Archive for February 2017

Narendra Modi’s sway over power is spurring a robust drift away from liberal thought and towards Right-wing nationalist studies across our campuses. Sonia Sarkar gets a grip on the trend

  • DOCTORAL DEITIES:  (From left) V.D. Savarkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya and M.S. Golwalkar have become widely favoured and promoted research subjects

Modi is in, Marx is out. Mythology is in, history is out. Announcing a new trend in varsities across the country. It’s “Rashtravaad” (nationalism), Hindutva, Golwalkar, Savarkar, Modi and Indian mythology that have caught the imagination of research scholars post-2014. Looks like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” cry carries a deep Indic ring in academic circles.

“This is the time for Indian researchers to move beyond (German revolutionary) Karl Marx and (Russian communist) Vladimir Lenin and research Indian personalities and Indian polity, Indian culture and consciousness,” asserts Kaushal Kishore Mishra, professor of Political Science at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Mishra’s students are writing papers on “Cultural nationalism of (RSS icon) M.S. Golwalkar,” and “Relevance of Hindu Mahasabha leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in Political Science”.

More and more MPhil and PhD students are being encouraged by faculty in various universities to explore Hindutva-related subjects. “I tell my postgraduate students that they must look beyond human rights, women’s empowerment, Panchayati Raj and Gandhi as these topics have been explored extensively. They must do research on topics which have remained untouched such as Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders – Deendayal Upadhyaya and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and the RSS and its social service,” says Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, Political Science professor at Meerut’s Chaudhary Charan Singh University.

Similarly, in Lucknow University, research is on to establish “historical links” of Lord Shiva with Kashmir, inspired by a fictional work. “The scholar read about it in a recent bestseller and he proposed to write a thesis on it,” says a university professor.

Eulogising Modi in research papers is a growing trend too. Scholars in BHU are writing papers on the “Role of Modi in the empowerment of Muslim women,” and “Modi and (US President) Trump – a case study of the two personalities vis-a-vis their elections”. In Gujarat University, researchers are working on papers such as “Improvement in India-US relations, post Modi”, and “Emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in national politics, post Modi”.

Other state-run higher education institutions such as the Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad and Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Rajasthan’s Bikaner are championing the “Hindu” cause in a big way too. A scholar in the Bikaner university is writing a paper on ” Sarsanghchalaks of the RSS (Heads of the RSS)”; another is working on “The cultural outlook of the RSS”. At the Faizabad university, grants have been sanctioned to a PhD student to write a paper on “Deendayal Upadhyaya and his Hindutva ideology”.

This is not to suggest that all research work in the social sciences in every university revolves around the Hindutva ideology these days. But surely, there is a pattern – young researchers are being nudged towards themes and personalities attached to the notion, and politics, of Hindu nationalism, whose unabashed mascot Prime Minister Modi is.

There is good reason for this to have become a trend. Many academics believe smart researchers are trying to cash in on the Hindutva vogue to secure easy grants. “Research grant funds allotted to universities are poor. Given the current political scenario, receiving grants, either from universities or from the central funding institutions, for Hindutva-related topics would be easier,” argues Vijay Kumar Rai, head of the department of Political Science at Allahabad University.

Some senior teachers and scholars also argue that the trend is part of an attempt by faculty members who espouse far-Right Hindutva ideology to gain a strong foothold in upper academia, a project of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government to take the orientation and outlook of educational institutions, and indeed of learning, under their fold.

  • MASTER OF THE CLASS: Future generations may be looking at a radically revised view of India’s past

An illustration of how opinion is beginning to be skewed, without much to back it: an Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) journal recently stated that the iconic “Dancing Girl” of Mohenjodaro is Goddess Parvati, and therefore proof that people of the Indus Valley civilisation worshipped Shiva.

Over the past two years, many universities, central and state, have been quick to accept doctoral and research proposals on content that would be amenable to the Sangh ideology. So much so, that it has left some academics alarmed. “A young scholar would shape the academic terrain of the country in the coming years. Projects with preconceived conclusions should not be entertained by universities,” Rai stresses.

It’s not that the universities have not done credible academic work on Hindu nationalists and their ideology in the past but most such work was conducted with a critical eye. Some of these studies were taken up in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), known to be a Left bastion. “We study personalities as part and parcel of larger processes. There are studies which focus on communalism in its various forms, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, and they do not accept the self-definition of communalists as nationalists,” Mridula Mukherjee, former professor at JNU’s Centre for Historical Studies told The Telegraph.

