In Jamui, where Maoists and gangsters share ‘symbiotic ties,’ villagers are denied basic needs
Mahabir Sah is 70 and has lived all his life in Ropawel village in Bihar’s Jamui district, which goes to the polls on April 10. But villagers know nothing about the candidates. “No one has come here for campaigning; they hardly do,” says Mr. Sah.
No poll buzz
Jamui is a Maoist stronghold, along with other Maoist-affected constituencies such as Gaya and Aurangabad. The absence of political buzz is just one sign of the isolation people face in these areas of Bihar, bordering Jharkhand.
“There is no dispensary here. For every little ailment, we go to Kauakaul, about 20 kilometres away,” says Mr. Sah. Ropawel had one doctor, but the police took him away on charges of treating Maoists. He was released, but left the village a month ago, according to the villagers. In neighbouring Pratappur village, there is a school, but teachers hesitate to go there. Kidnapping for ransom is common in these parts and teachers are also not spared.
“The mid-day meal is only served when the teacher comes,” says Amit Kumar Ravidas, a villager.
Around 20 children from Turiya tola – a mahadalit hamlet – get routinely turned away from the local school due to lack of space.
“The school has become very congested. The administration says there is no place to accommodate all,” says Lalita Devi. Her son Vinod and other children of the tola are often told to fetch their own plates from home for the mid-day meals. With no power connection, Vinod studies in the dim glow of a lantern or an oil lamp.
Even the Maoist presence has not deterred criminal gangs from operating in this area. Several gangsters have been arrested, but many are still in business.
“Several cases of kidnappings have taken place. The criminal elements are so notorious that even the Maoists are afraid of them,” according to Jitender Rana, Jamui’s Superintendent of Police.
The locals say the climate of fear provides a fertile ground for the activities of Maoists and criminals alike, and it is in both their interest to maintain it.
The Maoists, they say, use the fear of criminals to garner people’s support and demand levy from the contractors in the name of offering protection.
The criminals in turn play a key role in thwarting any welfare activity that may ease the isolation of these villages. “The two parties share a symbiotic relationship,” says Mr. Rana. A project to build a bridge connecting Jamui to the neighbouring Nawada district has been lying incomplete for years. As delays entail cost escalations, project contractors also tend to benefit from the status quo.
The isolation has forced many to leave these parts. “All the young men have left, including my grandsons. Even the mukhiya [village head] does not stay here,” says Ashok Lal, a tea vendor.
Welfare schemes hit
Since the village heads also make an occasional appearance, this has badly-affected the implementation of welfare schemes. In Harni panchayat, the village head is there, but people find it hard to get their wages for their work under the rural employment guarantee scheme.
In the Home Ministry’s assessment for 2013, Jamui continues to figure in ‘category A’ on a list of areas with high threat perception of Maoist insurgency.
The villagers allege that often in the name of fighting the Maoists, the police end up beating up innocent villagers. But a government official working in the area said the police hardly ventured inside the villages since they feel threatened themselves.
“These areas are hardly covered. There are no doctors, no teachers, no animal husbandry and agriculture officers,” he says.
In Mehengro, a tiny hamlet inhabited by Santhal adivasis, a villager says: “We are like ghosts in this jungle.”