Sukru stays in an orphanage run by an NGO which is meant exclusively for Madiya Gond children who are orphans. There are fifty such children in it. Sukru is twelve or thirteen years old. You should listen to Sukru’s story in his own words. His eyes blaze with anger whenever he tells his story. So, let’s hear what he has to say.


Our lives prior to the Salwa Judum goons attacking our villages were peaceful and we lived within our means in our forest. Ours was a big joint family consisting of our grandfather, father, mother and we four children. My younger brother Sonu and I took the cattle to the forest for grazing. Our mother gave us corn porridge in a hollowed out bottle gourd for us to eat whenever we were hungry. We had the freedom to graze the cattle any place in the forest and we could also eat the edible fruits available in the forest.

My grandfather affectionately called me ‘rabbit’ as I jumped and ran around like one in the forest. I loved the nickname my grandfather gave me. I also loved sleeping next to grandfather by the fireside. On every full moon day, my grandfather showed me the rabbit in the moon and told me its story. According to his story, the rabbit came down from the moon at midnight on a full moon day, over the clouds and into the forest without anyone seeing it. There it gave birth to young kits (young of a rabbit is called kit) that are as white as the moon. With heartbreaking sorrow, it then left them and returned to the moon. There is a reason why it did this. While running and jumping around, the rabbit stomped on a sage’s foot. The angry sage cursed the rabbit to live afar and alone in the moon leaving behind its kith and kin in the forest. But, the rabbit’s heart was always with its children, and all other beings in the forest. It always protected the forest and all the living beings in the forest. That’s why my grandfather called me a ‘rabbit’. All the children in our hamlet ran as fast as rabbits.

All of us children who took the cattle to the forest for grazing would gather together under the Arjuna tree around noon time to eat our meals. An akka belonging to the militia also came daily to the tree at noon to teach us. We leveled the soil under the tree and used a stick to learn to write letters on that. Akka would sing songs along with us. When our friend Konda sang, even the birds in the forest listened to him. His song was like the tinkling sound of a river. Akka made us tell stories.

I would tell the story of the rabbit that my grandfather told me. Budru told the story of butterflies, Dingri that of the rainbow. If we were to collect and publish all the stories that were told under the Arjuna tree, they would easily fill ten books. Akka told us the stories of Komram Bheem dada and Birsa Munda dada. She told us that writing our songs, our stories, our words and our lives in our language is all part of our education; that education consists of not only reading and writing but also being aware of all that is happening around us. She told us that the knowledge we gain should help us understand and improve the lives of human beings. It is knowledge which enabled humans to go to the moon and come back.

Akka taught us numbers, additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions. We used stones and seeds to learn maths. She taught us how to use the balance to accurately weigh the forest produce such as shikakai, tamarind, honey etc that we collected in the forest so that we are not cheated by the traders while selling it to them. She taught us how to estimate the amount of money we could get for selling a certain amount of forest produce. She also taught us how to collect the right amount of wages for the work we had done. She told us how to count and pay money to the shopkeepers for the kerosene, salt and pulses that we buy from them. We understood from this education that the traders buy all useful stuff from us for 25 paise but sell useless stuff to us at Re 1, thus making a lot of profit for themselves. We got to know how the traders and shopkeepers cheated us all these days when we didn’t know basic maths. I told my grandfather all about our maths education. I also told him about the way the traders cheated us, which shocked him.

Akka taught us that if we want to change our lives, we should first understand where we are and how our lives are. So, in our social science classes, we learnt to read maps of our state, country and the world. We identified where our village, our Tehsil and our district were located in our state map. We saw Raipur in the state map from where Raman Singh* ruled our state. Then Akka showed us Delhi in the Indian map from where Manmohan Singh** ruled the country. In the world map, she showed us America – the country that gobbles up all other countries like a tiger – and its satellite countries Britain and France that also exploited the poor countries. Akka told us how countries which are not even the size of our Maad hills crossed the oceans and came and exploited us. She showed us the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq that were destroyed by America. She told us how the children in those countries were dying due to hunger and diseases. The purpose of our social science study was to understand what political forces were responsible for taking away our hills, villages and jungles from us. We also understood the true colours of the State that stole our food and our resources in the name of civilization and development.

We lived a life entwined with the forest, with its flora and fauna. The first lesson in our general science education was to observe and understand the uses of the various seeds, plants, roots and flowers available in the forest, and then procure and use them. Our second lesson was to know which season it rained, when was the right time to take up plantation of seeds so that we got a good harvest, when we should use the fertilizer, what pesticides should we use, and what should we do to increase the produce. Our third lesson was to understand how to provide nutritious food to the children in our hamlet, and how to manage fevers, diarrhea and sores. The fourth lesson was on how to prepare medicines from the leaves, roots and flowers available in the forest and how to save our children’s lives from various illnesses.

Overall, it seemed that our studies were closely associated with our lives. That is why all of us children liked the education militia akka gave us. We learnt our lessons even while keeping an eye on the cattle. I was the leader for our school under the Arjuna tree. Even when akka did not come for some reason, our school functioned as usual. Akka conducted exams for us and we would all compete to get cent percent in those. Sinde would get 100 marks in all the exams, he was the school first. There were no blockheads in our school. Akka told us that after completing this schooling, we should go to higher schools, learn many things and be useful to our people. The children in our village formed a “children’s association” with the idea of helping one another.