Equally truly, Right-wing academicians have long nursed a grouse that they stood sidelined by the Left-liberal academic caucuses. They complain of having had to forever jostle for academic space. “Proposals on these topics were often rejected because they were labelled mediocre, communal and far-Right,” Mishra grumbles.

Left-liberal thoughts and voices did enjoy an extended and domineering run over India’s academia. It was true not only of JNU or Delhi University or institutions in Bengal and Kerala, but also of campuses across the heartland and elsewhere. But there’s an argument for that – Right-wing thought hadn’t been able to bring to the table solid, credible ideas and work that could compete. Modi’s arrival in power began to slowly but surely change that. “So they are infiltrating into the liberal academic space aggressively now,” says a senior Delhi University (DU) professor who would not be named. “For them, the only qualifying factor is that the scholar has to be a Hindu loyalist.”

Politics and personalities have always influenced academic trends. In the late 60s, the Communist Party of India could influence the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s policies. Around that time, significant research took place on Marx, Lenin, communist politics in the erstwhile Soviet Union, and also on former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his secular-liberal vision of India. Post the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, academic papers were written extolling Indira Gandhi’s emergence as a strong woman leader at home and abroad.

So with Modi in power, the likes of Golwalkar are replacing Nehru in research bibliographies.

Hindutva-related ideologues tried to craft their narrative in educational institutions once before – during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s. That’s happening in a big way now. “Modi’s radical approach is reassuring for the Right-wing academia; we feel encouraged,” says Manoj Dikshit, professor of Public Administration at Lucknow University. It is no coincidence that academics with Sangh affiliations are being handpicked to head major institutions – Y. Sudarshan Rao (ICHR), Girish Chandra Tripathi (BHU), Chandrakala Padia (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies), Vijay Bhatkar (Nalanda University).

Rai, however, warns universities that they should not compromise standards by welcoming run-of-the-mill work merely to appease the government. “Churning out research papers like factories could affect the credibility of the universities… Academics, with any leaning, shouldn’t try to prove their loyalty towards the government through their work,” he adds.

But few on the Right are interested in listening, it would appear. They are marching on, regardless, taking cue from a dispensation that is positively urging them on.

The presence of RSS members in university seminars and workshops is becoming a norm. For instance, many of them attended the Indian Political Science Association’s annual conference at BHU in 2015, where research papers on subjects such as the theory of Ram Rajya and the relevance of Manuvaad in the current political scenario were released. Last year, Hindu spiritual guru Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati addressed students of Lucknow University where he claimed that the computer has its origins in the Vedas.

In 2015, RSS conducted a camp in Osmania University. Last year, RSS leader Indresh Kumar was invited as the chief guest at the Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University’s convocation. RSS leaders were invited at the DU convocation in November last year. Many witnessed the varsity vice-chancellor, Yogesh Tyagi, touching RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal’s feet before moving to the dais. RSS leader Indresh Kumar and a few others have been regularly invited to speak at orientation courses in DU. In all these sessions, RSS leaders tried to indoctrinate teachers by giving lectures on their idea of nationalism. A teacher who attended one says, “One speaker likened atomic particles – electrons, protons and neutrons to Hindu gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar.” IIT Delhi has received close to three dozen research proposals on the potential of panchgavya, a concoction of cow dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd.

BHU’s Mishra is unrelenting on the way ahead; now’s the opportunity and it needs to be grabbed. “Emotions are running high. If we don’t do research on these subjects now, nobody will remember our national ideology and icons,” he says.

In the post-truth era, await new truths.

PS: Just as an aside, Wendy Doniger’s opus, The Hindus: An Alternative History, pulped in 2014 for fear it will attract Right-wing Hindutva rage, has made a quiet return to the stands.


Congress leader Palaniappan Chidambaram looks different today. He is not in his trademark white veshti and shirt. He is sporting black trousers and a grey pullover, instead. His tone is a touch different too, more reflective, easier, patient. The former finance and home minister is seated in his plush basement office at Jor Bagh, a tony central Delhi neighbourhood, open to questions and candid to answer. Since the Congress went out of power in 2014, Chidambaram has built upon his earlier reputation, writing a punctiliously researched and widely read weekly column. Fearless in Opposition , a new collection of his essays, has just hit the stands, and Chidambaram is in an expansive mood. He answered a wide range of questions Sonia Sarkar put to him. We present excerpts:

Q: The name of your book is Fearless in Opposition. But why do we see so little real Opposition in Parliament?

