India: All in the Family

The Gajarla family has espoused the Maoist cause and given four of its sons to the Naxalite movement

The people of Velishala village, in Telangana, are wary of outsiders. Not surprising, as the village is home to the Gajarla family, which over the years, has espoused the Maoist cause and has given four of its sons to the Naxalite movement. One of the sons, Gajarla Ravi, 48, is currently a top leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

When the Naxalite movement was in its infancy, Malliah and Kankamma, who belonged to the Goud community, owned seven acres and many palm trees. As feudal lords had been exploiting the commoners, Mallaih harboured Naxalites in his house. His three daughters, though married into different villages, also gave the Naxalites shelter. Mallaiah’s eldest son, Rajaiah, joined the Naxalite movement but died of an illness while remaining underground. His second son, Sammaiah, who did not join the movement, retired from the Singareni collieries and now lives in Hanamkonda and Mancherial alternatively. The third son, Saraiah, alias Azad, was killed in an alleged encounter with the police at Kantanapally forests of Eturnagaram in erstwhile Warangal district in 2008. Saraiah’s wife, Padma, was also killed in the same encounter. Saraiah, was a CPI (Maoist) central committee member and central military commission in-charge and was active in Chhattisgarh for quite some time. After his death in a police encounter, Azad’s body received a hero’s welcome. In fact a bust of Azad was kept atop a pylon, which was destroyed the next day by the police. The fourth son, Ravi, alias Ganesh, alias Uday joined the Naxalites in 1992 and rose through the ranks steadily. The youngest son, Ashok alias Itu, recently surrendered before the police in Hyderabad, citing bad health, and is living with his retired brother Sammaiah in Hanamkonda.

After the Malkangiri encounter in October, in which about 30 Maoists were killed, it was rumoured that Andhra-Odisha Border secretary Ramakrishna, alias Saketh, was killed in the firing. Velishala village went into mourning because it was also believed that Gajarla Ravi, too, was killed in the same encounter. The police found some documents, one of which was titled ’12th Annual Special Zonal Committee Plenary.’ The meeting was held in August and the document said that Ramakrishna had been replaced by Ravi. The information was on page 4 of the document and code language had been used. It was a natural promotion for Ravi, given his seniority, but it is not clear why Ramakrishna was deposed. Ravi was one of the representatives of the People’s War Group (PWG) at the peace talks with the Congress government in 2004-05, which was led by Ramakrishna. Ravi is married to Pramila, alias Jilani Begum, the dalam commander of Malkangiri district. She rejoined the movement after she was arrested and later released this year. Ravi was the Malkangiri-Koraput-Srikakulam division committee secretary and AOB special zonal committee member before he was elevated to the post of secretary.

Said Ravi’s neighbour and fellow Naxalite Krishnaswamy: “We used to put up posters and do the errands for the naxals from age seven.” In 1992, Ravi and Krishnaswamy joined the movement. Ravi had completed his ITI and Krishnaswamy had merely finished his second year arts.

Krishnaswamy joined a dalam where Jampanna was the commander. When asked what he would like to do, he said he wanted to be a doctor. So he read a little and practised a lot and soon was known as the dalam doctor. “I could do some primary work, but if it got serious, they would go to hospitals,” he said. He has also treated tribals when they came with simple problems. Ravi and Krishnaswamy worked together for quite some time till Ravi shifted to the AOB and Krishnaswamy decided to remain in Dakshin Bastar. Krishnaswamy’s wife was killed in an encounter and after several years he married a local tribal girl Lalita who was also in the movement. Now both of them live in Velishala and look after their two acres of land.

“I worked for six to seven years in NTFT. In 1999, I went to Chattisgarh and was in Dakshin Bastar for 12 years. There was an encounter in 2009 with the CRPF and we were fighting against the Salwa Judum. We were in an offensive and were 200 against 70 of the Chattisgarh police. I was guiding 25 members when I was singled out. I got shot— two on the right side of the chest and two on the right arm—and I realised that it was not possible for anyone to help me. I carried my Insas rifle and ran a short distance to take cover. My comrades then carried me into the jungle on a stretcher.” One of the bullets ricocheted and hit his eye. Slowly he started losing his sight and the movement then sent him for treatment after six months.

He was in Bhuvanagiri (Bhongir), about 100km from Hyderabad when he was arrested and taken into custody, but was released after four months and he returned to Velishala. He had a glaucoma surgery for his right eye, too. The left eye is now a lost cause. While he recalled the days of yore and Ravi, Krishnaswamy was very emotional and said: “Ravi will never leave the movement. He will die there. In fact, I am the failure because I have come away and now live life among common people. I, too, should have stayed there.” He said that he definitely had a better life in the movement than what he had now. Ravi had written him a letter stating that had he taken proper care, he could have rejoined the movement. In June 2015, the police arrested Krishnaswamy for allegedly putting up posters in and around the village. Though Krishnaswamy had nothing to do with it, he was tortured severely.

Krishnaswamy, who was in the movement for more than 20 years, is an encyclopaedia on Maoism, but is measured in his talk. He knows the police are still keeping an eye on him.

C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.