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Dialect Anthropol (2009) 33:423439 DOI 10.

1007/s10624-009-9135-4

Anti-anti-witchcraft and the Maoist insurgency in rural Maharashtra, India


Amit Desai

Published online: 27 November 2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Abstract Dealing effectively with malignant mystical attack is an important concern in central India. This paper examines the ways in which the connections and conicts between the Maoist movement, the police, and marginalised villagers in the state of Maharashtra, India, has led to a crisis in the identication of malfeasants such as witches. In response to the presence of the Maoist insurgency, state actors have become more involved in peoples lives than ever before. Police and others attempt to regulate activities such as witch-detecting and ghost-nding, which they regard as evidence of backwardness. In many respects of course, the Maoist movement is itself a commentary on backwardness. The paper therefore offers an insight into the lives of people involved in and affected by the circulation of this concept and the forms of transformation that result. Keywords India Maoism Witchcraft Police Adivasi Maharashtra

Introduction Casting an oblique look sometimes illuminates facets of social life that are otherwise obscured. So, rather than subject the Maoist movement to a full-frontal examination, I want to trace some of the consequences of its emergence for people living in one of the many areas in which it operates. My principal concern here is to examine how dealing with witchcraft and sorcery has become progressively more difcult for people in an Adivasi (or tribal) area of eastern Maharashtra, in central India, as a consequence of the states reaction to the Naxalite insurgency. The presence of the Maoists (also known as Naxalites) in Maharashtra since at least the late 1980s, primarily in the easternmost districts of Gondia and Gadchiroli,
A. Desai (&) London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK e-mail: a.a.desai@lse.ac.uk

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has made the state more urgently involved in peoples lives than before; its personnel and policies have come closer to villagers both in fact and in imagination. As the police attempt to tackle what they see as Adivasi backwardness, which they believe leads the latter to support the Maoists, they attack so-called superstitious practices such as witch-nding and ghost-detecting. In combination with other social and historical processes not immediately connected with the effect of the Maoist insurgency, this leaves people and villages that are troubled by malignant mystical attack without effective recourse to the remedies readily used in the past. I conducted eldwork in and around the small village of Markakasa1 in Gondia district from 2002 to 2004, and then again for a short time in 2005. My research project did not initially account for the Naxalite presence. But I became aware very quickly that it was a major factor in any social transformation underway in the area. Though I recognised its importance, the Naxalite movement did not become the focus of my study, hence the sideways nature of my gaze. It certainly interested me, but I felt concerned about posing too many direct questions, always fearing a nocturnal knock at my door. Villagers asked me if I would like to meet some Naxalites, and perhaps interview them; keen as I was, I realised that my position vis` a-vis the local police might become difcult if ever they discovered that the foreign researcher had been fraternising with the enemy. My principal research objective was to understand why a particular Hindu devotional sect (panth) had become so popular in recent years. I discovered that people joined it in order to combat incurable illness caused by witchcraft or magic. Since the level of witchcraft had not increased dramatically, the question posed itself: why was this sort of mystical attack becoming more difcult to ght? The effect of the Naxalite insurgency suggested possible avenues of inquiry. While the bulk of this article is therefore concerned with plotting the connections between the response to the insurgency and the impediments to dealing with witchcraft, the increased popularity of Hindu devotional sects has its own consequences for local society, which I examine briey towards the end of the essay. I begin with an account of the visit of a powerful witch-detecting deity called Angadev to a village neighbouring Markakasa.

The Angadev The principal weapon a village as a collective has at its disposal in combating witches (tohni) and ghosts (bhut) is to request the services of an Angadev (or in Gondi, Angapen2), a powerful Gond (adivasi) deity that is adept at detecting troublemakers and unquiet spirits. The Angadev is called to uncover the causes of suffering felt by the village as a whole, such as in cases of illness or death of a large number of young people. Inviting the Angadev to ones village is extremely expensive, and all villagers need to be agreed in order to contribute money. The villagers have to bear the cost of transport for the deity and its attendants, animals
1 2

All personal names and most village names are pseudonyms. Foreign words and phrases in italics are Chhattisgarhi for the most part.

