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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Kidnapped by Maoists and used as a child soldier, this girl now wants to be police

In a strange twist of fate, cops who once hunted this dreaded girl are now her jealous and zealous guardian angels — and that same gun-wielding 19-year-old girl, who used to target cops and the security forces once, now aspires to be one of them.

The teenaged tribal girl is Rajula Hidami, barely 13, and studying in Class VII in the village school, when she was unwittingly forced into bloody Maoist activities as a Dalam Member, in 2016.

However, in 2018, while on ‘lookout duty’, she escaped their clutches to officially surrender before the then Superintendent of Gondia, Harish Baijal, and Additional SP, Sandeep Atole, as part of the policy to bring the waywards into the societal mainstream.

Then, she expressed a desire to resume her interrupted studies from Class VIII onwards, which the police wholeheartedly facilitated, and this year, she cleared her SSC exams with 50.80 per cent through the Manoharbhai Patel High School & Junior College, ably guided by the principal K. C. Sahare.

Buoyed by her academic success, Rajula now aspires to be a police-woman to serve the society, said her local guardian (LG), a serving policeman who declined to be identified in view of security concerns for his ward (Rajula).

Hailing from the Gond tribal community in Lavhari village of the Maoist-infested Gadchiroli district, the LG said Rajula’s story of being coerced into the Maoist hellhole and then emerging unscathed is an inspiration.

“One day, when she was barely 13-14, she grabbed her basic mobile phone and went to the jungles to graze her herd of sheep-goats… That afternoon, some killer Maoists lurking there espied her and suddenly confronted her,” the LG said.

Unwilling to take risks — in case she was a police informer — the Maoists coaxed her to show them some spot in the jungle, but when she refused, they grabbed her mobile.

Reluctantly, she guided them for at least 4-5 km into the deep forests, and then demanded her phone back to return home.

However, the rebels gently explained that it would be dark soon, she could be attacked by wild animals and coaxed her to spend the night in their hidden camp.

That was Rajula’s error, she slept in the camp and the next morning, they practically made her captive, deaf to all her cries and pleas for release over the next three years.

“Rajula was studying in Class VII when she suddenly disappeared from sight…Later, the villagers and her family got the shocking news that she had become a gun-toting Maoist,” the LG said.

After her escape and surrender, the police were stunned to find that she had acquired other types of ‘education’ through the Korchi-Khobramenda-Kurkheda Dalam, that operates in the adjoining Gadchiroli district.

“She was a genius at handling the most modern mobile phones, tabs, laptops and communication networks, using any sophisticated weaponry from an AK-47 to pistols and rockets to grenades, planning and executing ambushes for the security forces — skills that people take years to master,” the LG told IANS.

Rajula recounted how, whenever the Maoists killed security forces, there were boisterous celebrations in the jungle camps, free-flowing liquor, singing-dancing, with a sumptuous feast of sweet ‘rava halwa’, ‘pakoras’, stolen domestic animals or wild creatures butchered for a tangy stew, served alongside rice and vegetables.

Luckily, she was spared of any kind of physical torture, but the Maoists seemed to be fond of her and trained Rajula for a long gun-toting career in the wilds.

Post-surrender, Rajula was given a compensation of Rs 3.50 lakh for her rehabilitation, but since her father had passed away and her mother remarried, and her two elder sisters were also settled in marital life, the police department took over her responsibility.

“I feel that the rehab which has been initiated must reach its logical conclusion with cooperation of all to make the huge efforts worthwhile,” Baijal told IANS.

Baijal recalled how, when the Anti Corruption Bureau laid successful traps to catch corrupt officials, the complainants later suffered hugely with the entire department ganging up to block all the works/documents of the poor man who dared to challenge their graft-dom, thus defeating the very purpose of the traps.

“She has been showing good progress…Since she is quite an athlete, she is keen to join the police force, though we would be happy even if she pursues higher studies,” Atole said.

Presently, Rajula lives in Deori, with the LG’s family, learning new tricks of the trade on how to manage the household, kitchen, basic sewing etc.

Occasionally, she travels to visit her mother in a village around 40 km away, but accompanied by “someone responsible” — to ensure she doesn’t get ‘carried away’ by the fuming Maoists, perhaps forever.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with minor edits to conform to Hindu-Post style-guide.)

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