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In the ongoing war between State and Maoists in Central India, it is the Adivasis- the indigenous people of region who have been the main victims of violence from either side. While memories of Salwa Judum, Internally Displaced People, Prison etc. are still alive haunting their present, some are trying to find ways ahead from their murky pasts.
Humans of Gondwana is a Facebook Page that explores stories from Tribal heartland of Central Gondwana region in India. These stories also bring out unheard realities of Adivasi lives, sandwiched between State-Naxal conflict. Following is a Photo Essay, consisting of stories from Humans of Gondwana Facebook Page on the mentioned theme:
“It’s been around 12 years. We used to live in Chhattisgarh and were suffering atrocities of Salwa Judum. My husband was jailed thrice without any reason. One day our entire village was set on fire by Salwa Judum people. Everything was destroyed, many people and our animals were killed. At the time, people fled from there with whatever little they could carry. Entire village migrated to different places. We came along with our families here, crossing Indravati River and carried some utensils with us. We don’t know who went where, who died, who is alive, we couldn’t find out. This happened with all villages on the other side of Indravati River. Now, we are scared even with the thought of going back there.”
“For an innocent person, it is really difficult to live in jail. I spent six months in Dantewada Jail. No one ever told me the reason for my custody, neither did they consider it necessary to tell. You don’t get to eat, drink properly and are treated inhumanly. Though I was at least lucky and somehow managed to get bail and came back to family. I came across many innocent Adivasis there, who are imprisoned for years and want to get out. I don’t know if they will ever be able to do that.”
“I grew up experiencing the brutality of Maoist-state conflict. Because of such situation, I ran away from home and those were the worst days of my life. After 8 long years I visited home and family for a short while, I am not even sure if I’ll be able to go back to village in future. I escaped but there are many people caught up in the jungle, still clueless of what the fight is for. My only wish is to find some peace and betterment.”
– Ashok, Sukma Chhattisgarh
“I was around 18 years old when I ran into jungle. I attended school till class 6th but did not find it of interest. My entire family was member of Dalam, so I also joined them. I began to work in “Chetana Natya Manch” (Cultural troupe of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)). Visited many places and got married to a Dalam member in the group. Due to my husband’s illness, we came back and lived at his house for some time. Somehow Police got to know about us and I surrendered with my husband in 2011. My husband left me two years after we surrendered. I live alone now. I love living in forest but can’t afford to go back.”
-Jamuna, Jeevangatta, Gadchiroli
“It was the songs in Gondi that pulled me towards them. I didn’t know what the songs meant but they were different and new to me. One day I went with them and never returned home. I formally became a member of the Dalam (Maoists/Naxals) and went on to work for three years until I got married. My husband also worked for the party, who proposed for marriage. We left party and began to live on farming after marriage. Since we hadn’t formally surrender (or informed the police), so police arrested both of us at my in-laws house. I was put in a juvenile home due to my age, as mentioned in school certificate. The interrogations in jail were torturous to tolerate. We knew a lawyer, who helped us in getting out of prison. Later, the lawyer also arranged for a formal marriage of us in the community. I’ve three kids now and we’re leading a normal life.”
“He was the first guy from village to join Police Force. He had been working for some 6-7 years, he was also going to get married the same year when Naxals attacked his team at Kospudi village. After his death, government gave us money, sister got employment; but would any kind of compensation bring his life back?”
-Komti Chukku Pungati, Juvvi, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra
“We all lived in the Jungle (Kanha) earlier, I was even born there. It was almost 9 years ago- Forest officials came and told us, we can’t stay here and should leave the place. Initially he only yelled at us and then he started threating that if we don’t vacate, they’d bring elephants and demolish our houses. They would come at night and set fire to farm and villages. We were under great pressure and torture. My father in law suggested we move to his village, so along with family we all shifted here. After that, villages were displaced one after other. Now not a single village is left, they all have been displaced.” (1/2)
“Now even the forest has been fenced. They warned everyone not to enter the forest. We still go by crossing the fence. If we are not allowed inside forest, should we starve to death? Where should we get firewood for cooking? What do we feed to our cattle? We only enter forest at night, due to fear of guards. Crop production is less and we only manage to produce enough to feed ourselves. Other than that, we make these baskets and earn some living from it.” (2/2 )
– Tikratola, Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh
“I was 14 years old when my foot got injured. At that time my father was in prison. Police had put him in Jail for helping Naxals. My mother was illiterate and did not have much understanding. Like every Adivasi I was also taken to the priest for treatment but the wound did not heal. Eventually I lost my foot due to lack of proper treatment. I come under the disabled category now. What happened was not anyone’s fault. I drive a Tractor now. I take commuters to Bamragarh on market days and plough fields. There are some difficulties in working but just because of losing foot, I can’t sit at home. Working hard has been a childhood habit.”