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(goats, pigs, chickens) for sacrice, feasts and alcohol. Depending on how long the Angadev stays, the whole exercise can cost between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 50,000, an enormous sum of money.3 Though I had heard descriptions of the Angadev from Markakasa people, its visit to the village of Kondenar, 3 km away, meant I was able to see it for myself. The Angadev resembles a wooden bier, comprising three long, thick wooden poles crossed by two smaller pieces that connect the others across its width. The middle length of wood is said to be imbued with power (shakti) and is carved at the front with the head of an animalin the case known to me, of a horse. The latter is specically referred to as the pen or dev (god). The Angadev was decorated with a large number of peacock feathers at the places where the length and the width poles crossed; the god itself (the head) was painted bright orange, and the poles were black. This particular Angadev had come from its shrine 40 km away to the south, accompanied by several ritual specialists (baiga). The Angadev is carried by four bearers, who say they are driven by the dev to places where witches live or ghosts are to be found. The landscape is no obstacle for the deity: Angadev has been known to take their bearers through lakes, into wells, far out to threshing oors and up onto the roofs of houses in search of bhut and tonhi. There are three principal stages of the Angadevs visit to a village. The rst is the binding of the villages boundaries (sima bandhna), whereby the Angadev travels the length of the borders, stopping several times along the way while the attendant baigas sacrice animals to it. The binding is done in order to prevent residents leaving the village while the Angadev is in residence. Informants described it as a powerful spell that would kill or harm anyone trying to leave. The second, and central, stage is the detection of witches and ghosts (tonhi-bhut khojna). The Angadev goes from house to house searching for wrongdoers. When it detects a witch,4 it stands in front of him and knocks him with one of the poles that make up its bier. This action is variously interpreted either as a simple identication, or as the pronouncement of divine punishment, which in some cases leads to death. The third and nal stage is play (khel; karsana [Gondi]) and is the entertainment aspect of the visit: the Angadev puts on a show. A crowd of spectators gather in the village square, and as the drums beat the Angadev rushes around swaying and dancing, sometimes bumping into members of the audience. Here, however, there is no risk of being accused of witchcraft: the Angadev is merely playing. At the same time, induced by the drumming, the attendant baigas and certain other people, both villagers and visitors, begin to get possessed by the gods (dev jhupna), who come to play alongside the Angadev. Men possessed roll around on the ground, jump into the crowd or ay themselves with barbed chains and all the while the Angadev is running and swaying.5
3

This converts to approximately 250 and 650 respectively. The daily wage for a (male) farm labourer is Rs. 25 (30 p).

Technically a witch can be male (tonha) or female (tonhi), but the former term is less common in daily usage than the latter, which is often used to refer to male witches too. Gell (1980) has an interesting discussion of the Angadevs characteristic movement in his analysis of vertigo and dizziness in Hindu-Gond ritual practices.

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Of these three stages of an Angadev visit, I was only able to witness the nal one. But this was not through lack of trying. Though I had conrmed the dates of the visit on a number of occasions, and the Kondenar people I spoke to led me to believe that I would be able to witness the detection stage as well as the play stage, they had in fact misled me and other outsiders (people from other villages) and given us all the wrong dates. When my companions and I arrived in Kondenar at the appointed time, we were told to our dismay that the rst two stages had been carried out during the night when only the Kondenar villagers were present; all that was left now was the element of spectacle. To the extent that we can learn a great deal about a given social situation by examining that which is lied about or left unsaid, that the Kondenar villagers had done this was interesting. Why would they lie? Naturally, I was a little put out when I discovered that I would not be seeing any witch-nding and I asked Soma, a Kondenar leader, to explain why I (and others) had been misled. The reason, he said, was that the activities of the Angadev in Kondenar were a secret matter, and secrecy needed to be maintained in relation to two groups: people from other villages and the police. The concern with keeping things from people from other villages was bound up with potential stains on honour and reputation. Somas desire to keep the Angadevs visit secret from the police is more complex and is indicative of the type of impediments that exist to combating witchcraft and magic at the village level. The problem was that Kondenar had been refused the required police authorisation to invite the deity. In the particular case of the Angadev, villagers seek assurances from the police that those who accuse others of witchcraft will not be subject to criminal investigation. The villagers in return undertake not to use violence in dealing with a suspected witch. Essentially, the police are asked to adopt a hands-off attitude, and the villagers are given control over witchcraft accusations and their consequences.6 Just as the police refused permission for Kondenar, so it was denied about 6 months later for another village, Bodalkasa, about 10 km from Markakasa. Young people there had been falling ill and dying at an unusually high rate, perhaps eight in as many months, and no medical explanation had proved satisfactory to Bodalkasas inhabitants. While negotiations were taking place with the guardians of an Angadev in Bastar, the police refused the villagers request. On learning this, the Angadev guardians declared that they would not attend a village that had not received ofcial permission. Police approval seemed to be increasingly difcult to come by. In the past, the Angadev would come and go, and asking for permission was just a formality; in most cases the village would not bother to inform the authorities at all. The police were stationed far from the village and visited infrequently. Why were the police no longer granting permission for Angadev visits?

The Maoists and the state: a closer presence Over the past 15 years, the eye of the state has become increasingly keen in this relatively neglected and under-governed part of India. This is largely a result of the
6

See Macdonald (2004: appendix) for an example of just such an agreement between police and villagers in plains Chhattisgarh.

