Imagine the plight of a poor tribal woman who has to trek through jungles for two days to purchase her family’s quota of rice from a ration shop, who at times finds that the shop has run out of stocks or is selling foodgrains at an exorbitant price.

Such tales of misery, suffering and deprivation abound in the tribal belt of Chhattisgarh, one of the many States affected by naxalite violence.

Narrating the plight of the tribals, some of whom were present on Tuesday at the launch of the Citizens Initiative for Peace, social worker Himanshu Kumar who has been working among the tribals of Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh for the past 18 years, said the tribals bore the brunt of police excesses. The State government had failed to rehabilitate them and care for them, he said.

Slamming the ‘Salwa Judum’ [government-sponsored self-defence groups] for targeting tribals in their villages, he alleged that such camps were encouraging anti-social and criminal elements who wanted the tribals to leave their villages and live in makeshift camps.

Mr. Kumar said tribals were unaware of their constitutional and democratic rights in the areas of health care, food, employment and were waging their small struggles to get democracy work for them at the grass roots. “But the government has branded them naxalites,” he said.

He claimed that nearly 50,000 tribals had fled to the neighbouring areas of Andhra Pradesh due to the setting up of ‘Salwa Judum’ camps. He said a reply obtained though the Right to Information Act revealed that naxalites had not killed a single teacher, health worker or social worker in Chhattisgarh in the recent past but only targeted police forces.

Despite a Supreme Court order for rehabilitating and compensating the displaced tribals, the State government had failed to act, he claimed. Mr. Kumar said the government had failed miserably to root out corruption, injustice and exploitation of tribals and it was only interested in selling off the mineral and forest wealth of tribal-dominated areas of Chhattisgarh.

Justice P.B. Sawant, former Supreme Court judge and former Press Council of India chairman, asked if the government had exhausted all peaceful means of holding talks with naxalites that it was launching an offensive against them.

He said repression and injustice were instrumental in creating Maoists as the government failed to act to ensure a life of equality to a vast section of people. He said nearly 82 per cent of the population was still earning not more than Rs.20 a day. “Is this the model of development being followed? Is this correct?” he said.

Voice to the voiceless

Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy emphasised the need for giving voice to the voiceless who were yet to get the benefits of development. Criticising the government for being “insensitive and intolerant” towards protecting the rights of poor tribals, she said democratic rights should be enforced down to the grass roots level.

The Citizens Initiative for Peace has already called for an unconditional dialogue between the government and the CPI (Maoist) while appealing to the Maoists and other naxalite parties to cease all hostilities against the State forces to facilitate a ceasefire.

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