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Himanshu Kumar

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The Gandhian Fighter

In December 2009, Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar fled Chhattisgarh by leaping over the back wall of his two-room ashram and disappearing into the jungle darkness. As founder of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), an NGO in Dantewada, Kumar had been a key bridge between the State and the tribals, the government and its people.

For 17 years, he had trekked into remote, isolated villages, teaching locals about rights and entitlements, government schemes, PDS, how to vote, plugging them into a democratic process. But by December 2009, Kumar turned from State aide to adversary. As the conflict between the Maoists and the State escalated — the Salwa Judum, Operation Green Hunt — Kumar began to play a watchdog role. The VCA filed at least 600 complaints alleging human rights violations by the State and fake encounters by the police. In the absence of a robust local press and national media attention, Kumar became perhaps the only disseminator of an alternative reality — the other version. In the eyes of the State, he became a Maoist accomplice.

In May 2009, a contingent of 500 policemen bulldozed his ashram to rubble. His key aide Kopa Kunjam was arrested and Kumar began to fear for his own safety. Since leaving Chhattisgarh, Kumar has been continuing his activism in Delhi, remaining a focal point for tribals trying to access democracy, justice, and someone who will listen.

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