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presence and growth of the Maoist movement. The police (as representatives of the state) have come physically closer to villages such as Markakasa and Kondenar than ever before, and bring with them an alternative world view that is unwilling to tolerate practices such as the hunting of witches and ghosts that reek of superstition or blind-faith (andha-shraddha), and are anti-thetical to their idea of what constitutes modern India. In her recent study of witchcraft accusations and violence in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Macdonald (2004) examines the differences that exist between the higher and lower ranks of the Indian police force regarding belief in these types of being: the former subscribe to a modernist vision, which takes a dim view of belief in witches and magic, regarding it as a throwback and part and parcel of traditional India; the latter, on the other hand, are more willing to countenance suspicions of magical activity and largely share in the belief as to their existence (131). Though her argument is entirely convincing and applies equally well to police in the area of my eldwork, it is premised on the fact that, in much of plains Chhattisgarh (and I suspect in rural India more generally), the lower ranks of the police are drawn from similar backgrounds to the citizenry they serve. In the adivasi districts of eastern Maharashtra, however, and particularly in the adivasi dominated areas of southern Gondia and Gadchiroli districts, there is a sharp difference between the lower echelons of state administration (police, teachers, forest ofcials) and the local population. Recruitment of the latter into the former, though increasing,7 is at much lower levels than in other non-adivasi districts, and thus policemen and others are overwhelmingly outsiders, people who regard themselves, and are regarded by locals, as coming from a different area with a different atmosphere (va varan).8 Despite Macdonalds evidence that objectively ta witchcraft is not simply an Adivasi issue and that it is just as prevalent in much of non-Adivasi plains Chhattisgarh, the fact of the matter is that members of the local bureaucracy and police in Adivasi areas do, as a matter of subjective understanding, believe that it is more of a concern in these backward areas where they work. This attitude predominates regardless of lower-level policemens own beliefs in witchcraft and magic. Confronted with people paradigmatically regarded as backward and superstitious, the policemans response is to deny any similarity. The Naxalite movement began in the late 1960s in eastern India and exploded into large-scale violence between 1970 and 1971 across several states (Singh 1995: 133). Following the suppression of this initial rebellion, a new Maoist organisation called the Peoples War Group (PWG) emerged in south-central India in the early 1980s. During the course of that decade, it spread its area of operation northwards into eastern Maharashtra and southern Chhattisgarh (erstwhile Madhya Pradesh),
7

From what I could gather anecdotally, the mid-1990s saw an expansion in the number of police jobs reserved for those in the Scheduled Tribe (or Adivasi) category, though this has since slowed quite considerably. I was unable to obtain ofcial statistics on the percentages of policemen who were locals as opposed to outsiders. Based on my own interviews with junior policemen; however, I would suggest that no more than ve percent of the personnel in either the local police station or the armed outpost nearer Markakasa were from Gondia or Gadchiroli Districts. Most were from other parts of Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra) or from western Maharashtra. Conversely, of the three Adivasi men from Markakasa who were policemen, two were stationed in non-Adivasi areas in the northern part of the District.

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both predominantly Adivasi areas. By the early 1990s, Naxalite violence peaked in Maharashtra and by then the PWG had gained access to landmines as well as guns (ibid: 133-4). The turn of the century has seen a renewed growth in Naxalite activity in Maharashtra, followed by increased police crackdowns, with scores of policemen, civilians and insurgents killed every year.9

2004 Incidents (Naxalite) Civilians killed Policemen killed 84 9 6

2005 94 29 24

2006 (to June) 56 24 1

Though the gures look less horrifying than those for Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh, it must be remembered that the Naxalites are seriously active in only two districts of MaharashtraGondia and Gadchiroliout of a total of thirty-ve and therefore over a much smaller area with a smaller population when compared to other affected states. Both districts have been designated by the central government as severely-affected (the highest rating) by Naxalite activity since at least the early 1990s (Singh 1995: 132). In 2004, the PWG merged with another important Naxalite faction, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), which operates principally in Bihar and Jharkhand, to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Their objective has been the creation of a Compact Revolutionary Zone stretching from the Nepalese border in the north through the spine of central India to Tamil Nadu in the south. While the Naxalites declare that their struggle is against the perceived oppression of the Indian state and its agents, and their ultimate aim is the liberation of the adivasi peasantry from a neo-colonial yoke, the growth in Naxalite activity has succeeded, at least in this part of India, in bringing the state closer to its citizens. Shantha Sinha (1989) observes the same process in rural Andhra Pradesh where, as a result of greater and closer police and administrative contact in the wake of the Naxalite insurgency, people for the rst time realised that their standard of living depended not, as they had so far believed, on the local landlord or money lender but on a much larger and innitely more powerful entitythe State (317). An example of this in Markakasa was the construction of a new network of roads in the area by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The Border Roads Organisation One of the largest public works projects undertaken by the state in this area in recent years was the building, repairing and tarring of the road network. The work was carried out by a central government agency, the BRO, a corps of military engineers.
9

Source: Parliament Q & A Home Ministry, 2nd August 2006. See http://164.100.24.219/annex/208/ AU952.htm. I have no gures for Naxal deaths.

