Kabani is one of the main tributary of Kaveri, which starts from both Karnataka and Kerala and joints to the sea at the cost of Tamil Nadu (all in south India). Originated from the high-elevated grasslands of Brahmagiri and Talakkaveri it flows through the Deccan plateau. It falls into Hoganakal falls before flowing to the plains of Salem, Erode and Karur. Then it enters into the deltas of Thanjavur before joining into the sea at Bay of Bengal
It gives water to the tribes in the mountains, peasants in the plains and the urban dwellers in the cities and towns. Apart from this, it irrigates tens of thousands of hectors of different verity of crops. It feeds thousands of sq. kilometers of different varieties of forests and wildlife in it. It connects several tribal and other nationalities, such as Malayali, Kannada, Tamil Coorgis, and Tulu, etc. The banks of Kabani has witnessed to several historical tribal revolts, peasant upsurges and anti-colonial guerrilla wars. It witnessed several battles. The valiant Pazhassi Rajah and his tribal army commander Thalakkal Chandu and Mysore Lion Tippu Sultan waged their war against British colonialists here. Historical Kuruma, Kurichya revolts against the colonialists and their props took place in the banks of Kabani. It is not just a river, life line of species; but it is the life blood of history itself.
During the historical upsurge of Naxalbari, the waters of Kabani again turned red. The sufferings of toiling adivasis – the Adiyas, Paniyas, Kurichyas and that of the migrant peasants were the thrust of this movement. Intellectuals and revolutionary youths responded to the call of this spring thunder. The banks of Kabani River reverberated with the slogans of Naxalbari. Thirunelli was the epicenter of the struggle. Com. Varghese, the peruman (elder/leader) of adivasis led this historic movement. The petite-bourgeois intellectuals in the cities day-dreamed of the PLA marching down along the banks of Kabani to liberate the country. One radical film maker P.A. Bakkar, made a film titled “When Kabani Turned Red”- dealt with the lives of revolutionaries of that time.
The flow of the Kabani never stopped though the revolutionary movement faced a set-back. Re-organising against the left-adventurism ended-up in right opportunism. But the social condition of the lakhs of adivasis and peasants remained the same if not worsened. The land question of adivasis and the landless and the poor peasants, the agrarian crisis of the middle peasants again and again rocked the banks of Kabani. Starvation deaths of adivasis, suicides of hundreds of peasants are continuing. Several adivasis and peasants are either displaced or in the verge of displacement in the name of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserve forests and other infrastructural and developmental projects. The sufferings of adivasi women in the unsecured ginger fields of Coorg, cries of those were forced to become domestic helps in the urban households, sobbing of the unwedded mothers and their hungry children… and the tears of all the toiling masses in the banks of the Kabani mixes with and flows along the waters of Kabani.
Spontaneous militant struggles of adivasis and peasantry brewed up in the early years of 21st century. The land question of adivasis resulted in militant struggles like Panavally, Ambukuthi, waged by the adivasi people finally culminated in the Muthanga land struggle, where hundreds of armed reserve police unleashed a reign of terror. Com. Jogi was martyred in police firing and several adivasis were brutally beaten-up and tortured. All their lifelong earned assets were put into fire. Even suckling babies and older women not spared. The banks of Noolpuzha, one of the main tributary to Kabani witnessed these police atrocities over the innocent tribes and their struggle for basic amenities of life.
Severe price crash of coffee, ginger and pepper resulted in serious agrarian crisis which pushed the small and medium peasants to the debt traps of private finance companies extracting exorbitant rates of interest (popularly known as ‘blade’ companies) and co-operative societies. Reformist organizations like Farmer’s Relief Forum tried to organize these peasants. Revolutionary mass organization, Porattam, led militant struggle against the money-lenders.
Western Ghats – a mountain range that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula
When the movement of armed squads of CPI (Maoist), doing organisational work in the forest areas of Western Ghats bordering the three states of Keralam, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu got exposed and hit the headlines of the mainstream media, the Kerala state immediately made massive deployment of special commando forces (Thunderbolt, Scorpio) and started combing operation through-out the forest areas adjacent to the River Kabani and the rivulets and tributary of it. At the same time their counter parts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu responded quickly by engaging the Anti-Naxal Force (ANF) and Special Task Force (STF) which were formed during the years of Veerappan, to hunt down him. They started combing on their side of Kabani and the adjoining forest areas. The combing operation, namely, ‘Operation Brahmagiri’ is called for to nip the new Maoist movement in the tri-junction in the budding stage itself. Hundreds of Crores of rupees has been spent and several battalions of forces including special commando forces has been mobilized, arms and ammunition in the police stations in the area were shifted to more secure places. In the areas situated in and around the banks of Kabani, security to the police stations were strengthened and commando forces deployed for its protection. The appearances of the stations have changed; thorough checking, bunkers, high-beam lights, fortification with sand bags are placed and closed circuit cameras also installed. Northern Inspector General of Police fixed a 15 days plan to eliminate the Maoist threat. It was extended for a period of two months and repeated again and as it stands now its converted into a two year plan.