– Suresh Mahru Madavi, Kospundi, Bamragarh, Maharashtra.
“I served 5 years term as Sarpanch and before that I was deputy Sarpanch for 5 years. But later Dadas (Naxal) told me to leave the position. What else should I say? I do farming now.”
“In around 1977, there weren’t many families living in this village. There must have been 8-9 houses and there was no water scarcity. Around that time, the government started building a dam here. I used to go to work at the dam along with others from our village. The work consisted of digging the ground, collecting stones and building walls. It took 5 whole years to build the dam. We used to get 2 rupees each as our daily wages. We used to work very hard. We must have cut down so many trees and the government too must have spent lots of money. But till date, there is no water in the dam.” (See below)
“The government works in strange ways indeed! They don’t think before undertaking any work. They cut down a large forest of this area. Since there is no water in the dam, the land too is of no use now. As the dam belongs to the government, no one can use the land for farming. Now when we have water scarcity in the area, whom do we complain to? The people in the government will say that you have a dam in your village. But they won’t come here to see whether there is really any water in the dam.”
“I was in the Naxal party for four years. I left the party because it was lot of walking there, day in and day out. Many have died in the long march. One day probably I would also have joined the row of martyrs. We ate what people gave and lived in their shelters; (I felt) killing these very people for a ‘cause’ was not fare. That’s why I decided to surrender. In the hardship of walking day and night, sometime we got food, sometime we stayed hungry. Whenever firing took place, we used to be scared of police presence. Who would want to stay in such fear? So I felt it was better for me to surrender.
I joined Dalam in 2011. At that time I did not understand anything. First I was told by Naxals that they’d enroll me in a school. But they did not enroll me and took me to FarseGarh. They ordered me to stay with them (Dalam). After a year i was told that Police is looking out for him and it’s not safe going back home. I got scared.
I was supposed to get married next year, the girl also worked with me in the party. I told her, we’d surrender and then get married. She agreed and came along with me. I’ve an elder and three younger brothers; two younger and two elder sisters at home.
I surrendered in August. Now I will be getting married. If I get a job, I’d be happy doing it. Because I surrendered, no cases were filed against me. Government in fact offered us some money.”
“I was in class 6th then and didn’t know much about Naxalism. One day few people said we’d be given training, taught Rifle shooting and we were taken to the forest for a meeting. Many Naxals had attended that meeting. I was almost convinced to go with them. When I returned home, my uncle got angry and scolded me. He then explained “If you really want to change something, study well and get education”. He took me along and I attended school till class 10th from uncle’s home. Then I completed 12th from Kondagaon. And now I am in college and pursuing B.Com.”
“My name is Suddhu Maravi. I was a Sarpanch (headman) with five villages under my jurisdiction. There was a forest guard who used to come around. Earlier he used to just come for a visit but later he started taking money and threatened villagers by saying they were cutting woods from the jungle. At that time, the Baiga tribals who were evicted from the Kanha forest had settled houses over there. They had little money given as compensation and depended on forest products. The Forest Guard’s used to harass those poor people. Then I called a meeting and passed a decision that the guard should be suspended and the forest department must not send any official into the village without the permission of the villagers. During the 15 years of my period, no forest official was seen there. Now I am old and it’s been 10 years since I gave up my post. The new headmen are all mere stooges of the government and they are completely useless.”
“Rajag is the name of our village. It is a part of Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, Bilaspur. We don’t even remember, how long have we been living here for. We did not do any farming during my childhood; everything we needed was gathered from the jungle. We used to get – grass for making brooms, leaves for making plates, bamboo for baskets, Mahua, Chaar and many other fruits from the forest. Population has certainly increased but still there is no scarcity of anything yet. Many have made permanent houses and have started farming now. Few days earlier Forest Ranger came and told us to vacate our village. Everything we own or possess in our life is here in the forest. Where do we go now? Even if we relocate, we aren’t sure of getting everything (from forest) in the new place. How long will government compensation last? But if we stay here “neither we’d perish the forest, nor it’d let us die.”
“We are from Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. Many villages in Sukma and Dantewada had to flee to Andhra Pradesh (Telangana) in fear of Salwa Judum. Groups of 10-15 families started a new settlement inside forest. Every time a new group arrives, it goes deep into the forest, cleans land and builds huts. We mainly look for water sources nearby, sometimes the land is good for a new settlement but water is not available up to 5kms. We are Internally Displaced People, Government doesn’t recognize us as locals and so we are not eligible for any schemes. But we like it here because we fled in search of peace not for livelihood!! We are now far away from brutality and violence of State and Naxals.”
-Markam Bhimal, Jagaram-Khammam, Telangana
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