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Seeda Dreams of Independence Linger On
by Vinod Joseph Bookmark and Share

The Prime Minister of Tawa – 24

Continued from Previous page

Even though a ceasefire was in place, Hanoleeyan never stayed in the same house for more than a few days. Thankfully there was no shortage of safe houses in the Central Hill District. At one point, there had been rumours that Hanoleeyan had left Tawa and was holed out in Bangkok, a rumour started by General Naranin’s men and taken up by the newspapers in Hepara. But the fact was that Hanoleeyan had never left Tawa in his life. He had not even considered it as on option. There were many things on Hanoleeyan’s mind as he lay down to sleep in a safe house that monsoon night. Outside it rained in torrents. Hanoleeyan’s left eye socket twitched. Despite the fact that he always had a few men around him, Hanoleeyan was lonely. His wife had been killed almost twenty years ago. And his son as well. His only son. Killed by the Keendas. Other than the hope of independence, Hanoleeyan had very little to live for. Seleem Zoloda’s son was in power. Most Seedas had liked Seleem Zoloda even though he had done a lot of harm to the Seedas. It was Seleem Zoloda who had started the process of replacing Seedas with Keendas in the army.  General Naranin had only accelerated the process. But not everyone understood that.

Hanoleeyan was tired, but sleep eluded him. Should he agree to a permanent ceasefire? Should he go the whole hog and negotiate a permanent settlement with Maheshdas, which would not give his people full independence, but only autonomy? Or, should he pretend to seek peace, regain his strength and fight till his people got independence? Should he try the tactic he had successfully tried on Horan Samiban five years ago? His people were tired. One of these days, a father who lost a son or a brother who lost a brother as a result of his obstinacy would snitch on him. There were Tawan army camps dotted all over the Central Hill District. A reward of ten million puvees had been announced for information leading to his capture. He was unlikely to be betrayed for money. But he could easily be betrayed for revenge by a Seeda who felt that he had misled their people.

Hanoleeyan had lost his left eye one hot summer’s day in 1981. General Naranin’s troops had by a stroke of luck come close to the cave where Hanoleeyan, his wife, ten year old son and a few close comrades were hiding. The army men had thrown a tight cordon around a large area where they thought Seeda Freedom Front rebels could be hiding and started to systematically shell the cordoned-off area. It was a standard tactic used by the Keenda dominated Tawan army while hunting for SFF rebels in the Central Hill District. While the shelling went on, Hanoleeyan and his people hunkered down in the cave, one of many caves which dotted the hill districts. After it grew dark, the shelling ceased and Hanoleeyan and his group came out of their hideout with the intention of breaking out of the cordon. Within ten minutes of leaving their hideout, the shelling commenced again. The Tawan army used 76.2 mm mortars which were of World War II vintage, but still quite deadly. A mortar round had landed close to Hanoleeyan’s group killing his wife, son and one of Hanoleeyan’s friends. Hanoleeyan was also hit by a piece of shrapnel which pierced his left eye. Hanoleeyan never recovered his eye sight. Maybe if he had received immediate medical attention, his eye could have been saved.  But Hanoleeyan had been preoccupied with ensuring that the bodies of his wife and son got a proper burial in accordance with Seeda beliefs. Seeda belief required that the bodies be buried close to a sacred Konan tree, with the toes pointing upwards and sticking out of the ground, for the spirit to leave the bodies through the toes. Unless these rituals were followed, the spirit would hang around the bodies and not ascend towards the sky. It might even be reborn as another human being.

It didn’t really matter. His right eye was very much undamaged and was sufficient for his needs. He would never forgive the Keendas for what they had done to him and his people. It was quite funny. Until a few years before he lost his eye, Hanoleeyan had been a loyal member of the Tawan army. Captain Hanoleeyan had commanded an army unit which had boasted of as many Seedas as Keendas. They had all got along together somehow, even though they did not really like the Keendas. The replacement of the Seedas with Keendas was being done in a pleasant way, without offending anyone. Even when Seleem Zoloda was quietly making sure that all senior officers were Keendas, there was no ill-will between the two tribes. While the British were around, Seedas formed ninety percent of the officer corps. Two thirds of the rank and file came from the Central Hill District.  After Tawa got independence and the TFP came to power, Keenda officers somehow started getting their promotions faster than the Seeda officers. Recruitment centres in the coastal districts of Tawa went into overdrive while intake from the Central Hill District was slowed to a trickle.