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Renowned throughout India for its work on building roads in the most inaccessible and dangerous parts of Kashmir and the insurgency-hit states of the North-East, and along Indias tense borders with Pakistan, China and Bangladesh, the BRO was contracted by the Government of Maharashtra to build a network of all-weather roads in the Naxalite-affected districts of Gondia and Gadchiroli. A network of tarred roads would allow better access for police and security forces in areas where rebels were known to operate, and also minimise the risk of landmines, which can be hidden more effectively on dirt or stone roads. Moreover, as a military organisation, the BRO had personnel at its disposal to guard the construction work from attack by rebels opposed to the project.10 The work was carried out in phases and is still going on in both districts and across the state border in Chhattisgarh. While the BRO supplied the machinery, materials and engineers, labour was recruited from the areas in which the roads were built. Many Markakasa villagers, both women and men, were employed as labourers on the road-building work during the early phases of construction at various periods between 1995 and 1998. The BRO left a lasting impression on those in Markakasa who worked for it. It paid its labourers generously, and it was seen as a time in which most people were awash with cash. The monthly wage was Rs. 2,200, more than double the amount that could be earned on ordinary government works projects, and three times the wage of a farm labourer. When payday came, everyone would receive crisp ve hundred rupee notes; for some it was the rst time they had seen a denomination that high. Many workers bought consumer goods such as cycles and radios, or a new pair of bulls. It was during the time of the BRO that people began to get a taste for eating snacks and drinking tea in roadside cafes, and indeed it was at this time that Markakasas rst paan and tea stall opened. Everyone smoked sophisticated and expensive cigarettes (Bristol), not the cheap, rustic and more popular Indian bidi. It was not only the generous wages that people remembered about the BRO but also the style and efciency of the operation. The project represented a different state to the one which they had had experience of. The machinery the BRO brought with them was impressive, quite unlike the equipment used by the local Public Works Department (PWD). The engineers and ofcers, who, I was told, all spoke English with one another, did not tolerate complaints from farmers whose elds bordered the road, and when they realised that supplies were taking too long in coming from elsewhere, they established a cement factory close to their operations. The roads built by the BRO are constantly praised and compared favourably with those built by the district PWD: the latters roads begin to disintegrate after a couple of monsoons, because of the poor materials used by the contractors who cut costs in order to line their own pockets. That sort of corruption did not go on with the BRO, I was told, and as a consequence their roads are of better quality. Importantly, the presence of the BRO represents the militarisation of the area: road building here was explicitly about security rather than development.11 In short, the BRO represented not only a different kind of state, but also a very
10 Nevertheless, on several occasions, machinery was attacked and set alight, and an elaborate plot was hatched to kill the chief engineer on his visit to one of the sites. 11

I am grateful to Nandini Sundar for pointing this out.

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generous and powerful one, and the project has continued to have great symbolic value. As I examine later in this section, the engagement of the police has been far more striking and closely involved with the issue of witchcraft. The Maoists in Markakasa The Naxalites12 are a denite presence in Markakasa and the immediate area and have been active here since at least the early 1990s. Small squads visit the village regularly, going principally to those (Gond) households where they know they will be fed and watered, and also visit the village shop after hours to buy soap and biscuits. The villagers tell me that the Maoists themselves prefer Gond households and regard all-Gond villages as less threatening. In comparison with neighbouring villages, therefore, Markakasa was regarded as less attractive because the presence of several castes and the concomitant village factionalism was said to compromise Naxalite security. Nevertheless, villagers observe the bandhs (stoppages) in July and December every year that commemorate the Naxalite fallen and which last for several days. During this time, called Shaheed Saptha (Martyrs Week), they cannot work in their elds or drive bullock carts. General village-wide meetings were seldom called, and not, to the best of my knowledge, during the time of eldwork (20022004). In 2001, a Maoist squad dragged a Markakasa man to the village square in the middle of the night, and beat him very badly in front of the other villagers. He was suspected of being an informant to the forest guard about the villagers illegal timber-hunting forays into the jungle; someone felt aggrieved enough to call in the insurgents. Every village in the area has a story like this to tell, and in many the Naxalites have killed local people, including suspected informants and elected village council members. The insurgents have also targeted local state ofcials and property. In January 2003, a couple of months into eldwork, two policemen were blown up by a landmine on their way to investigate a Naxalite arson attack on a timber depot 15 km from Markakasa. The following month, a new, as yet unoccupied government building located 20 km to the south was attacked and burnt to the ground. In May 2005, a landmine killed seven policemen in a jeep outside a village 10 km away. Information about Markakasa peoples direct participation in the Naxalite movement was murky at best, but it seemed that only one person in the village, a woman, had herself been a Naxalite and left the movement a number of years ago; another had been a regular cook for a squad, which visited her natal village. This is an area, therefore, of longstanding Maoist operation but where physical violence has generally been deployed by the insurgents in a targeted fashion against government ofcials such as policemen and forest guards, and those regarded as working for them. While most people I spoke to clearly feared the Naxalites capacity for violence, it was constantly impressed upon me that they were not
12 The villagers used a variety of terms to refer to the Naxalites: naxalwadi (naxal-ist); jangalwalle (those of the forest); lal salaam walle (red salute people); or simply by saying o-man (that lot). They were also referred to non-verbally by making the hand gesture for a gun.