Media has given more room to the Maoist activities. More of sensational in nature, sometimes scrupulous stories shrouded in mystery appeared in relation to the squad activities in the villages – lots of fancies and bullshits. When this became a regular affair police supplied more flavor to the drama by specifying dates like Feb: 18 (Com. Varghese martyr day) July: 28 (Com. CM martyr day) as the dates for possible police station raids.
A section of petite-bourgeois intellectuals especially ex-naxalites (exalites) questioned the relevance of re-emergence of Maoist activities in Keralam. They claimed that the relevance of Maoist movement in Keralam was over by the period of mid 80s. They termed themselves as the cream of intelligentsia of the then contemporary society, who were involved in the building of the movement. They claimed that later they realized that it is not possible in an advanced democratic society like Keralam which will frown at the Marxist concept of proletarian dictatorship. Another section, represents capitalist production theorists, considered that Maoism and armed struggle is not relevant in Keralam; it is relevant only in backward areas like Chattisgarh or Bihar where classical type of feudalism remains. This section also attacks Maoists. Influence of new-left ideas in the early years of 80s developed into post modernism and post structuralism which dominated the Janakeeya Samskarika Vedi (People’s Cultural Forum) intellectuals. The main ideologue in that time, K. Venu, then the Secretary of CRC CPI (ML), later put forward firstly a concept of Proletarian democracy, and then openly rejected Marxism.
Through these processes these intellectuals dominated the intellectual sphere of Keralam. They became the front runners of NGOs and the movements of the marginalized. Unfortunately these people used it to counter oppose Maoist movement. Naturally the re-birth of Maoist movement provoked them and a hard-core of these people started a counter campaign which was used by the state against revolutionary movement. One section of them at least criticized both state as well as revolutionary movement. Another section after initial scepticism later extended support.
News of the visit of squad in different villages flashed again and again in the media. The action against the quarry and burning of their machinaries made the squad working a news room attraction. The hot debate and the subsequent polarization based on the Gadgil-Kasturirangan Reports made the issue of protection of Western Ghats a burning issue all along the high range areas of Keralam. Com. Mandakini, the spokesperson of CPI (Maoist) border area committee, which is leading the sq in the area, owned the responsibility of the action against the giant granite-quarry. In the statement, it gave a call to reject Kasturirangan Report and to expose the limitations of Gadgil Report. It clearly pointed out that only through the development of class struggle and the establishment of Revolutionary People’s Committees, the protection of Western Ghats can be materialized and the problems of the toiling masses can be resolved. It thoroughly exposed the pragmatic and opportunistic anti-people approach of CPI (M) in this issue. The action of Kabani squad is conducted in this situation. The squad named after the Kabani due to its historical significance in relation to the tribal and peasant struggles and the early phase of Maoist movement. The banks of tributaries of Kabani, like Peria River, Mananthavadi River, Noolpuzha, Panamarampuzha, Makki and Kalindhi, in Thirunelly were the main combing areas. Apart from the table top of Wynad, the down hills of Kozhikode and Kannur and the plateau of Coorg (Kudagu) also came into the lime light of news rooms.
The high elevation mountain ranges of Banasura, Brahmagiri, Vattappana hill tracts and the evergreen forest cover and rocky hillocks though makes a tough trekking, gave enough space for maneuvering. The six months long rainy season makes the everyday life of the squad difficult. It in a way helps to mould the guerrillas strong enough to face any difficulties.
When the Kabani squad went to the adivasi, peasant and the plantation workers villages. After the initial skeptical approach, the people of different walks of the society started close relation with the squad members. People were excited after seeing the women comrades of Kabani squad in their olive green outfit and with their long rifles. After becoming close, the main query was about the life inside the forest, particularly in the rainy season, in an area full of blood thirsty leeches, locally known as “attas”, and elephants. This place is one of the natural habitats of thousands of Asian elephants and frequent man-animal conflicts are common due to human invasion to their shrinking habitats. Com. Rajan with his naughty laugh would explain them that the leeches and elephants are part of our militia. The locals take initiative to feed the squad with whatever food they have. Com. Akash, a pakka urbanite, always was apprehensive whenever people gave kappa (tapioca) and bitter gourd as he is unfamiliar with these things. Com. Kavitha, with all her dynamism, soon becomes a pet of people in the whole area. Com. Jenny is very popular in the whole Tri-junction due to her heroic past. She resembles a medieval Mongolian woman warrior jumped into the present world, with a modern assault rifle instead of her horse and sword. People always want to interact with her with a lot of respect mixed with curiosity. This is the first experience to the people of Kerala that a woman comrade is the Commander of a guerrilla squad. Com. Anu, with her rich political and organizational experience, helps the squad to connect with the people. Com. Varghese with his political and military capacity is the back bone of the Kabani squad. Com. Manoj’s expertise in the guerrilla warfare, grip over the terrain and the alertness makes himself an effective combatant. All these comrades became dear and near to the ordinary people in the area. So the people became the eyes and ears of the guerrillas. The question of landlessness, lack of valid pattas, right over the forest, the under development in that area, marginalisation, contradiction with forest department, the price crash of the agriculture produces, the displacement due to the one sided conservation policies are recognised as the main problems from the initial experience of the squad in different areas. People are also developed concern over these issues after the activities of the Kabani squad in the area.
