Chhattisgarh’s Bastar tribes keep COVID-19 at bay

Villagers have set up their own checkposts and are quarantining outsiders.

April 21, 2020 11:22 pm | Updated April 22, 2020 01:01 pm IST - Kolkata

Virus barred: A check post set up at Bastar by tribal people. Photo: Special arrangement

Virus barred: A check post set up at Bastar by tribal people. Photo: Special arrangement

In the deepest villages of south Chhattisgarh, partly dominated by the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), the locals have adopted a plan to resist coronavirus ( COVID-19 ).

Interactive map of confirmed cases in India

They have set up makeshift check posts and are not letting outsiders into the village. Instead, they are arranging to quarantine the “outsiders” — local residents who went out to work — in the periphery of the village.

List of what is and what is not allowed after April 20

The umbrella organisation of the tribals, Sarva Adivasi Samaj (SAS), is in the forefront of the initiative and Maoists are cooperating actively. Not one case of Corona contraction has been reported from the Bastar division that has a population of about three million.

It is the time of the year when thousands from the districts of south Chhattisgarh’s Bastar Division walk all the way to Telengana or the Andhra Pradesh border to pluck chilly. Following the lockdown, “hundreds returned to their village,” said the vice-president of SAS in Bastar Division, Dhiraj Rada.

The tribals kept the outsiders away from the village without being hostile.

“In the forest, under a banyan tree, in a school or Anganwadi (rural children’s day care), the villagers set up a shack to house their returning friends and family members. Ration is provided during the quarantine period,” said Mr. Rada.

State Helpline numbers | State-wise tracker for COVID-19 cases

Check posts have been set up to keep them at the periphery of the forest villages. Police posts are on the main road.

“Trainings are conducted so that health activists can run awareness campaigns in Gondi and Halbi, two key languages of Bastar,” Mr. Rada said.

Maoist support

He, however, claims that it would have been impossible to carry out the programme without the support of the Maoists. “Party people gave us access to forest villages. Usually they do not let us go into areas they control,” he said. He believes that village Sarpanches have had a word with the party people.

“Maoists, of course, realised that COVID may affect them as well,” Mr. Rada said.

Tribal leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and former MP Nandkumar Sai and Bastar journalists, Kamal Shukla and Mangal Kunjam, all admitted that “without the tacit support of the Maoists smooth quarantine management would have been impossible.

Inspector General (IG) of Bastar Range Sundarraj P., however, disagrees.

“The initiative is not influenced by the Maoists. Tribals have a traditional practice of restricting unnecessary movement from one village to another during festivals, which has helped,” asserted Mr Sundarraj. While the forces were monitoring vehicular movements in urban and rural areas, tribals had managed the quarantine well inside the forest, he said.

Naxals not regrouping

“There were claims in the social media that the naxalas are regrouping during the lock down period. That is not correct,” Mr. Sundarraj said. The reason, he said, was a continuous search operation called Gast.

“If the forces do not dominate areas, then chances are that the naxals will take advantage of the lockdown. They continued with their attacks and our operations are continuing too.” While the number of naxals would not dramatically come down in an area, it was not increasing either, he said.

“There is absolutely no additional movement [of naxals] or regrouping. Rather, their hardship increased as it is difficult to access food or medicine,” the IG said.

Mr. Rada too indicated that there was indeed some food supply problem in the civilian areas in far flung villages, which the administration was trying to address.

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