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whimsical or unpredictable: they would issue several warnings to you and if, after these warnings, you failed to comply with their request, then you ought to be concerned. Other accounts of Naxalite activity in India (e.g. Shah 2006) have highlighted their role in promoting or diffusing existing disputes in a given village. Though day-to-day dispute resolution processes seemed unaffected by their presence in the area, Markakasa people were certainly aware of the Naxalite effect. Village dispute resolution bodies deliberate and pronounce in the shadow of the law and of the Naxalites; if their judgements are seen to lack legitimacy, equity or authority, there is the risk that disaffected parties will contact the insurgents for assistance. Just as the relationship between the police and the local populace has changed in many ways due to the Naxalite presence (discussed in more detail below), there is also an awareness among villagers that forest guards can no longer harass them to the extent they did 20 years; the latter are far more careful to demand reasonable bribes to overlook villagers access to timber and rewood, and avoid antagonising several villagers at any one time. The guard with responsibility for Markakasa told me that the Naxalites arranged to meet him soon after he was posted to the area and warned him to behave respectfully if he wished to avoid incurring their displeasure. In fact, many low-level beat forest ofcials are in fairly regular contact with the Naxalites (or vice versa), in a way that would be unthinkable for policemen.13

Police engagement and the problem of witch identication In 2003, in response to increased Naxalite activity in the area, the police established an Armed Outpost (AOP) in Ramtola, a village 4 km from Markakasa. AOPs are heavily fortied camps, containing between 25 and 50 policemen led by a Police Sub-Inspector (PSI). AOPs have none of the principal functions of police stations; their sole purpose is to provide a base closer to the forests and villages where Naxalites operate, and from where patrols can be carried out more easily. In an average week, the police patrol for about 3 days, in a squad of approximately 15 men, during which time they spend the nights out of base either in the forest or in a village. While I lived in Markakasa, a band of heavily armed policemen in fatigues, looking more like soldiers, would often arrive in the late hours of the evening, use the house of a villager as a base to eat their meal and then retire either to an abandoned threshing oor or to the roof of the school, heading into the forest in the middle of the night. The patrol would then reappear in the village a day or two later on their way back to the AOP. Not only are the police more visible to villagers than ever before, they are also more accessible and less threatening.14 The policy appears to be one of engagement
Though I have no direct evidence of this, and was loath to investigate, I suspect, following Shah (2006), that the Naxalites in and around Markakasa operate a market of protection over the valuable timber in the forest, in collaboration with forest ofcials and contractors.
14 Only up to a point, however. Markakasa villagers were well aware of how the police could behave. While I was conducting eldwork, an encounter took place in a village 15 km to the north and a man, 13

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with the local populace in order to diminish the attraction of the Naxalite movement. People themselves say that, even 20 years ago, everyone would either run into their homes or ee to the forest on hearing of the arrival of police in the village. The police were regarded as brutal and being hauled to the station would inevitably involve violence.15 Nowadays, I was told, even if the police chief visited the village, people would not bother to get up and give him a seat. This was bluff of course, and when high-ranking police ofcers did visit Markakasa they were treated with a certain amount of deference. Importantly, the nature of the fear had changed. In the past, there had been a very real fear of police violence and a more general apprehension of the unknown and distant state. Now the state and the police were far more known and knowable, because of prestige projects such as the BRO road construction, the establishment of AOPs, and through an active police policy of closer engagement. As I show below, local police attempted to position themselves ` as defenders and advocates of the local population vis-a-vis other local state actors such as the sub-district (tahsil) ofce and the State Tribal Development Corporation (Adivasi Vikas Mahamandal). However, as my description of the Angadev visit demonstrates, this knowability raises other fears: how are activities that meet with ofcial disapproval to be concealed, and what are the consequences of concealment? I shall return to this question towards the end of the paper. An example of police engagement was the policy of helping villagers in their dealings with the local administration over the renewal of ration cards.16 Ration cards are required in order to purchase cheaply priced essentials such as rice, wheat and kerosene from Government shops. The cards had to be renewed at the subdistrict (tahsil) headquarters, some 40 km away, and travelling to this town on government work tended to be troublesome and expensive, involving repeat journeys and payment of bribes. These difculties came to the attention of the policemen stationed at the AOP at Ramtola as a result of their conversations with villagers in the course of patrolling. The ranking ofcer, the PSI, decided that they, the police, would collect all the ration card applications and submit them en masse to the tahsil ofce on behalf of the applicants. The PSI at the time was a young man in his late twenties called Subhash. Hailing from more prosperous western Maharashtra, Subhash had seen service in Naxalite-affected areas in the east of the state for 3 years. A talkative and inquisitive man, his visits to my house during the course of a patrol always made me slightly uncomfortable: the conversation would naturally turn to the topic of the Naxalites, and he would gently probe me as to whether I had heard any news lately or had an encounter with them. Though I always replied in the negative to both sorts of inquiry, truthfully in the case of the latter, dishonestly in the former, I would then be anxiously questioned by
Footnote 14 continued who was a relative of a Markakasa resident, was mistakenly killed by police. The latter then claimed he was a Naxalite. In fact the police had been pursuing suspected Naxals, had lost them, and then come upon this man.
15 16

In 1990, the local police beat a Markakasa man so severely that he died of his injuries.

Another example: the AOP Ramtola organized a meeting for people from the surrounding villages, where representatives of local government agencies gave presentations explaining the policies available to assist them in agriculture, education, new livelihoods, and so on.

