Not all abujh: Between Maharashtra,Chhattisgarh,two ‘states’ of a forest

Orchha is the last police station in Narainpur district towards Abujhmaad

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Beenagunda/orchha (abujhmaad) | Published: April 10, 2012 3:50 am

The name may have stuck,but it’s the Chhattisgarh part of the densely forested Naxal hotbed that is really ‘Abujhmaad’. As one drives on to Maharashtra,the first half of that name — abujh or “unknown” — falls by the wayside,thanks to policies pursued by successive governments in this state,from development to how it has handled its tribals. While 5,000 sq km of Abujhmaad lies in Chhattisgarh,roughly 1,000 sq km falls in Maharashtra.

Policing

Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Narainpur in Chhattisgarh are among the most Naxal-affected districts of the country. However,that is where the similarity ends.

Surrounded by formidable hills,Orchha is the last police station in Narainpur district towards Abujhmaad. On the April afternoon the The Indian Express visited,there were few constables to be seen. The ones who were there admitted to being scared,and warned: “Proceed to Abujhmaad at your own risk.”

Last year,after a Naxal ambush in Bijapur district (adjoining Abujhmaad) left 11 jawans dead,nobody dared go in to retrieve the bodies. The bodies had lain in mud and rain until villagers went in the next morning and brought them out in a bullock cart.

The policemen complained about how money meant for thanas in Naxal areas never reached them,about their living conditions — the asbestos roof overhead kept in place with heavy rocks — and the crumbling kitchen.

Contrast this with Lehri,the last police post in Gadchiroli towards Beenagunda,from where Abujhmaad begins in Maharashtra. Lehri incidentally had been the site of the worst Naxal attack on the state police in the district,with 17 personnel killed in an ambush in 2009. Their framed photographs now hang in Police Station Officer Vijay Talware’s office.

Police personnel at the Lehri post can be seen patrolling up to 2 km in the nearby areas. Nobody stops entry into the Red zone; the police let visitors go after noting down their particulars.

The support of the administration is with the policemen,asserts Talware. “Even when a jawan is ill,a chopper lands to take him away,” he says.

As the Chhattisgarh top cops gush about their first entry into Abujhmaad,PSO Talware shrugs it off. “The CRPF might have gone inside first time,my jawans routinely patrol maad region,” he says.

Development

Across Gadchiroli,even in the forest-covered Alapalli to Lehri,roads are better than almost all roads connecting various districts in Chhattisgarh,let alone roads inside a district. The usual excuse given out by top Chhattisgarh officials is that the Naxals blow up roads. However,the state of the roads in Gadchiroli belies that claim.

While the public distribution system is almost non-existent in Chhattisgarh’s Orchha,one can buy fresh cold drinks and even Amul Lassi in Lehri. The neighbouring taluka,Bhamragad,has been developed as a tourist spot,with a forest resthouse located where rivers Indravati,Pamul Gurta and Pearl Kota meet. State transport buses come right up to Bhamragad.

In contrast,the beautiful landscapes of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region get few visitors.

The story is the same in availability of power,phone signals etc. “Orchha tribals might not have ever visited Narainpur,but they are familiar with Gadchiroli. For marketing and other needs,instead of their own state,they travel a greater distance to go to Maharashtra,” said a district official.

Except two-three crumbling primary schools at the periphery,there is no administration worth its name inside the Chhattisgarh part. Neither is there a health centre or banks. Admits Narainpur Collector S R Bhramne: “Administration is yet to reach inside.”

The only schools functional here are run by the Ramakrishna Ashram. “If an NGO can operate in maad,what prevents the government?” asks an official.

Narainpur SP Mayank Srivastava acknowledges that the absence of a government allows schools run by the Janatana Sarkar of the Maoists to flourish,and these in turn allow easy brainwashing of tribals.

The forces demolished some of these schools DURING THEIR operation. However,Gudsa Usendi,spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist),hits the nail on the head when he says: “The attack ( by CRPF) was on the alternative development model built by the people.”

Politics

The Narainpur district is absolutely devoid of political activity. Local MLA Kedar Kashyap,a powerful minister in the Raman Singh Cabinet,holding the crucial portfolio of the SC & ST department,doesn’t dare venture into Abujhmaad. Tribals in this area are unaware of the polling process,leave alone having heard of Kashyap,himself an ST leader. While voting touched nearly 30 per cent in the 2008 Assembly elections,the Congress has repeatedly accused the BJP of poll rigging in the interiors of Bastar.

In contrast,Dipak Atram is a popular and accessible MLA from Aheri/Lehri area. Incidentally,he stood as an Independent and won.

Tribals

Outsiders were prohibited from even entering the Chhattisgarh part of Abujhmaad without informing the collector till the state government lifted the ban in 2010 . District officials say it added to the isolation of tribals,who not only became an easy base for Maoists but were also pushed away from their own state.

Lehri,on the other hand,has a conglomerate of Bengali-,Telugu-,Marathi- and Chhattisgarhi-speaking population,besides local tribals.

However,even as the government still lags behind,Abujhmaad tribals may be now seizing the change. Since the security forces ventured in,Orchha and Narainpur have been seeing the first protests by tribals seeking “what is due to us”. While some of the protests are still about the “intrusion of government through armed forces in our lives”,the tens of them out on street largely want change — and they are not seeking that under the Naxal umbrella.

It’s up to the Chhattisgarh government,that has largely abdicated Abujhmaad while putting the blame on the Naxals,to decide what course this agitation takes.

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