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Prison diaries of a suspected Naxal

Sreelatha Menon
EAR TO THE GROUND

Business Standard, August 10, 2008

Ajay TG, arrested on suspicion of being a Naxalite, plans a film on those who are jailed for no reason at all.

What does a film-maker do in jail? When it is Ajay TG, the jail becomes his muse, prompting to him stories about a man spending his time in jail for no reason at all, stories about 74 men like him in Durg jail who have been branded Naxalites.

For Ajay TG, arrested four months ago and released this week, the prison was a time to revisit the past three decades he spent in Bhilai since he left his village in Engandiyur in Thrissur district of Kerala as a 15 year old.

He came to Bhilai to join his father, who ran a petty business to keep afloat a large joint family back home. But he learned to wield the camera and worked for anthropologists like Jonathan Perry, who was researching on poverty amid industrialisation , and finally landed in jail after being accused of being a Naxalite.

Ajay TG was released this week after the Chhattisgarh police failed to gather enough evidence. The release was the culmination of a loud chorus of condemnation from film-makers like Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Mrinal Sen. It was a victory of illusion-makers as the Chhattisgarh police realised they were chasing an illusion.

As he languished in Durg jail and his parents and wife waited anxiously in Bhilai, he became the focus of a human rights campaign that crossed state and national boundaries and was previously seeking the release of Dr Binayak Sen, who has been in jail for a year on suspicion of aiding Naxalites.

The arrest was not wholly unexpected, says Ajay in chaste Malayalam from his home in Bhilai. That would have been the case had he been just a film-maker. “I am an activist first,’’ he says.

“I have not done a single film which was sponsored. I have created, at low cost, only what I believed in, with my wife editing them,’’ he says.

He knew he was in danger the day the police raided his house in January and took away his computer and field notes. The arrest came on May 5.

“I was never interrogated. They knew they had nothing against me,’’ says the former CPI worker and a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). “Since the PUCL was being targeted under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, I knew something might happen,’’ he says.

Now it is time to go back to Drksakshi, the school he runs in a Bhilai slum near his house where he and his two friends teach and feed 25 children and link them to mainstream schools. It came out of his tryst with the poverty of the people he had met as part of his research work.

“I could not endure the thought that I am unable to do anything for the people whose suffering I am documenting daily,’’ he says.

Ajay is thrilled that people like Adoor took up his cause and now he wants to create his first full-length feature film in Hindi, scripted of course by the walls of Durg jail.

Ajay doesn’t see the conflict between the state and the people of Chhattisgarh ending anytime soon. Bastar is rich in resources and the people are a hindrance for mining. So long as there is wealth underground, the government would like to sell it to anyone who can buy, he says.

And the Naxals? Are they rebels or desperados? Ajay will leave that for his cameras to tell.