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Markakasa villagers at the teastall about what I was asked and whether I had said anything about the jangalwalle. Subhash explained why the police had decided to help the locals over the ration cards: Thats whats good about being at the AOP: youre in much closer contact with the local peoplewe see them everyday at the teashopand then we meet people in other villages when we go on patrol. We heard complaints about how difcult it was to get ration cards renewed. I asked my superiors in Taluk [the tahsil town] if we could do something to help: it would help the people but it would also help us [to encourage people to turn against the Naxalites]. We could show them that the police are friends of the people and not their enemies. Its true that the police in this area have behaved badly in the past so we have to change what people think of us. In their own minds then, they, the police, had become the protectors of the local populace against the petty exploitation perpetrated by local ofcials. As I mentioned above, villagers were conscious too of a change in attitude and viewed the police differently than in the past. On the part of the police, this level of involvement, which extended beyond the maintenance of order, was indicative of a wider process of engagement that saw the Adivasi locals as backward and in need of a guiding hand along the path of development and modernity. One such area is in the combating of what are regarded as superstitious practices, including disapproval of the use of the Angadev. As we saw earlier in the paper, the police have been reluctant to grant permission to the visit of Angadev to villages in the area. A Markakasa man told me the following story of an Angadev visit to a neighbouring village that took place some 15 years ago. A group of policemen on patrol happened to pass through the village at a time when the Angadev was in attendance.17 They asked what the curious looking structure was and on being told it was a god that had the ability to detect witches, the policemen began to laugh. They challenged the villagers, saying that witches were not real and that the Angadev could not detect them; they were examples of backward superstition, and the Angadev was guided by its bearers, not the other way round. How could the villagers not see this? No, countered the villagers, the Angadev has considerable power (shakti): for instance, they suggested, it would not permit just any person to pick it up. The police took up the challenge but were unable to lift the deity. What really happened on that occasion is difcult to determine but the truth of the matter is irrelevant. The man who told me this story was trying to emphasise the difference in attitude between the local populace and the police who patrolled in their areas. What is interesting is that the police were seen as presenting the local populace as bound by superstition and they took on the role of challenging such erroneous belief. The police are just one part of a larger class of local state ofcials and administrators who see the area in which they have been posted, and the people
17 This is echoed by Sundar (2001: 441), who describes that the fact that a witch had been murdered only came to the attention of the police in Bastar when they were combing the area in an anti-Naxalite operation.

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whom they govern, as fundamentally unmodern and undeveloped in comparison with western Maharashtra or other parts of Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra), where the vast majority of personnel are recruited from. It was constantly impressed upon me that the people here were uneducated, simple and easily taken advantage of, unlike people from other parts of the state or country. This brings me back to my earlier point: though witchcraft is, as Macdonald (2004) suggests, widespread throughout rural (and perhaps urban) India, it is nevertheless associated with backwardness in the minds of ofcials trained in an ideology of modernisation. The combination of backward practices (witchcraft) performed by paradigmatically backward people (Adivasis) provides a potent composite image of backwardness. The Naxalite insurgency has made certain state actors more urgently and intimately involved in what they see as the problem of backwardness: Adivasi people are seen as simple and trustingcharacteristics of their backwardnesswhich, the police suspect, leads to Adivasi collaboration with the rebels. Ofcial intolerance of a belief in witchcraft and of the corresponding measures needed to tackle it, and their much closer involvement in peoples lives, means that villagers and villages that are aficted by witchcraft and a sense of unease nd it increasingly difcult to use remedies, which would have been effective in the past. Macdonalds research on witch accusations and police authority in the Central Provinces (where Markakasa was located18) in colonial times suggests that, in contrast to other parts of India, police presence there was minimal and largely ineffective (2004: 114), and most policing was left to village law agents who colluded in keeping witchcraft accusations at the level of the village (ibid: 108-14). Even as recently as 60 years ago, at the time of Independence, the police station with responsibility for Markakasa was in the small town of Sakoli, 80 km away to the north-west along bullock cart trails through dense forest. As recounted by elderly villagers, police ofcers (and others such as forest guards) visited only sporadically, staying at the abandoned ghotul building once used by village youth, which came to be known as the sepoy bangla (the soldiers house). The Bhandara District Gazetteer mentions in passing that the southern part of the district (where Markakasa was located) was very jungly and remarkably free from crime (Russell 1908: 171). In 1906, the proportion of police engaged in the detection and prevention of crime in Bhandara district was one policeman for every 13 sq. miles and 2,139 persons (ibid). This compared to the all-Central Provinces gures of 9 sq. miles and 1,061 persons, respectively (ibid). So, in 1906, Bhandara district was less intensively policed than the average district in the Central Provinces, already itself less covered than other parts of India. By 1968, the gures for the district were one policeman to 10.13 sq. km and 1,370 persons.19 Thus even in the late 1960s, this district was less well-covered than the average district in the Central Provinces at the turn of the twentieth century. One can conclude that the forested areas of Bhandara district were even less intensively policed than the already rather
18 Markakasa was located in Bhandara District in the Central Provinces. In 1999, Bhandara was split into two and the eastern portion, containing most of the Adivasi population, became the new district of Gondia. 19

From District Gazetteer (1979) Bhandara District, Maharashtra State (Bombay), p. 580.

