Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bharat Darshan Chronicles-II

This is in continuation to the first article on Bharat Darshan. If you have not read it, you may see it here.

Early in the morning we started for Kirandool block. It is two hours drive from Dantewada. The BDO of the block had come to pick us up and we were going to stay in the government quarter allotted to the BDO. He himself stayed in another town which was good for the education of his kids.

The schedule for the day was to visit some nearby villages. The BDO decided that first he will take us for lunch which was organized on a Waterfall known as 'Phoolpada'. I was amazed by the beauty of the waterfall and its surroundings. Some years back it used to be a favorite picnic spot for the tourists but today hardly anyone went there as the region was badly naxal infested.

The arrangement of our lunch was done by men from a nearby village. They had carried with them utensils, cooking material, vegetables etc inside that dense forest. Lunch arrangements for four of us had required not less than forty people!

There I interacted with the Sarpanch of the village. He was illiterate, naïve and knew nothing about the government schemes. But he told me about the reasons for rise of Naxals, also called as ‘Andarwale’ in the region. I was also not aware that Dantewada has been declared as the capital of the red corridor by the Naxals.

Incidentally I also discovered an interesting fact there. Tribals still hold their arrows with forefinger and middle finger and they never use their thumbs. Does that remind you of Eklavya’s story?

After having our lunch, we went to visit the village. From a long distance we were welcomed by a Gaur dance party which escorted us into the village dancing and our entry became almost like a procession.

Tribal villages are divided into small ‘Padas’. Not more than six seven houses are clustered in a Pada and the next Pada can be half a kilometer away. This causes a big burden on the administration in providing electricity, water supply and roads.

Also, people live in joint families and they never go for division of agricultural land. They still have big plots of lands registered in names of their ancestors deceased long ago. This causes a big problem in providing them the government benefits as majority of them are designed for small and marginal farmers.

We came to our quarter in the late evening. On TV, news was being flashed that a police station in a nearby district has been attacked by the naxals. The peon staying with us consoled that naxals ‘generally’ do not attack civil servants, only police is their target.

We were slightly worried that night and our worries got magnified by the gunshots we heard in the late night. You might like to know that we were in a house whose front doors even could not be bolted due to misalignment. I forced myself to sleep but I remember having restless dreams. Early in the morning we called the SP who told us that everything was all right. The gunshots were fired by the police itself to check their preparedness.

Next day, we went to visit a local ‘Haat’ or the markets organized weekly which were marked by heavy police presence. There are two things that shall always be present in a Haat. One is the traditional cock fight. Blades are tied on the nails of the cock and the winner cock bleeds its opponent to death. A considerable amount of money is gambled on such fights.

Second is the ‘Sulfi drink’ or the ‘Bastar beer’. This is local booze made from the Sulfi tree found in the region. Enjoyment of life is a major component of tribal society and social drinking is also a part of it. Both men and women consume liquor and in the late afternoon many of them can be seen drunk.

They have many customs which we may not be looked favorably in ‘cultured’ society. During spring season, unmarried boys and girls go in the forest to collect forest produce. In the night they sing, dance and booze in the forest and spend the night there itself. It is also a method of finding one’s spouse.

Tribals live a contended life. They are happy with their lives and many times they do not like the externally enforced ‘development’. They also do not want to work hard for improving their lives. I still wonder what is important in life; to be happy or to be ‘developed’.

We also interacted with other government officials posted in the region. They have their own set of problems. A doctor told us that naxals coerce them to treat their wounded members. After that police harasses them for helping the naxals. Police also at times pressurizes them to issue fake postmortem reports when they have not even seen the dead bodies. And then we wonder sitting in cities why no doctor is ready to serve in interior areas.

Two days passed away safely in the block. We had to see the same ‘Gaur dance’ three times, drink ‘Sulfis’ everywhere and take petitions for electricity, hand pumps and government benefits. The initial enthusiasm was waning away and it was becoming difficult to maintain the same zeal. Next day we came back to the NMDC guest house. A major thing in the area that was left till now was to see a ‘Salwa Judum’ camp.

