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Development, not guns, the driving force in Bastar

Kanker , Tue, 08 Nov 2011 ANI

Kanker (Chhattisgarh) Nov. 8 (ANI): News of the construction of a road near a settlement in rural India is always welcome. When a road connecting Bijli Village of Narayanpur District in South Chhattisgarh came up, it did more than bring accessibility: it signalled the hope of normalcy sooner than its residents expected.


The road will turn out to be a blessing for not just the hitherto cut off villages but also serve as a boon for the establishment at the Narayanpur District Head Office. Besides bringing education, health, daily markets and tourism, the roads will also connect hearts in this combat-weary part of the erstwhile Bastar kingdom.


The road from Bhanupratappur to Antagarh in rural Kanker District, the northern border of the kingdom of the Bastar dynasty, is an enthralling one, with pristine Sal forests and natural life keeping travellers company. The beautiful Medhki River gurgles alongside for some part of the way, draping a graceful veil over the violence that had shattered the peace recently, following clashes between Maoists and security forces.


The entire expanse from Antagarh to Narayanpur is considered a sensitive region, politically and historically. Tadoki village is living testimony to the historical revolt initiated by King Kalendra against the British. It also has pride of place as the birthplace of the charismatic rebel, Gundadhur.


The celebrated anthropologist and tribal activist, Verrier Elvin, worked for the rights of the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh in the 1930s, a gentle reminder of which is a huge mango tree standing tall in the compound of the village high school. Locals call it 'Sahab Ka Barka' (Master's Mango Tree).


Elvin chose this culturally rich yet vulnerable land to understand the wise and intricate ways of the tribal people amid whom he lived for several years. His experiences were published in books, including translations in Hindi. Narayanpur was once renowned for a cultural extravaganza called 'Narayanpur Fair' that has all but lost its sheen now.


This location is also the site of the approved Raoghat Rail Line. A positive development indeed, for the region deserves access to development. Resources should be brought in, yes, but not at the cost of the emotions of and respect for the indigenous communities, which don't quite seem to count in the present scheme of things.


Union Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, who rightly feels that development and addressing the daily concerns of the people should be the driving force for a successful anti-Naxal strategy, should also acknowledge these basic realities before launching his inspiring plans.


Prior to the inclusion of these communities, who, Mr Ramesh accepts, have every reason to feel alienated, into the mainstream, much remains to be addressed. Foremost among these, and perhaps the most critical, is the need to make them aware of the world as yet unknown to them.


The traditionally wise but worldly unwise communities will no doubt show a change in outlook with exposure to the 'modern' concepts of education, agriculture and employment. A young boy from the tribal community of Bijli village triggered what can perhaps become a trend by pursuing a degree in engineering from the nearby town of Jagdalpur. A nascent but hopeful beginning.


This clearly demonstrates the communities' transparent eagerness for access to contemporary education. All that deters them is the lack of information. The State administration could be more active.


Bastar is cursed by its own wealth, its resources inviting the unwelcome. Beeju, a man in his late eighties with sad eyes, recalls his childhood days with a sigh. "I lost my parents very early on. I wandered into this village and stumbled upon a British camp near the river. They caught hold of me and forced me to slave in the camp. I was about thirteen at the time," he recalls.


"A young guy in this camp, whimsical and cruel, had promised his wife-to-be that he would wear a suit made of tiger skins. To fulfil his weird, senseless fancy, many tigers were killed and his wedding suit prepared. They were cruel towards nature and us all. That was the time when deforestation sowed its seeds and wildlife was introduced to the animal called man. It was unlike any rituals of the tribes, who killed only if there was a threat to the livestock or to people. The poor animals never harmed anyone, just ate their food for survival," Beeju recalls affectionately.


Bastar is still prosperous, but man's greed and needs have altered. To ensure security and correct execution of development work, the Government should tighten monitoring and implementation.


Workers and traders promoting corruption should be dealt with severely.


The Charkha Communication Development network feels that the misguided youth extracting money illegally should be offered meaningful livelihood opportunities so that they can return to a respectable way of life. The moot question plaguing the people of Bastar is: Can democracy survive by offering gun protection from 'both sides'? By Asha Shukla (ANI)


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