For years, Devati Karma led the life of an ordinary tribal woman, taking care of her home while her politician husband and sons moved through southern Bastar’s forests leading a ragtag army against Maoists. She knew little about politics or the details of her husband’s rivalry with the Maoists.
Maoists killed her husband, Salwa Judum spearhead Mahendra Karma, in Chhattisgarh’s Darbha in May. Devati, 51, and her four sons have since received Z-plus security, probably the only family in the country to have the topmost protection for as many as five members. Today, Devati is the Congress candidate from Dantewada and the entire family is next on the Maoist hit-list.
After the Darbha attack, the government swiftly stationed a company each of Chhattisgarh Armed Force and CRPF at their home in Faraspal village. Faraspal is just 14 km from the district headquarters, and lies not in any interior forest but on a good motorable road. Yet the family left it under a threat perception and came to live in their house in Dantewada.
Some compare Devati with Rabri Devi, and some, pointing at her sons’ reputation for wielding muscle power, say if she wins there will be five MLAs from Dantewada.
“She is an ordinary tribal woman, who cared only about her husband, children and farming,” says Chhavindra Karma, one of the sons. “Once I joked that when Papa moves to central politics, she should contest his seat, and she ran after me to beat me up.”
The family is now seeking votes in the name of the man who had defined much of the politics of Dantewada and, to an extent, that of the entire Bastar region in the last three decades.
For a man who would become the bête noire of Maoists, the political career began as a CPI MLA from Dantewada in the early 1980s. Karma was a staunch communist and the next election he fought, and lost, was against his elder brother and Congressman Laxman Karma.
Some say the reason he spearheaded Salwa Judum in 2005 was to