After having once wielded a rifle in his arms, Karan Hemla is now holding a pen and preparing for the Class 10 examination in Chhattisgarh in the hope of a better future.
The 26-year-old surrendered Naxalite had to quit studies after violence erupted with the start of the ‘Salwa Judum’ anti-Naxal movement in Bastar division in 2005.
Hemla is now thrilled about getting an opportunity to resume education and fulfil his dream of becoming literate.
He is one of the six surrendered Naxalites — three men and as many women — who after laying down their arms live at the Police Lines in Kawardha city of Kabirdham district.
They have submitted forms for the Class 10 state open school examination as part of the district police’s initiative to educate them.
The surrendered Naxalites, including two couples, had been active in forests along the Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh border in Kabirdham district and turned themselves in before the police between 2019 and 2021.
Hemla, a native of Kakekorma village in the Maoist-hit Bijapur district, was studying in Class 7 at an ashram school in 2005 when the Salwa Judum movement began.
”Several schools in the interiors of Bastar division were shut and students were forced to discontinue their studies out of fear,” Hemla told PTI.
Before he could resume his studies, local Naxalite leaders took him and another boy Bhima (who later surrendered in Andhra Pradesh) along and forcibly inducted the duo into the banned outfit in 2009, Hemla said.
He was promoted as a divisional committee member in 2016 and shifted to the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone of Naxalites, where he worked with top leader Milind Teltumbde, who was gunned down in an encounter with the police in 2021.
Hemla and his wife Anita (22), who was also a Naxalite, fled from a camp in 2019 and surrendered to live a normal life.
”Both of us were keen on studying. My wife learned to write while working in the sangthan (a Naxalite outfit). After surrendering, we wanted to pursue education and we are doing so now with the help of local police,” Hemla said.
Another surrendered Naxalite couple — Manglu Veko (28) and Rajes alias Vaonja (25) — was also delighted about getting the opportunity to study.
Veko said Bastar has been battling against the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) for more than three decades and the violence has resulted in disruption of education for many like him.
Veko, who hails from Bhairamgarh area in Bijapur, joined the banned outfit at the age of 19 in 2013 and surrendered in 2020.
His wife Vanoja quit the outfit with him and the couple have a child.
Veko said he wants to get a job after completing his education to provide a better life to his child.
Talking to PTI, Kabirdham Superintendent of Police Lal Umed Singh said after the surrendered Naxalites expressed their desire to study, they were provided books and helped to apply for the Class 10 open exam.
They will be provided free coaching as well, he said.
“Education is a key factor in the development of a person. It will help the surrendered cadres to connect with the outside world and they can pursue self-employment or apply for government jobs in the future,” Singh said.
The surrendered Naxalites were part of ‘Vistar’ platoons, active in Kanha-Bhoramdeo division since 2017-18 and tasked with expanding the base of the banned organisation in the area, he said.
The Kanha-Bhoramdeo division covers parts of Kabirdham in Chhattisgarh and Mandla, Balaghat and Dindori districts of neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. However, the number of Naxalites drastically declined in the last couple of years in this region and around 21 are left active in this pocket, the official claimed.
Between 2018 and 2022, three Naxalites were killed in Kabirdham and seven were gunned down in the adjoining districts in separate actions by security personnel, he added.