A: That’s because our numbers are small in Lok Sabha.

Q: But you have spoken only twice in Rajya Sabha, last year. Why?

A: Since the time I became the member of Rajya Sabha in June 2016, my regret is that there have been few debates. One major debate was on the goods and services tax (GST), which I initiated and the other on Kashmir, which Ghulam Nabi Azad initiated and during which Karan Singh spoke. There was one half-complete debate on demonetisation. If that debate had continued and the Prime Minister had yielded to the legitimate demand of the Opposition, I was scheduled to speak on that.

Q: What are your achievements as an Opposition?

A: We forced this government to retreat from distorting the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act. Also, they are revisiting the GST rate; now the state finance ministers have agreed with me and said that the standard rate should not be more than 18 per cent.

Q: How do you think demonetisation has damaged the economy? How do you see the budget?

A: Demonetisation has damaged the economy by, at least, one per cent of GDP. This damage will affect next year’s growth rate and, I suspect, even the growth rate of 2018-19. The budget showed little empathy towards casual labourers and daily income earners, who suffered greatly by demonetisation.

Q: How do you rate Arun Jaitley as a lawyer and as the finance minister?

A: He is a very good lawyer. But going by the economic performance of the government and the budgets he has presented, I am afraid, that… they have done no structural reforms, they haven’t come up with any new idea and their implementation is poor.

Q: The Congress has been criticising Modi’s policies but why do you think his popularity is still increasing?

A: If you measure popularity by electoral success, well, the five state elections will be an immediate indicator of his popularity.

Q: What are the Congress’s chances in UP? Is the Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav magic going to work?

A: Clearly, the SP-Congress alliance will be the number one party in UP. UP’s shadow will fall on Bihar and Madhya Pradesh too.

Q: But can the two – SP and Congress stay together?

A: That will depend upon who gets what numbers in the elections. But the Congress will support Akhilesh to form the next government.

Q: Akhilesh has displayed his strength by revolting against his father. But Rahul is not taken seriously in politics. People call him “Pappu”. How would he fight this image?

A: These are your or your paper’s perceptions. Whoever uses the word, “Pappu”, that is his perception. They (referring to Ram Manohar Lohia) called Indira Gandhi, ” Goongi gudiya” (dumb doll). But later, (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee called her “Ma Durga”, after the Bangladesh war. Remember, what they said about J. Jayalalithaa when she came into politics and look at what they said when she passed away.

Q: What has been your role in the party in the ongoing elections?

A: I am not involved in the election management of these five states. But I did say, it will be wiser to have a tactical alliance with one of the major parties (not BJP) because we are in the fourth position among the four parties in UP.

Q: In your book, you say that the Congress must communicate its views to its cadres in other Indian languages, besides English and Hindi. Are Congress workers in the states going away?

A: What is said in Delhi must be communicated to the states in their languages. In the states where the Congress is weak, we are not attracting new talent. Some workers may have drifted to the regional parties, wherever the latter is strong.

Q: You have said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be more humane. What efforts did you, as Union home minister, make to make it more humane?

A: I wanted AFSPA to be repealed. Since there was no consensus with the defence ministry on the repeal of AFSPA, I left behind an amendment of AFSPA. If you are not repealing AFSPA, at least amend it, make it more humane. The defence ministry said, if AFSPA is not there, it will deprive the armed forces of the much needed immunity. My argument is that this law allows you to work with impunity. This law gives you the right to kill. Anyone who believes in human rights cannot support that provision.

Q: You were the home minister when there were consecutive uprisings in Kashmir in 2009 and 2010. How do you think you failed as a home minister?

A: 2010 was a gross failure of the state police in containing the youth violence. We learnt our lessons and things were changed. From 2011 onwards and till 2015 (till the eighth month of the NDA government), it was the best period in Kashmir.

Q: In 2010, a three-member panel was set up to review the situation in Kashmir but nothing happened after that. Why?

A: Three interlocutors made a remark-able difference to the narrative of Kashmir. Their dialogue with people brought about a change. I think, (the former chief minister) Omar Abdullah tried but as it turned out, many of the recommendations were not implemented.

