Raipur, Jan 3 (ANI): Humanity, harmony, good governance are ideals a democratic nation aspires to. As the world's largest democracy, India is no exception. Her lawmakers and administrators, often the brightest of her citizens, vow to serve the people and govern them with integrity.
These lofty ideals, however, hold no ground in the face of the harsh pressures of conflict, now spreading rapidly across the country.
I searched for and interviewed every single individual of a village during my sojourns in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. I was looking for signs of optimism, revival, hope; in a region that has faced years, nay, decades, of strife. I returned empty-handed.
The tales of misery are all too common. Some of them come to light when a 'milestone' is achieved, such as when Koteshwar 'Kishenji' Rao was killed in November 2011, making the entire nation sit up and take notice. The fear evoked by the killing of this top gun of Communist Party of India (Maoist) became evident when guerrilla forces gathered together and pledged revenge against the State.
The impact of the alert and call for revenge, reflected in escalation in violence, is limited to those who never were involved in any manner in the first place: the hapless tribes of the Red Corridor, mute spectators bearing the brunt of the bullet from both sides.
Like everything else, here too, history bears repeating. Many cases were registered over time; some were even written about; but none of this came near to reflecting the real picture of the remote Maoist affected villages of India. Regions, which barely merit acknowledgement and simply don't exist for most of us, leave alone considering the plight of its dwellers.
The isolated village in Bastar, like most of its hamlets, is situated amid lush green Sal forests. As one walks on the muddy path of the remarkably picturesque village, long before the huts become visible, a vast expanse of paddy fields lends a sense of prosperity. Imagining this sort of richness in a Maoist region, it turns out, is surreal. This standing crop, unable to breathe in the suffocated air, has been standing long, awaiting a human touch. There is none.
In such places, where even a thud has the potential to scare one to death, it is not difficult to imagine how terrifying it would be to see five approaching strangers.
Seeing them coming, I stood still, like the crops, till they were at a foot's distance. "Namaste! We saw your car, that's why we rushed back. This is our village," spoke one of the tired young faces ambiguously. It thawed the uncomfortable situation and the conversation carried on till we reached the chowk. This chowk, they pointed out, was the site of the brutal incident that had forced them to walk away from their native village, favouring homelessness over fear and revulsion. "Early they came that morning..."hey? Who They?
The inevitable question, followed by the inevitable silence filled the air. Constant cajoling produced monosyllabic replies that spoke volumes, conveying the terror of the scene. The scene was a familiar one, with the terrorised community forced to gather at the chowk. Seven individuals were called out by name and picked up 'for investigation'. The peace of the village was shattered for good. The obvious question "Why you did not inform the police?' seemed irrelevant and naive.
"Two-three days later, they came at midnight along with six of the seven they arrested and butchered two in front of their families and villagers as they suspected them. One of the seven men captured ran away. He came later to the village and took his family away", continued the narrator. "Just when the villagers were trying hard to come to terms with this heinous act, the relatives of the murdered, employed in the police force, came to the village and asked seven or eight families from their caste to leave the village and come away with them. Before leaving they warned us that they will not let us live peacefully, squarely putting the blame of the murders on us!"
The remaining villagers, though terrified, were hopeful of their destiny; but destiny perhaps plays no role in the lives of such unfortunate ones. A few days later, over thirty men came at midnight, dressed in black. They encircled a certain house, pulled a young boy out; and took him away. The sound of a bullet confirmed the worst.
"Anderwale goli se nahi maarte" (Maoists do not kill with bullets), was the quiet response to all my further questions. In the dead of the night, all the houses emptied out, as the villagers silently walked away from their familiar world, not even bothering to lock their houses behind them.
The displaced moved to the nearby villages. In the day, they would return to their lands, working the fields; and vanish before the light went off. The entire colony was dispersed. This was, I recognised, not an isolated instance. It was the story of several hundred villages that now lie vacant, a mute witness to the violence and resultant desolation.
If "force" can rehabilitate settled villages, the lost confidence of the tribes can be won back. But it is easier said than done. A long trail of misfortunes has brought matters to where they stand today.
The Charkha Development Communication network feels that it will take longer to remove the scars. But if retaliations and counter-retaliations continue, like the ones pledged recently, it seems unlikely that the colour of the Red Corridor will change anytime soon. By Asha Shukla (ANI)