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sparsely administered general Central Provinces, as MacDonald demonstrates (2004: 108-14). If we examine MacDonalds evidence of a limited police presence throughout much of the rural Central Provinces in the light of the historian Ajay Skarias analysis of witchcraft in the Dangs and Mewar in colonial western India, we can make some speculative observations about the present day. Skaria (1997) demonstrates how the districts of Mewar and the Dangs differed: whereas the police and administrative presence in the former was in many respects similar to that of the rural Central Provinces, the latter was intensely policed and governed from an early stage. In the Dangs, individual witch killings became more pronounced as village-wide witch detection was suppressed (ibid: 137). In Mewar, by contrast, detection conducted by bhagats (diviners) and others continued, and witches could be dealt with effectively at the village level (ibid). This resonates with MacDonalds contention that in the Central Provinces more generally, news of antiwitch activity very seldom reached the ears of the administration. It may also account, rather speculatively, for that curious comment in the 1908 Bhandara District Gazetteer that the jungly southern part was crime-free, perhaps indicating that indeed in this part of the Central Provinces, crimes were not being reported but were dealt with at the village level. In the erstwhile Central Provinces, the process that took place in the Dangs in the early part of the twentieth century has only happened more recently with the expansion of police presence gradually since Independence, and especially in the past 15 years with the explosion of the Naxalite movement. Not only are the police more present and accessible, but also public policy and discussion in India (and in Maharashtra in particular) oppose witchcraft and sorcery practices to the idea of modernity: detecting and dealing with witches, and employing sorcerers is seen as hampering Indias emergence as a developed modern nation.20 This has certainly had an effect on how police approach the issue of witchcraft and witch-detection, and how ordinary people come to be aware that in many instances their views on witchcraft are at odds with those of other parts of Indian society. My repeated questions about the fate of witches once they were identied were met with verbal equivalents of shoulders shrugged. What can we do? Nothing. If we beat them or even have a meeting about them, they can go to the police station and le a complaint against us. It didnt used to be like that. The sian (elders) of the village would tie the person to a tree and beat her to stop her doing her badmashi (wickedness). This increased awareness of the hostility of the state has also led to the progressive marginalisation of baiga as identiers of witches and sorcerers, and thus to an important impediment to the proper resolution of mystical attack. Apart from the common complaints about their greed, the most striking disadvantage from the aficted persons point of view is that baiga are no longer willing to disclose the identity of the attacker for fear of causing disputes. It is only in this sphere of
See in particular the activities of the high-prole Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (Maharashtra Committee for the Eradication of Superstition) and their sponsorship of a Bill in the Maharashtra Assembly to criminalise superstitious practices such as detecting witches and the use of sorcerers.
20

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suspected magical attack that they show such reticence. In other circumstances, such as that of trying to divine the whereabouts and identity of a thief, the baiga has no such qualms about describing the wrongdoer in detail. Baiga have become wary of identifying witches and opening themselves to possible arrest by the police (who are more present than ever before) should the victim of magical attack seek a violent remedy.21 Unfortunately, their reluctance to name witches or instigators of sorcery makes them less satisfying for people who visit them in search of answers about causation. And this applies to the use of the Angadev too. Though police were refusing permission to invite the Angadev, the example of Kondenar demonstrates that a village, if determined, will ask the deity to visit regardless. The problem appears to be that villagers cannot take satisfactory measures (expulsion, disciplining, ning) against any witches identied by the Angadev: they run the risk that the accused will le a complaint with the police, who are now much more accessible and involved in matters of everyday life.

The Maoists and witchcraft The police in Adivasi areas, and public policy in Maharashtra, have become hostile to the desire to nd and punish witches and the penetration of the former, particularly through the establishment of AOPs, has increased largely in response to the Naxalite insurgency. What then of the position of the Naxalites themselves towards witchcraft? In many other parts of the country and in neighbouring Nepal, the Maoists take an avowedly anti-witchcraft, anti-superstition line that accords rather well with what I have described for the local state administration in and around Markakasa. The Maoists subscribe to a particular vision of modernity that is in opposition both to the unequal economic and to the social relations of the past, and the mystifying (and expensive) shackles of religion and superstition. According to the programme of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (2004), antiwitchcraft measures, and the use of shamans, diviners and sorcerers, are to be discouraged and banned in the areas in which they control. Both Shah (2006) for Jharkhand and de Sale (this volume) for Nepal describe the measures introduced by Maoists to limit the numbers of ritual specialists required for witch-cleansing rituals, short of banning the rituals altogether. Nevertheless, de Sale demonstrates the tensions that exist in forbidding such activity: the Peoples Liberation Armys desire to win the support of the local populace is in conict with the newly appointed Maoist village government cadres anxious to establish their ideological credentials. In and around Markakasa, no clear picture emerges. Kondenar village, which hosted the visit of the Angadev, is locally regarded as completely open to the Naxalites, unlike Markakasa.22 There, because of its relatively isolated position,
21 22

See also Macdonald (2004), p. 140.

People used the English word open. Several other villages in Markakasas immediate vicinity were also regarded as open. For the most part these were all-Gond villages, again unlike Markakasa.

