Lon Varratu: A 'ghar wapsi' with a difference in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada

In less than a year, over 200 Maoists surrendered under the Dantewada police campaign.
Surrendered Maoist cadres with their weapons at a press conference; (right) rebels, who have given up their arms, pledge support to the ‘Lon Varratu’ campaign in a village. (Photo | Express)
Surrendered Maoist cadres with their weapons at a press conference; (right) rebels, who have given up their arms, pledge support to the ‘Lon Varratu’ campaign in a village. (Photo | Express)

CHHATTISGARH: Holding a sickle, Kosa Markam is trying to learn the nuances of farming at Katekalyan village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada. The last few months has been a new learning experience for him. Till mid of last year, Markam, an ex-Maoist cadre, was being trained in handling explosives and guns. 

He is among scores of cadres of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the state who have surrendered to join the mainstream of the society under the ‘Lon Varratu’ (return home in the local tribal dialect Gondi) campaign launched by Dantewada Superintendent of Police Abhishek Pallava in June last year. “I never wanted to be a part of any police campaign. Now, I’m happy to be back with my family and do farming,” says 24-year-old Markam.

A security personnel with villagers during the
‘Lon Varratu’ campaign. (Photo | Express)

This ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign has gained wide acceptance not only in edgy Dantewada but also neighbouring districts — the region turned as combat zone against the left-wing extremism it witnessed for the past four decades. Under the initiative, the surrendered ultras are rehabilitated as per the government’s surrender and rehabilitation policy, which includes financial assistance.

Since its launch, the police has been putting up posters mentioning the names of rebels and appealing to them to join the mainstream. In the first six months of 2020, only 19 Maoists had surrendered, but over the next six months, the Dantewada district saw as many as 226 rebels, including 61 hardcore leaders carrying rewards on their heads, lay down their arms.

“We are consistently striving to appraise the Maoist cadres that violence doesn’t have a future. They should ponder over the time ahead and access the benefits from the surrender and rehabilitation policy of the state to live a life of dignity. We are getting encouraging support from local villagers,” says Pallava. When asked why he chose the campaign in Gondi dialect, he says: “For the tribals, their language remains an emotive issue and they readily accept the contents communicated in their dialect”. 

Under the Lon Varratu campaign, the initial research work was undertaken to prepare the profile of all Maoists in the district based on the interrogation of earlier surrendered cadres, the available records accessed from various intelligence agencies, local villagers and people’s representatives. 

“The village-wise profile was prepared and displayed at various public places to invite objection, if any. With an appeal to cadres to relinquish violence and return to their villages, the final list was distributed and pasted in local markets, panchayat buildings and areas accessible to all,” the SP says.

The initiative gradually picked up as about 32 rebels had quit in a single day of October. To make that possible, gram panchayats were informed that any village with a minimum of 10 surrendered cadres would be awarded with a tractor and other equipment for agriculture practice or on a highly subsidised rate for their subsistence. “After renouncing the CPI (Maoist), the cadres are willing to undertake farming and cultivation in their villages through creating the self-help groups (SHGs)”, says Bheema Mandavi, the sarpanch of Chornar gram panchayat. 

Baman Sodi, 28, a resident of Gangalur in Bijapur district, has been trained in stitching work to eke out her livelihood. Similarly, Hadme Kartami, 27, of Kukanaar village in Sukma, is engaged in mushroom cultivation with a group. Besides, many of the surrendered Maoists are employed to construct school buildings and for other development works. 

“The hands that had once destroyed the educational buildings are now constructing the same. It’s a wonderful turnaround,” Kamlu Ram Kadti, the sarpanch of Kalepal panchayat. With the campaign gaining momentum, the various mining and industrial activities, including the railways, continued interrupted for the last 7-8 months.  

The Lon Varatu impact has also been felt in the neighbouring insurgency-hit districts of Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Bastar where more than 55 Maoists have surrendered in less than a year. 

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