My grandfather would tell everyone proudly that my father could bring down even a big tiger with his archery since his arrow never missed the target. ‘Janatana sarkar’ (people’s government) was the local government in our village. My father was responsible for the hunting division in it. My father told me ‘Janatana sarkar’ is our government – formed by us and for us – and therefore we should run it properly and protect it. Prior to the formation of ‘Janatana sarkar’, my father would come home fully drunk and beat up my mother. My mother had bruises all over her body because of his beatings. There wasn’t enough food in the house and we children cried due to hunger and our mother cried because she couldn’t feed us. When ‘Janatana sarkar’ came to our village, it was accompanied by women’s organization. The women’s organization stopped the sale of liquor in village and it pulled up the men who beat their wives under the influence of liquor. ‘Janatana sarkar’ distributed land to the landless. With its coming, lives in our village changed and children no longer went to bed hungry.

Obviously, the traders didn’t like these changes in our lives; nor did the Patel and Patwari or the government. People in our hamlet were busy with their work the day Salwa Judum attacked us. We children had gone to the forest as usual to graze the cattle. Around noon, we saw smoke and fire rising over our village. On seeing that, we ran back to the village. We saw that the Salwa Judum goons and the police were beating up children, young and old indiscriminately in a brutal manner. They lit fire to all the houses in the village. Most of the village youth ran away to the forest. In that chaos, I couldn’t find my mother, father and brothers. The police caught about ten of us children and shoved us into a lorry. They took us to their camp, threw us in a shed in the corner and kept guard over us.

I sat in a corner crying, thinking about my parents and brothers and my grandfather who was beaten brutally by the police. I thought about our cow and its calf which were driven into the forest by the police. I couldn’t stop crying and it was the same with the rest of the children. A policeman with a paunch shouted at me to stop crying. I was so scared that I stopped crying immediately. He asked me the details of militia Akka. He said he will give me his pistol, some money and will send me back to my village if I told him about her. I just cried loudly in response. He got furious, kicked me and spit on me and left. Judum goons gave us dal rice daily which I hated. They made me sweep the camp daily. In the evenings, they would gather all the children together and tell us stories about Naxalites – that they are demons who eat human beings etc. The memories of our burning village and the Judum goons thrashing my grandfather wouldn’t let me sleep at nights.

A week went by since we were brought to the camp. On that day, the police and Judum goons hurriedly picked up guns and left the camp in jeeps. An hour passed and they returned with a jeep full of corpses. I counted eighteen bodies. They threw the corpses next to the wall of the camp. Evening came and then night. We children were utterly frightened by the atmosphere in the camp. We had to pass the dead bodies while going to eat. I looked with dread at the bodies and found my father’s corpse in them. I went running and fell on my father’s body and cried my heart out. The Judum goons dragged me away kicking. They also kicked my father’s corpse cursing him all the while as a ‘naxalite’. There was the stench of decaying bodies all over the camp. That night I got fever accompanied by motions and vomiting. I was in great distress that they killed my father. I was in a stupor and lay unconscious.

When I gained consciousness, I found myself in the orphanage. We were fifty children living in a shed that also doubled up as our school. This place was no different from a police camp. We children could not talk among ourselves about our difficulties. Some people in white robes would come to the orphanage during day time and looked at us as if we were strange animals. The in-charges of the place forced us to sing our forest songs and speak in our language in front of these white robed people who couldn’t understand anything we said or sang. Our songs reflected the enormous pain in our hearts. As soon as we saw the white robed people, we were supposed to get up and salute them. If we didn’t do that, the teacher beat us with a stick.

I hated this home and school. I couldn’t learn the Telugu letters nor understand the Telugu words that the teacher taught us. That made the teacher angry and she shouted at me that I was a dunce. I missed my parents, our forest, militia Akka and our school under the Arjuna tree. I dreamt that our forest was calling out to me “Sukru ….. come, come”. I looked for every opportunity to run away from this place.

Only the Akka who worked as a cook in this place knew our language. She was the only one who understood our pain. On the first of the month, when the teacher and others from the NGO went to the town to get their salaries, I told the cook that I decided to run away from here. Akka packed some food and gave me. I took it and set out on the path to our forest home.

  1. Dada’ and ‘Akka’ mean literally elder brother and elder sister but they are also used by people to address male and female Naxalites respectively.
  2. Salwa Judum (Literally meaning “peace march” in the Gondi language) was a Vigilante force that was mobilised and deployed as part of counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, India, aimed at countering Naxalite activities in the region.
  3. Komram Bheem (1901–1940), was a leader of Gond adivasi people who waged guerilla war against the oppressive Nizam’s rule in Hyderabad State.
  4. Birsa Munda (15 November 1875 – 9 June 1900) led a very big adivasi revolt, called Ulgulan, against the British in the Singbhum and surrounding areas of Jharkhand.
  5. Shikakai, known as Soap pod in English is a potent ayurvedic remedy that promotes hair growth, reduces hair fall, controls dandruff and relieves skin ailments.

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