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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Indifference is the predominant feeling here

Aarti Dhar


The tribals in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Chhattisgarh had been drinking, dancing and making merry for five days. And it was not because the Government wanted them to "feel good" or because "India is shining." The five days from Holi, celebrated on March 7, to Rang Panchami are always a riot of colours.

"We felt good in 1994 when a concrete road was laid from the national highway to Mawai, a distance of 30 km, under the first phase of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Nothing happened after that," says Ram Prasad, a tribal. It was the first road link between Mawai and the rest of the State and generated a lot of excitement. The elders had never thought they would see a road to their village in their lifetime.

However, there is another side to the story. The road has not helped improve the tribal population's social status. The baigas tribe grows no agricultural product and does not use the road for transportation. The road has not brought with it the much-needed high school, full-fledged hospital or any other facility. The villagers still go to the local ojha for their medical needs and continue to grow and eat kodo-kutki, an unheard of vegetable with little nutritious value. What it did was help Mawai get over an identity crisis. It was often called the Mumbai of the Mandla region because it took the same time walking to Mawai from Mandla as it took to reach Mumbai in a train. Now, one can drive down to Mawai.

Mandla and Dindori, two extremely backward baiga-dominated blocks in Madhya Pradesh, present the same picture now that they did at the time of Independence. Most villagers groan under huge debts and claim they have been cheated by middlemen — often Government employees who distribute loans under various schemes. They are illiterate and do not know anything about market economy and the "feel good" factor.

Mandla has only 3 per cent of irrigated land and there is a shortage of drinking water as most of the wells have dried up. Electricity is available but the poles are yet to be installed. The mid-day meal scheme is, however, an attraction for students and keeps the roll call up.

"There is nothing for us. People listen to only those who have influence," says Ganno Bai of Auraiyya village. The entire village had voted for a Congress member of their tribe in the Assembly elections but he lost. "His wife was elected as the Zilla Panchayat president and now feels ashamed to interact, though she used to collect wood with us earlier."

No politician has ever gone to nearby Cheeta-Nachna Dev village. Reason: it does not have a road.

"This feel good factor is like a frog croaking before the monsoon. Once the elections are over, the noise will die down," says Brij Lal Gupta, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh.

"When we ourselves do not know why we should feel good, how would an unlettered tribal? Can you imagine a farmer feeling good when he sees paddy rotting in the Dhamtari market while his children do not have a grain to eat?"

The tribals here seem to have developed an indifference towards the administrative set-up over the years. They have no expectations from the Government and have learnt to be content with themselves.

There is no emergency as far as they are concerned. They have seen their children die of diseases and a few more deaths would not be anything new.

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