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Bastar villagers yearn for home

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On the campaign trail: BJP leader L.K. Advani addresses an election meeting at Jagdalpur in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday. Thirty-nine Assembly constituencies are going to the polls on Friday.
On the campaign trail: BJP leader L.K. Advani addresses an election meeting at Jagdalpur in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday. Thirty-nine Assembly constituencies are going to the polls on Friday.

Aarti Dhar

GEEDAM (BASTAR): Rama Ichcham still remembers the day when his elder brother was hacked to death by naxalite sympathisers in his village in Satva in Dantewada district.

The victim had refused to accept the diktat of the naxalites and had been receiving threats for some time. But one day the worst fears of the family came true and he was killed brutally.

No choice

This was followed by a series of threats to the three other male members of the family, including Rama Ichcham. Left with no choice, the entire family shifted to a Salwa Judum rehabilitation camp set up by the government at Kasoli in Geedam, leaving behind land and property. While some members shifted to the Sitalanka camp in Dantewada, Rama stayed back here after he was made the special police officer and trained in use of arms. Within days all 100 families from Satva had left.

As many as 184 families are living in Kasoli village along with an equal number of local families. Each household is given Rs. 2,150 a month apart from rice, salt and kerosene. The government has also made two-room houses for the migrants with decent healthcare facilities. There is an anganwadi centre and a primary school with arrangements for sending the children to Raipur for higher studies. At least 35 students from this camp are enrolled in boarding schools in Raipur. But some of them have also been sent to the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram’s boarding schools run by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh for tribal children.

“We have facilities but nothing can replace our homes,” says Rama. “We grew enough paddy and vegetables for our needs. Now most of us have become daily wagers.”

Women, too, work as labourers under various schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, he said expressing a desire to go back to their homes as they fear that their houses would have been burnt and fields encroached upon.

But, the “jungle bhais” (as naxalites are known) have displaced us. They had been working on this scheme for over 20 years – preventing villagers from receiving education, not allowing them exposure to the outside world and brainwashing them into believing that their aim in life was creation of “Dandakaranya Rashtra” and killing those disobeying this “holy diktat” brutally. Once they identify a person to be “eliminated,” they prepare small poems on him in their local Gondi and Halbi languages where they also tell how he is going to be killed.

The displaced people came together some months ago and marched to their villages with security men hoping that the naxalites would agree for a truce but to no avail.

The government runs 23 rehabilitation camps in Dantewada and Bijapur districts where 35,000 people are living, with the largest camp at Dornapal where 15,000 people reside. There are 13,000 voters in these camps.

Three lakh missing

Since the Salwa Judum movement was started in 2004 several lakh tribal people have been displaced from their villages. While officially the figure given is 50,000, three lakh people are still missing.

Even the government does not know their fate but it is believed that they have fled into the jungles and crossed over to Andhra Pradesh where they do not reveal their identity for the fear of being sent back to Chhattisgarh.


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