Q: You have said the number of incidents of terrorist violence in Kashmir has gone down from 4,522 in 2001 to 222 in 2014. But 2001 was the peak of militancy and 2014 wasn’t. Isn’t this a faulty comparison?

A: No, it isn’t. How did the number fall? It happened due to better border policing and treating the unrest among young people in the Valley with a more different and humane approach.

Q: Last year you said some people think that the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s case may not have been correctly decided. But when he was hanged, your government didn’t even inform his family members in Kashmir.

A: I think it was poorly handled.

Q: Now that you have analysed where you went wrong on Kashmir, will the Congress (if it comes back to power) look at Kashmiris with compassion?

A: We must go back to give meaning and content to Article 370, and give Kashmir a larger degree of autonomy. Even if that means asymmetric devolution of powers, so be it.

Q: In 2015, you also said that the Rajiv Gandhi government’s decision to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses (1988) was wrong. Were you not in a position to influence the decision then?

A: I was a junior minister then. Decisions were taken by Cabinet ministers. But I am willing to concede that our understanding of authors’ rights then was limited.

Q: When you are in Opposition, do you have enough time to look back at your mistakes?

A: Of course, that’s reflected in the columns. Wherever I find that we have had made mistakes, I have candidly put them in my columns.

Q: How do you see the recent turn of events in Tamil Nadu?

A: It’s the right of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs to elect their leader. It is the right of the people of Tamil Nadu to ask if that leader deserves to be the chief minister.

Q: In 2009, it was shocking to see a journalist hurling a shoe at you at a press conference. But don’t you think the language of protest in India has stooped to a new low, especially on social media?

A: It has happened because the language used by the ruling party is abusive and divisive; and that catches on. I can’t imagine Jawaharlal Nehru using a language that Narendra Modi used recently in the Lok Sabha. Those who are in high office must use language which is parliamentary, moderate and conciliatory, even when you criticise the Opposition.

Q: Lalu Yadav once said, I don’t see any reason for any politician not to aspire to become a PM. Do you want to become the PM too?

A: Not necessarily. In fact, once you are in public life, you must not aspire to become anything, you must accept whatever comes your way. When you are young, you can aspire. After a certain stage, you don’t aspire.

Q: Where is your way forward with the Congress going down? What is your plan ahead as a politician? Also, how do you see yourself two years later, in 2019?

A: I am not looking for any career advancement. I will continue to work for the party and the victory of the party in 2019.

Telegraph, February 12, 2017



For weeks before it voted yesterday, Punjab was on song. Sonia Sarkar reports on the jig-gigs that became the key campaign tool across the state

Aaja nach lae!”

– Old Punjabi folk refrain

  • NOTES FROM THE HUSTINGS: Performers at Jaago organised by AAP

As the sun begins to set, celebration time dawns around this market square in Jalandhar, 80 kilometres south of Amritsar. Men turn out in the traditional kurta and chadra (sarong) strike up a rhythmic beat of the dhol; women, dressed in green and violet shararas and carrying decorated earthen pots on their heads, lead out a dance troupe, their arms twisting in sync with the drumbeat. Passersby begin to tap their feet. ” Le gaya bai le gaya, jhaaru wala le gaya,” they sing in chorus, (Those who wield the broom have swept the scene.)

  • Nishawn Bhullar

The jhaaru is the symbol of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and these singers are exhorting the crowd to vote for H.S. Walia, who is contesting the Jalandhar Cantonment seat. From the busy market area, the troupe moves into the dusty bylanes and then to someone’s courtyard in the locality, as more and more people follow them. “Music is the only effective medium to reach out to people,” says AAP media co-ordinator Manpreet Randhawa.

This traditional Punjabi dance form, called ” jaago“, is a pre-wedding ritual but AAP has roped in local performers to turn it into a campaign instrument. “When a local form of art is used for political campaigning, everyone gets involved. People are ready to listen. These days, nobody wants to listen to politicians,” Randhawa adds.

Perhaps, true. In Punjab, the sight of the quintessential kurta-pyjama-clad politician with his palms pressed together, making promises and asking for votes, was rare this election season. Singers, musicians and folk artistes were hired by political parties to woo the voters, instead. Jingles, songs and short video clips were employed as tools by politicians to reach out to people – young and old.

AAP, the youngest kid on the poll block, wasn’t unique in turning to local performing arts as a canvassing method; all parties did.

