Sep Print Issue
He had two options: to die in encounter or become Special Police Officer. He became a journalist. Hounded by state.
Linga Kodopi is a tribal born in Bastar region in Chattisgarh state. His father was uneducated, but he made sure that his children studied. Three brothers and a sister. They grew brinjal and tomatoes in the field and carry them in kawariya to sell in the nearby market.
He used to wake up at 4 am to do farming till 9 a.m before going for school. His teacher would beat him with a Tamarind stick, since it was strong and would not break. He has huge respect for the teacher who did beat him, and says that nowadays education is not so tough and strong. His grandfather went with bow and arrows to movements during freedom struggle. He always used to run away from the school, since he used to get beaten up most of the time. His seniors would catch him in the field to make him study. Linga’s ghost were Mathematics and Science, he could not get two digit marks in 10th standard.
When Operation Green hunt was launched, he saw an advertisement from Indian army and applied and got a call. He went to Hyderabad via Vishakapatnam to get training to join the army. It was for the first time he went out of Bastar and into a big city like Hyderabad. Like many less educated poor people he wanted to do something and earn and get respect, with 10th fail certificate.
He went without telling anyone. Did not even know that there is a reservation coach in the train. While returning, his bag was stolen which had all his certificates. He was left with no money. And when he came back his elder brother scolded him a lot. He was supposed to join in the Army in Bangalore. His brother said still you have chance to prove yourself, please write 10th exam in private. He wrote again, failed in Mathematics. His brother became contractor. And made enough money since raw materials were available locally. Linga asked his brother to give more wages to labourers when he saw his brother making lots of money. But his brother refused. He also scared him saying that one day Naxal will catch you, as you are accumulating lot of money exploiting labourers, ‘jokingly’. Linga used to steal tractor and bike to learn driving in the night while his brother was sleeping. Villagers always thought of him as mad and rowdie. But one person acknowledged his strength and fearlessnes, which was his aunt, Soni Sori. She was a teacher earning Rs 2000/month and had a decent standard in the village, with T.V and food relative to others.
His father was a sarpanch and brother a district member. His father had good image in village as he worked hard to build basic ameneties in the village, roads, schools etc. So the villagers developed respect for the family. He had enough money, which he sometimes stole from home. He bought N73 phone and a ‘Hunk’ bike after convincing his family.
Police often used to catch him and beat him for showing off, possessing money and accusing him to Naxalaites as it was not normal for a young tribal to carry much money. But he was awara. Without fear and control. First time he captured a video of teacher in school, who was writing exam on behalf of a student of cheating with his N73, and scared him of complaining to authority. His attitude and courage led also policemen to believe that he is suitable to become Special Police Officer.
In 2009, he was caught and was asked to write that Naxals are harassing him and he wants to become Special Police Officer (SPO). The SP told him that you have only two options, either you die in encounter or become SDO. But using N73 had made him quite sharp in clicking pics and messaging, which eventually saved him from the encounter, when he sent a message in police custody to Son Sori about his whereabouts.
He started going to meetings and helping Soni Sori. He accompanies her to any village, where there is alleged killing or any atrocity. He drives his bike at 120 km/hr and jeep at 80 km/hr so that no one can kill them. He is hounded by the state for being a tribal, a tribal in Bastar, a journalist in Naxal state.
He came to Mumbai on 16th July 2016, at Devjrah hall in Dadar, Mumbai, to tell about the atrocities committed by police and CRPF in his districts in tribal villages and to collect soil from August Kranti Maidan for Tiranga rally in Chattisgarh. It was well documented by Times of India, ToI, which labeled him and his friend Kamal Shukla as Maoists spreading their wings in metro cities. Later, Soni Sori hoisted Tiranga on 15th August in Maoist heartland redefining narrative of Nationalism and defying both the Maoist and the State.