Kattu thee (The Prairie fire) is the guerrilla bulletin of the squad which become very popular in this area. The publication of a guerrilla bulletin’s manual giving orientation to the people how to read and distribute in a clandestine way. All the 13 issues covered the burning problems of the ordinary people. The simple language of the bulletin makes it easy to understand and help them to stick into reading. Kattu thee created its own space in the revolutionary propaganda.
State’s armed forces was not a silent spectator. They conduct combing with huge formations, simultaneous combing in different places combined with Special commando forces, armed reserve forces, forest department and civil police and are trying to build vast network of informers secretly. Home guards are recruited from the tribes who have good grip over the forest tracts for building auxiliary forces from the adivasis with the idea of building another Salwa Judum. Several reforms are also adopted a method to attract people to their side.
Once when the squad conducted a meeting in the Kombara Kurichia colony in Kunjom, the met face to face with the Thunderbolt, within a short distance of 30 meters. The squad had to retreat from there to avoid any civilian causality. For a long time the commandos continued to fire in the air to gain a psychological impact. As a part of destruction of the informer network of the police, the squad went to the house of one the police personal working in Quick Response Team (QRT) who takes initiative for recruiting tribes into informer network in the adivasi village and warned him and burned his vehicle. The police is trying its best to eliminate the Kabani Squad; but at the same time the squad is becoming more and more popular in the area. In paddy fields, tea gardens, coffee plantations, bitter-gourd gardens, banana plantations the discussions of the people are mainly about the Maoists and their activities. Though people are under the fold of different organisations and parties even in the grass root level, the polarisation is taking place among them on whether to support Maoists or not.
Everybody in the squad knows that these are initial responses. Once armed struggle starts means everything will be decided through the development of armed struggle. The key question is who is going to take and maintain the military initiative. As part of the multi pronged approach, enemy has been preparing different tactics, including the large deployment of Special commando forces and building up of fortified camps and informer network. The Kabani squad is trying to win over the oppressed masses and to consolidate them into people’s militia, mass organisations, trying to build basic party structures and carryout a recruitment drive for the PLGA. The task of the Kabani squad is to take the movement into the next higher level and put an end to the sufferings of the adivasis, landless and poor peasants, other peasant sections, plantation workers and other toiling masses, dalits, women and minorities. It will take all effort to establish the right over Jal, Jameen, Jungle and to distribute land to the tiller, take over the CBB plantations and hand over to collectives made of the peasant worker alliance. Put an end to the social oppression of dalits, women and minorities.
This task is not an easy one. But as the rain droplets from the trees flows down to make streams, rivulets, tributaries to form a big river like Kabani which feeds to the life of all the species in its banks; the combined efforts of all the exploited masses along with Kabani and many other squads can work together to achieve this a goal.
Now Kabani is not mere a river, like Netravati, Tungabhadra, Godaveri, Indravati, Bhavani and many other rivers, it flows along with the liberation aspiration of the oppressed people.
A few poems by Varavara Rao……………
Thunder bolt on Western Ghats
From the vast plains of Dharmapuri,
Via satyamangalam forests, to the Konkan’s Malabar Coast
Their hard-hitting questions,
Unsettled the static wind
then their drills began in the Western ghats,
Imbibing the spirit of Dandakaranya
With the march past of the armed squads,
The meandering stream of Kaveri
‘Has the soil ever lobbied for itself?
When the earth begins to defend itself,
Could anyone stand in opposition?
Have the woods ever sung for itself?
Other than termites about you and me
Is there any self concern for the forest?’
“there is nothing left here to pillage
There is none left who were not plundered”
The people lost everything-
“their grains, the fruits in the forest,
The nectar of their life, the harvest of their toil
The adolescent girls, the thatched huts with leafy roofs,
Yes, they lost everything”
‘Wherever there is a forest,
His presence is a must,
His entire body strewn with bullet injuries,
The wounded body symbolizing the devastated countryside,
The villages overwhelming with torture chambers.
His heart is bleeding with bayonet wounds
The bruises of disappeared lives,
His entire life chasing the wailings of helpless Adivasis
He always appears with a robust belief
His heart ever beating the drum for liberation,
His brimmed with a plethora of magnificent dreams
That only the toilers should own the means of production,
That land should belong to the tillers,
That dreams since past generations be realized,
He sowed the seeds of internationalism everywhere.
Vouching for martyrdom to the people
Is not that easy, That is why Martyrdom itself
Learnt lessons afresh from him.
During the spring,
The bloody streaks eclipsed
The thunders erupted behind the clouds
The sacrifices could emerge as a mighty typhoon
To obliterate all the relics of human suffering.