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dense forest, and all-Gond composition, Naxalites come and go unhindered during the day as well as the night, and are known by all. One would expect the Naxalites to have objected to the presence of the Angadev in a village they regard as their own. Yet, I heard no hint of any such objection, and the Angadev visit went ahead in any case, with a full accompaniment of baigas and plenty of animal sacrice. Pragmatism on the part of the local Naxalite squad might explain this: that their support base may be tenuous and so any ideological prescriptions have to be disregarded. In Markakasa and the surrounding area, the Naxalites are seen as promoters and defenders of Gond culture (sanskruti), and for this they are praised (principally by Gonds themselves, but not exclusively so). In their meetings and discussions, they encourage Gonds to use Gondi with their children and their political songs are also all in Gondi. The meeting held in Markakasa in 2001 for instance, during which a man was badly beaten, was conducted almost entirely in the Gondi language, and this was remarked on repeatedly in its various retellings to me. Some people were also aware that in other parts of India, Naxalites had set up schools with Gondi as the language of instruction. Thus, one possible explanation of why anti-anti-witchcraft is not on the local Naxalite agenda is because it would contradict a popular assumption that the Naxalites are somehow pro-Gond, not only as advocates of their economic and political betterment but at a cultural level too. In its capacity as a powerful deity, the Angadev is an important local component of Gond sanskruti. Perhaps the Naxalites understand, in a way that the police certainly do not, the role that the Angadev and the baigas play in the regulation, maintenance and reproduction of local forms of sociality.

Conclusion It is the disruption of sociality that lies at the heart of the consequences of change that I have discussed in this article. The trouble caused by witches and by those employing sorcerers in order to attack others is generally the result of problematic sociality, often involving disputes with kin or neighbours. Successfully engaging in other forms of sociality allows one to counter the attack, whether it is by employing a diviner who trusts you enough to reveal the name of your tormentor, or building a sufcient consensus in the village in order to pay for an expensive Angadev visit. However, both these remedies are less satisfying than before and more difcult to employ, in large part because of the increased presence and accessibility of the state in general, and of the police in particular. Unlike the Dangs in the colonial-era, where the suppression of effective non-fatal village-wide methods of dealing with witchcraft led to an increase in individual witch killings, there is no evidence of such an increase in this part of Gondia district. Indeed there are no reported cases of witchcraft related violence in the last 15 years at all.23 Instead, there has been a tremendous growth in the popularity of a Hindu

23

Interview with the head of ______ Police Station, May 2004.

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devotional sect (panth), the Mahanubhavpanth, which people join specically in order to deal with attacks of witchcraft and magic. Where 20 years ago there was not a single devotee in the area, now at least ten percent of households in every village are adherents. The panth and its temples are regarded as very efcacious in dealing with malignant mystical attack. Those in search of healing are required to spend several weeks in residence at the panths temple located a 100 km away, praying, and learning correct devotional practice. During the course of their stay, and through a form of possession called byan, God reveals the name of their tormentor, and begins to ght him/her on behalf of the aficted person. By seeking relief at the panths temple, and then by joining the sect, Markakasa people attempt to stop the current magical attack, claim retribution against the witch through the actions of God, and ensure that any future magical attack against them will be ineffective. Importantly, the particular relations of sociality that are crucial in the deployment of other remedies such as baiga or the Angadev become irrelevant: as long as the Mahanubhav adherent keeps to the tenets of the panth regarding daily worship, diet and unswerving devotion to God alone, he will be protected from harm. In combination with other important factors such as changes in land legislation that make it more difcult for people to escape problematic social relations, other remedies such as using Angadev or baiga are less attractive because the state response to witchcraft accusations in the context of the Maoist insurgency has made them less satisfying. But the story does not end there. Rising membership of Hindu devotional panths in villages like Markakasa further jeopardises the use of the Angadev to combat harm. The requisite consensus to invite it and pay for it becomes more difcult to achieve, as new devotees no longer have need of the deity. The effects of state action are thus compounded. Membership also leads new adherents to see certain practices such as vegetarianism, teetotalism and daily worship of God as bodily necessary and morally powerful. Local Hindu nationalist activists in the form of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) also promote these practices through their hostels and by organising visits to the area of sympathetic Hindu holy men-ascetics. This organisation is part of a larger movement that aims to turn nominally secular India into an explicitly Hindu state; the VKAs role is to reinforce the Hindu nature of groups such as Adivasis whom they regard as vulnerable to the wiles of antinational Christian missionaries. Those who have embraced these practices for reasons of protection from harm because of the lack of other measures come to see the resonances between their own moral projects and the moral project of the Hindu nationalist movement. The encounter between the state and the Maoists has farreaching and unexpected consequences indeed.
Acknowledgments I would like to thank the organizers and participants at the workshop Everyday life with Maoism in India and Nepal: anthropological comparisons, held in September 2007 at which this paper was rst presented. Fieldwork and writing was made possible by funding from the ESRC. My thanks in particular to Alpa Shah and Judith Pettigrew for their comments and to the people of Markakasa for their hospitality.

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References
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