Seven-year-old Baiju wears a lost look. His eyes look pale, but his gaze penetrates you. He only mumbles his name and his weak structure is indication enough of his fragile health. At the tender age of three, Baiju, like many other children, had lost his parents when armed gangs of Maoists attacked a relief camp at Errabore in Dantewada district past midnight on July 16, 2006, killing 61 people and injuring many others.
Baiju and about 40 other children living in the Errabore relief camp found themselves in the care of Shail Didi, a disciple of Vinoba Bhave, who volunteered to take the traumatised children to Raipur and arrange for their schooling. They all have found shelter in an ashram run by Shail Didi, a social worker, who gave up her plans of living in the forests of the Bastar region and serving the tribals.
“Many children have managed to pick up the threads of their lives, but Baiju still wakes up rudely at dead of night, recalling the horror of that deadly night,” she says. It would not have been possible but for the efforts of Rajesh Kumar Jain, an entrepreneur of Jagdalpur district of the Bastar region, who agreed to fund the Ashram.
All the children were admitted to nearby government schools here, and the Ashram gave them shelter, food, clothes and books. Both Shail Didi and Rajesh Kumar Jain are media-shy, as they want to stay away from the limelight and the glare of politicians who have so far paid only lip-service to their efforts at rehabilitating the children, who became the victims of mindless violence. At the request of visiting journalists, she shows paintings which made by some of the children, depicting the way their camp was overrun and their parents and relatives were gunned down.
If Shail Didi and Rajesh Kumar Jain are quietly doing their bit to ensure that these hapless children get their basic needs fulfilled, there are others like Dharampal Saini, also a follower of Vinoba Bhave who had actively participated in the Bhoodan Movement. He has devoted his life to running nearly 50 ashrams in the Bastar region, mainly for the education of girls.
“It was Vinobaji's inspiration that brought me to Bastar in 1976. At that time, roads were non-existent and it took four months for me to enrol four girls in the ashram. It was an uphill task to convince the tribal population of the need for development activities. But things have changed now; roads and bazaars are not considered the symbols of exploitation. People in Bastar are very hard-working, and it is time they took a collective decision to bring peace, progress and development to the region,” Mr. Saini told journalists.
Mr. Saini said it would still take some efforts on the part of the administration and voluntary organisations at educating the tribal population on the ways of development. “Education and health care have brought a lot of awareness among people. It is time institutions like panchayats were allowed to work independently,” he felt.
Noted linguist, anthropologist and historian K.K. Jha, who has spent his lifetime researching various aspects of Bastar's life, said the Bastar region has traditionally been very peaceful. It is believed that Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Laxman had spent some years in Bastar's forests. The region now encompasses such districts as Narayanpur, Bijapur, Dantewada, Jagdalpur and Kanker, all affected by Naxal violence.
“The tribals need to be treated with respect and dignity. They have to be assured that their resources, including mineral wealth and forests, will not be exploited by outsiders, and the benefits of employment and economic growth will flow for them only. It is then that development process here will pick up and the administration will be able to tackle the menace of Naxal violence and usher in peace,” Dr. Jha felt.