But after General Naranin took over, the discrimination became blatant. Seeda officers stopped getting promoted. Even at the NCO level very few Seedas made it as corporals and even fewer became sergeants. The only surviving recruitment centre in the Central Hill District was closed down and the army stopped hiring Seedas altogether. General Naranin went on television saying that Seedas had betrayed the country and could not be trusted. Seedas had helped the British rule over law abiding Keendas. He portrayed the Seedas as barbarians who did not have the sense to recognise their Guardian Akbar. The Seedas in the army, men like Hanoleeyan, had done their best to earn the trust of their Keenda counterparts.

When General Naranin ordered a crackdown on the communists, the army was called in to assist the police. The Seedas in the army and in the police force had done as much to crush the communists as the Keendas had done. Hanoleeyan had arrested so many communists, both Seedas and Keendas and taken them to their barracks for interrogation. General Naranin had given them the freedom to dispense justice as they thought fit. It would have been too cumbersome and painful to try the criminal communists in a court and then put them in jail. And so the army men had, on their own initiative, meted out punishments to the communists. If a person was not a communist but only had communist friends, he would be given a good beating and let off. Sometime they would break an arm or a leg as a reminder to behave well in future. But if they thought that a man was a communist, they usually shot him dead. It worked much faster that way.  In the case of women, the rules were quite different. There were very few women activists in the CPT. But once in a while, they did catch a female activist or a woman who was too close to a member of the CPT. In many cases, it would be the sister or the wife or a communist. They never killed the women. It wasn’t necessary. Instead, they took them to their barracks and had their will with them, before sending them home to spend the rest of their lives in shame.

After the communists had been crushed, the Seedas though that they had proved their loyalty to General Naranin. So, it was a total surprise to them when General Naranin disbanded all regiments which were composed entirely of Seedas. Captain Hanoleeyan’s unit was a mixed unit and so he was not immediately affected. But a few months later, even he was asked to hand over his rifle and go home. Home. Back to the Central Hill District where all the disbanded army men had gathered. During the Second World War, practically every Seeda family had a member in the armed forces. Hanoleeyan’s father had fought in Burma and had won a Victoria Cross, the only Tawan soldier to win one. And he was still alive, though he was pushing seventy. If there was one thing the Seedas did not lack, it was the availability of men with military training and thousands of veterans to advice them. Local gunsmiths could produce country made rifles with ease. They had organised themselves with remarkable speed. Every family contributed at least one fighting fit male. Units were formed on the same pattern as the disband units. Men took on the ranks they held prior to leaving the army. Hanoleeyan's father, the only Victoria Cross holder in Tawa, was acknowledged to be their leader. All three of his sons joined the SFF.

And they had struck the Keendas with all the force they could muster. The Keendas were sissies and man for man, they were no match for the Seedas. One Seeda was as good as ten Keendas. Within a week of the uprising, all Keendas had been killed or chased away by the SFF from Eko, the only town in the Central Hill District. The few Keendas scattered here and there in other parts of the Central Hill District were all killed by lynch mobs. The Keendas did retaliate against the Seedas living outside the hill districts, especially those living in Hepara. The Seedas in Cornovee had an especially tough time since the Keendas in Cornovee were all ruffians to a man and quite nasty. Many Seedas in Hepara and other areas of Tawa where they were a minority managed to flee to the Maldives, India and Thailand, where they were treated as refugees. From there, many managed to go on to various European countries and North America. But the hill district was free of Keendas and it was only a matter of time before they declared Seedaland’s independence. And they were confident that they could defend it against the cowardly Keendas.

 

The biggest problem the Seedas faced in their bid to have their own country was that the Central Hill District did not have an outlet to the sea. The eastern coast of Tawa was relatively less inhabited than the west coast. It was decided that a chunk of the east coast adjoining the Central Hill District, the least inhabited bit, would be made a part of the Seeda homeland. There were a few Keenda settlements, mainly fisher-folk, who lived in the portion of land unilaterally chosen by the SFF to be part of Seedaland. It was decided to evict them from their homes.

A unit of hundred SFF men, including two of Hanoleeyan’s brothers, had made a foray to the eastern coast. They went from house to house and killed half the people in those settlements. The rest of the people in those settlements fled towards safer areas. The victorious SFF unit made its way back to the hill districts. While passing through a narrow defile at the foothills to the hills, they were ambushed by the Tawan army, which was backed up by helicopter gun-ships. Trapped in the narrow pass, almost all the SFF men in that unit were killed. The ones who did not perish from the bullets sprayed by the helicopter gun-ships were taken prisoner. Both Hanoleeyan’s brothers were killed in that fighting.