The Congress’s chief ministerial candidate, Captain Amarinder Singh, who is taking on Akali veteran and incumbent chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Muktsar’s Lambi, has come up with a foot-tapping number, ” Keh do ek bar, chahunda hai Punjab Captain di sarkar” to bring in hope for future – say it out once, it’s the Captain’s government that Punjab wants. “Our message is positive,” says Rishi Raj Singh, director at political strategist Prashant Kishor’s IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee), which is handling the Congress party’s campaign in poll-bound states.

The song, peppered with the exhort ” challo!” (let’s go!) after every stanza, touches upon the real issues of the state – drug trafficking and addiction, unemployment of the youth and farmers’ debts leading to suicides. “But the song will not make you sad. We are trying to tell people how Punjab will become great again under the political leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh,” Rishi Raj adds.

Political pundits have come to believe music helps politicians feel the pulse of the people. “We have a song for every occasion in our life. It’s music that keeps the people alive even in times of distress. Political parties have realised that music is the only effective tool to appeal to the masses,” says regional historian Raj Kumar Sharma, who is also the former principal of Government College, Gurdaspur.

  • Gurdas Maan

The Election Commission too has realised that music enjoys great mass appeal. It appointed celebrated singer Gurdas Maan as icon to spread awareness during the Assembly elections. Maan’s main role was to motivate the youth of Punjab to get enrolled in the voters lists and vote ethically. It’s a different story that his popular number, ” Apna Punjab hove, ghar di sharab hove,” promotes the locally distilled hooch, which has killed many young men in the state and is one of the burning issues in the polls.

For political parties, composing a catchy number is not enough. The lyrics should also strike a chord with constituents, especially at a time when rivals are using similar methods to woo voters. Kishor’s IPAC deployed 200 young men and women to push Captain Amarinder Singh’s case with the voter in March last year. The team spoke extensively with farmers, college students, businessmen and women to understand the mood of people. They picked up a series of local words and phrases, which were often used during long conversations and composed the theme song for him.

“People expressed their concern towards ‘ nasha (addiction)’ and ‘berozgaari’ (unemployment) but were also hopeful of a better future. So we picked up phrases such as ‘ kishan di khushhaali‘, ‘kheta vich bhangra’ and ‘ mund banjana nawab‘ that they used during casual everyday conversations and weaved them into the song,” Rishi Raj says. He hired Bollywood music director Sneha Khanwalkar of Gangs of Wasseypur fame to compose the peppy number. Sung by Bollywood singers Richa Sharma and Shahid Mallya, the song makes indirect references to AAP as “outsiders” too.

AAP, whose radio jingles became very popular during the Delhi elections in 2015, has mostly utilised its in-house talent. For example, Gurdev Mann, the candidate from Nabha, sang the party’s theme song, ” Jharu wala button daba dyon Punjabion… Badlan nyo sabak sikha dyo Punjabyon… (Press the broom button, teach the Badals a lesson).” AAP’s star poet-singer-cum-leader Kumar Vishwas wove out another song, “Ek Nasha”, slamming the ruling Badal family for all the evils in the state. The opening lines are hard-hitting – ” Saddi watt kha gaye, fasal kha gaye, khet kha gaye Badal, saddi sadak kha gaye, nahar kha gaye, ret kha gaye Badal (The Badals have eaten away our sand, our roads, our canals and our fields…)

  • Captain Amarinder Singh on the campaign trail

As a retort to AAP, Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) came out with a video, Lalkar, which accused AAP of misleading people through false propaganda. Apart from releasing Lalkar, SAD has also used folk songs to deliver its message to the masses. “We have used the tune of the popular folk songs and peppered them up with party’s message. For example, our songs talk about our ‘ aata-daal‘ scheme under which rice and lentil were supplied to BPL families at a cheaper price and they also mention the uninterrupted supply of water and power to farmers,” says Badal’s media adviser Jangveer Singh.

None of these songs became an instant hit. These songs were released many months before the elections, to small gatherings at first on an experimental basis. “We played our theme song for the first time in a gathering in May, last year. When we saw people tapping their feet, we realised that this will do wonders,” Jangveer says.

Some candidates have been inviting singers too to campaign for them. Last week, SAD’s Hardeep Singh “Dimpy” Dhillon, fighting from Muktsar’s Gidderbaha, invited singer Babbu Maan to sing for him. The next day, his Congress opponent, Amarinder Singh Raja, also invited Maan. On both occasions, huge crowds – gathered on terraces and watching from every available vantage point – roared as he belted out some of his popular numbers.