Literally Salwa Judum means meeting for peace. When Naxalism was deeply entrenched, naxals started targeting innocent villagers in order to force them for joining the naxal movement. They also started imposing heavy levies on the traders. This created resentment among the general public.

In one Haat, people decided to march towards interior villages and convince the villagers to quit naxalism. When a big crowd entered the village, naxals were not able to frighten them away. This became a method and it caused a sharp decline in the cadre strength of naxals.

They retaliated by brutally killing innocent villages whom they suspected to be Judum members. Exodus of villagers started from the villages towards the cities.Thousands came abandoning entire villages and Sulwa Judum camps were set up.

So next day we went to visit Dornapal camp. Its population is more than 17000, which is many times the original Dornapal village. It looks like any other city slum with narrow lanes, bad sewage system and dense population. But I must say that administration is taking good care of them considering their scarce resources.

Government has given support to many for building houses. Ration is provided to every family free of cost. There are Aanganwadis, primary schools and ration shops. And these families keep waiting for the time when they will be able to go back again to their homes.

The strategy of Sulwa Judum has always been controversial. But one thing is certain. The tribal way of life is completely changed in the camps. Many houses have got electricity connection, TV’s and their clothing now is similar to the urbanized people. I doubt if anyone in camps shall ever go back. The question remains that, is changing the way of life of tribals an affordable price in fight against naxalism.

Our official assignments were over and the plan for the day after was to visit the Kanger Valley National Park. The park is famous for the ‘Gandak’ limestone caves. Dripping water causes formation of protruding limestone structures. It is completely dark inside and we had to carry many torches and a horde of guides with us. Then we went to the Tirathgarh waterfalls where steps have been made by the falling water. Chattisgarh has good potential for tourism and this part had considerable presence of tourists as effect of naxalism was less in the region.

In the evening we met the collector, briefed him about our observations and thanked him for making our stay comfortable there. Next day early in the morning we went to the famous ‘Danteshwari Devi’ temple. From there we started our journey to Vishakhapatnam, where we were going to have our Navy Attachment. In the evening when we were reaching Vishakhapatnam, we got the news that Jail has been broken in Dantewada and more than 300 naxals have escaped!

18 comments:

k.karthikeyan said...

I know Civil Servants have good writing skills. All these Chronicles can be published as a book. Excellent narration.

तुषार वर्मा said...

"I still wonder what is important in life; to be happy or to be ‘developed’."- this reminded me of a quote from JRD,"I do not want India to be an economic super power; I want India to be a happy country."

CrEaTiVe WrItEr said...

Your chronicles enlighten the real risks involved. I shuddered sitting in my chair home as i read about the gunshots. all i can do is send a prayer up for all the future probationers on bharat darshan. awaiting the next chronicle, especially the chitradurga part.
Regards,
Apurva

sanjeev said...

You said the Tribals might not be interested in going back to their Villages.

Do you really think that the amenities provided in the camps are sufficient. There may be people who may lost their land. May, they would like to go back to their normal lives, which they can nver get in the camps.

Anurag Srivastava said...

@kartik: Book can be published but I am not sure if it can find readers :)

@Tushar: I am happy that it has been said by such a great personality. Actually it has been a debatable question for ages.

@creative writer: I think along with probationers, you should also pray for those who are actually facing these problems. Chitradurga will have to wait, it comes long after this :)

@sanjeev: I said they might not. The amenities may not be sufficient but they are greater than those available in the interiors. They will not get electricity, schools and medical care. Land is not a major incentive for tribals as they do only subsistence agriculture. In a span of say a decade, their social fabric would have already been broken.

I dont know what most of them will do but returning back to houses that have been abandoned for years will be a difficult choice to make. But yes, many may still want to go back.

ranjit nair said...

Nice Post Anurag. Thanks.
This post reminds of some of my childhood days which I spent in Karimnagar Distt of Andhra pradesh. This too is a naxal infested areaand most of the strategies by the dist administration were similiar as outlined by you.
But I differ a bit with your view on the vicious circle part. I feel that if effective development & ambitious connectivity plans are undertaken by the Govt , we can reduce a huge part of this problem.

