up Mahesh’s proposal”, said Balaram. “And so?” asked the commander thinking that Urmila must have scolded Balaram definitely.

“She said ‘Why are you constantly bringing up the question of marriage? Earlier you brought the proposal of Pandru. Now you are asking again.’ I told her since you said then that you will not marry immediately, I am asking again now since some time has elapsed”, said Balaram.

“What did Urmila say?” Everyone was eager to hear her answer.

“What did she say? She said ‘Don’t I have a body? Don’t I have desires? Wouldn’t I think of getting married? Do you have to ask? When I was at home, my parents were after me asking me to get married. I thought I escaped from that. Now, even here, you are pestering me about marriage. If I like somebody, I will go and ask that person myself. I will not tolerate it if the question of my marriage is raised again.’ She gave me a good dressing down”.

“Well, she is right”, said Deepa. Everyone looked at Deepa. Deepa’s admiration for Urmila increased. Deepa was amazed that a girl born and raised in the Adivasi culture was able to articulate her innermost thoughts so boldly. She thought that a drowning person clutches at straws but what if she finds a boat….

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