Soon the tide turned against the SFF. The Seedas soon realised that bravery alone was not sufficient to counter an organised military campaign led by a numerically superior army. The Americans who had set up a naval base at Yalee a few years ago did not want General Naranin to lose the battle against the SFF. They supplied him with weapons, including a few more helicopter gunships. The Tawan army entered the Central Hill District in force, backed up by the helicopter gunships. Soon the SFF was on the run. Eko fell to the Tawan army after a few weeks of intense house to house fighting. The Tawan army rounded up anyone suspected of being a SFF member or sympathiser and killed him. The Seedas were familiar with the tactics being used since they were very similar to what was done to crush the communists. Hanoleeyan’s father was captured during a random round-up of Seeda men in a particular area. The Tawan army men who took him away, tortured him and killed him did not realise that they had killed the SFF chieftain. It took the Tawan army many months to realise the Hanoleeyan’s father was no more. Leadership of the SFF soon fell to Hanoleeyan since he was the only son left alive, though he was the youngest.

The SFF had continued to fight, despite the fact that the Central Hill District was soon crawling with Tawan army men.  They carried out hit and run raids at the Tawan army. Once every few days, they managed to plant a bomb somewhere in Eko. Hepara itself was not beyond the SFF’s reach. After Horan Samiban came to power, there had been at least ten bomb blasts in Hepara. The Seedas were solidly behind them, despite the reverses they had suffered. Every Seeda family paid a small tax to the SFF to keep it going. Sometimes, a Seeda in Hepara would show unwillingness to pay his due and SFF Zonal Commander for Hepara would send his boys to teach the culprit a lesson. But such instances were very few and far in between.

Seedas who managed to go to the west as refugees paid ten percent of their income to SFF collection agents living among them. Everyone paid up since they all wanted the SFF to win. Even the ones who were not too keen to pay did not have a choice since they all had some family in Tawa and the SFF had a long reach. The SFF soon learnt that there were other ways of generating income. Isolated stretches of land within the Central Hill District were used to cultivate poppy, which could be sold for a good price in Hepara. And once in a while the SFF would do a ‘job’ for a Chinese businessman who wanted a score settled or a rival eliminated.  The money thus collected was used mainly to buy weapons from arms dealers. Buying weapons was the easy part. It was much tougher to smuggle the weapons they bought into the Central Hill District. The entire coastline was controlled by the Tawan government.  It took a lot of money to bribe the coast guard to look the other way when SFF speed boats landed supplies on the eastern coast of Tawa. 

After the Americans gave up their base in Yalee, General Naranin stopped getting weapons from the Americans. In fact, the Americans even tried to nudge General Naranin into reaching a ceasefire with the SFF. Within three years of the Americans leaving Yalee, General Naranin fled from Tawa.

The Seedas were quite war weary and there were many who preferred to have peace, rather than fight on for independence. But how could he agree to anything other than independence when so many Seedas had died for Seedaland? If he agreed to anything other than full independence, would the spirits of his father, brothers, wife or son ever rest in peace? Would the spirits of fifteen thousand odd Seedas who had died after the uprising started ever rest in peace? No they would not.

But it was important to show that the Seedas were not war mongers. It had taken Hanoleeyan and the other Seedas a while to work out the dynamics of international opinion and how they could use it to their advantage. They had started off as underdogs since General Naranin was blatantly against them. Then international opinion turned against them after the SFF massacred the Keendas living in the eastern coastal settlements. After the Americans left Yalee, they had stopped supplying free weaponry to the Tawan army and every rifle, every bullet which the Tawan army needed had to be purchased from the international market.

Horan Samiban’s government earned a number of brownie points by entering into negotiations with the SFF. The World Bank gave Tawa a loan on condition that the Keendas continued to negotiate with the SFF. When the negotiations broke down, everyone pointed their fingers at the SFF for having made unreasonable demands. The World Bank did not recall its loan and the Americans resumed a limited supply of weapons to the Tawan government.

The SFF had earned some brownie points by declaring a unilateral ceasefire after Maheshdas Zoloda returned to Tawa. If the SFF were to recommence hostilities, there was a very good chance that many countries would start actively helping the government against the rebels. Maheshdas Zoloda had so much international goodwill that all blame would fall squarely on the SFF. The last thing Hanoleeyan wanted was for Americans or the British to supply a fleet of helicopter gunships to the Tawan army.

My people are weary, Hanoleeyan told himself as he tried to compose himself to fall asleep. My men are exhausted. I am weak. But I need to go on until we get independence or the spirits of my father and brothers and son will curse me forever.

Continued to Next Page 
 

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27-Apr-2021
More by :  Vinod Joseph
 
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