Some local singers, who have been composing songs on social issues, refuse to campaign for politicians, though. Nishawn Bhullar, whose satirical number Jugni is liked by more than 1 lakh listeners on YouTube, is one of them. “This song slams all politicians. The message is subtle but strong – let’s not vote for the corrupt and the incompetent,” says Bhullar, who turned away requests by politicians. “Nobody wants to hear the politicians because they have nothing new to say. People only listen to the messages we give through our songs. So it is important for us to be cautious about these politicians.”

Dalit singer Ginni Mahi, who too refused to sing for a BJP candidate, believes singing for politicians would mean fooling the people. “I sing about equality and humanity – the songs of Ambedkar saheb and Sant Ravidas. Political parties would claim to believe in their ideologies only before the elections but they would forget them soon after. Why should I help them to fool people?” Mahi asks.

As you read this, the people of Punjab have already given their verdict. Who’s to face their music?

Telegraph, February 5, 2017.

Bastar has contrary reasons to suspect the outsider


DARKNESS IS beginning to fall; I am in search of a hotel room in Jagdalpur. Two hotels have turned me away. They don’t give out rooms to single women. The third offers me a room, but with a rider. I am not to tell anyone that I am a journalist.

Why not? Journalists and professors come from Delhi and write “nasty things” about Bastar, is the reply. “We have been asked by the police not to entertain such people.”

There is no room – but there is growing disdain – for journalists, political and social activists, lawyers and academics among sections of the townspeople. Activist Bela Bhatia witnessed that recently, when a group of people threatened her and her landlady, and asked her to leave her ghar and gaon without delay. She had accompanied a human rights team to meet women who had alleged being sexually abused by the police. Delhi academics Nandini Sundar and Archana Prasad have seen this, too. They were booked last year on charges of murdering a tribal.

The threats are real, but the police shrug them off. The Jagdalpur superintendent of police, R.N. Dash, is convinced that local people have their own reasons for wanting to keep journalists and others out.

“Because people from Delhi write bad things about Bastar, nobody wants their daughters to get married to local men. People living outside Bastar think that their daughters will not be safe here,” he says. “Those who refused you a room are most likely fathers who’d failed to get brides for their sons, all because of wrong reporting. It’s very natural for them to be angry at outsiders.”

But it’s not just the outsider who fears the police in Bastar. As I travel into the interiors of Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Sukma, villagers complain about being threatened and intimidated by the police. Not surprisingly, they first treat me with suspicion, not convinced that I am a journalist. I may well be a police agent, they say.

“People have come to us posing as journalists and related our complaints about police torture back to the police. Then the police came and beat us up,” says a young Dantewada villager.

Once they are convinced that you are indeed a journalist, the villagers open up – their hearts and their doors. In a quiet village, I am offered a room by a teacher’s wife because the nearest town with a hotel is miles and hours away. She gives me dinner – a small helping of daal and chawal.

In Bijapur, a young man offers to take me to a village in the forests – to meet victims of police torture – on a motorcycle. My taxi driver, Chander, takes the wheel as the villager and I squeeze in behind him. He skillfully manoeuvres the bike through long stretches of pebbled road, dirt tracks, fields and underbrush. It even splutters its way through a small stream. And then, after a series of sharp twists and turns, Chander suddenly loses control of the machine. All three of us, along with the bike, plunge into a rice field. Chander, also a local, is more amused than hurt. “Take a picture, Madam, capture the moment,” he tells me in Hindi. “We will remember that we’d had a fall.”

Pictures and selfies taken, we get back onto the bike and the mud track. We are deep in the jungles now. The sound of the wind, the swish of the leaves and the chatter of the birds travel with us. Finally, we reach our destination after an hour.

For the people of Bastar, travelling for hours to cover short distances is nothing new. They are used to walking for miles when they have to catch a bus.

When we return to the highway on our way back, evening is just about to set in. A few villagers are waiting at fancy bus stops that flaunt stainless steel seats and huge photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Raman Singh. The wait is often a long one, for buses are rare on this route.

As the sun begins to set, I spot a dark-skinned woman, small and barefoot, carrying wood on her head. Soon I can’t see her anymore – she has vanished into the dark.

Like most people in Bastar, she is now invisible.

Telegraph. February 5,2017