Naxalism has sprouted up in some form in almost all parts of the country today. But I have always wondered why not in Tamil Nadu.It has lot of similiar issues as in the other states. But wherever I travelled across the state, I could see good connectivity through roads, and ambitious plans in widening the existing ones.But such projects cant obviously be taken up by Dist Admn. The initiative has to come up from a higher level.
China is building huge highways from Nowhere to nowhere, a lot because they know that it all starts from good connectivity.

And yes, really liked your thinking aloud on Happiness vs Development :) I too have felt the same on lots of occasions... If someone is happy in their own small world, why not leave them undisturbed. But then, shouldn't they at least know that a very different world exists outside their own ( good or bad) , I get often confused whenever I try to dissect that. Sometimes, ignorance is pure bliss !

ranjit nair said...

And yep , to get your RSS feed up and running, just go to
http://www.feedburner.com/
It's simple and efficient.

Thanks.

CrEaTiVe WrItEr said...

oh yes, a prayer for them too. but, since people in power can make some difference someway i still have hopes they will find a way out of the vicious circle!

I wanted to know the training pattern ias officers follow. is it the same sandwich pattern that we read in public administration boks? is bharat darshan a part of your practical training. will you have to attend classes in mussorie again to give exams? Sorry for asking too many questions at a time, but was juyst too curious.

Kiran Mahasuar said...

"I still wonder what is important in life; to be happy or to be ‘developed’."
Well,I loved this piece.I have also written about this same issue with a concept called Gross National Happiness.you can have a look at it here.
www.kiranmahasuar.blogspot.com
Although,i don't write as well as you do but still am trying..Your suggestions & comments shall inspire me to fine tune my writing skills.

Hari said...

Hi Anurag,
kudos for u r lucid narration.
We are discovering India through u .

Anurag Srivastava said...

@Ranjit: I agree that Naxalism does not grow in developed region. But once it has spread, then it becomes a law and order problem first. The peace has to be restored and then only any development can take place.

About happiness and development, its a purely subjective question. In andamans, aboriginal tribes are left completely undisturbed so that they can maintain their identity. And the truth is I also do not know what is right.We do expose them to a different world, but do they really gain from it....

I have entered the RSS feed, I hope I have done it correctly

@creative writer: Yes you study the truth in Public Administration :)

We do undergo the sandwitch training. Bharat Darshan is a part of the training in the academy, district training is the practical training and after 1 year we have to come back to the academy for two months. And yes, I have to give exams :)

@kiran: I will certainly go through the piece and your blog, somehow academy is keeping me too busy these days.

@Hari: Thanks :)

sumit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sumit said...

hmmmm :)

Proud indian said...

Dada Pics bhi lagao saath mein, excitement aur bad jayega. Hope to see the same kind of stuff next year. ;)
Public Demand ko dekho aur pics add kar do.

JULIE said...

Hi Anurag,
I have followed your blogs at times--- thanks to Kiran Mahasuar (another blogger) who incidentally has my web link as well as yours on his blog site. You are an excellent writer and very expressive at that--- with a sense of humor that tickles the reader. Thanks for leaving a note on my last poetry. Yes--there is an intent of dissapointment in it--hungry ghosts meander their ways into your life now and then!
Cheers to writing!
Julie

nag said...

very good narration Anurag, Thanks for the post. please post Bharat Dharshan-III

Vijay RL said...

Hello,
What do you think about the idea of distributing essential items to the naxals for free at the closest city? They can all be issued a red-card or something as an identification (may be thrown from a helicopter! with a note) which they may display to get the benefits. This way we might bring development gradually (strategically).

We have a formed-country at the highest level. Why are we trying to force development + law n order in these areas? Are we insecure about them?
I am from Bangalore, I have no idea about these people--this is just my random thought…
Appreciate your efforts.
Regards
Vijay RL

JJ said...

Happiness first,Development Follows