Chhattisgarh is our own heart of darkness

Who minds if more netas die, more anarchy follows, our soft underbelly is exposed further, if only the rulers wake up!


Rohit Bansal | May 26, 2013

A few months back I found myself in Jagdalpur, 242 km from Chhattisgarh’s capital, in Maoist territory. Until then, and I am ashamed to admit this, I had never been beyond Raipur, the capital of the state of Chhattisgarh. So it felt good to make amends, meet dozens of people wedded to the ground, driving past some of the best plantations of sal in our country.

Read ground reports: Maoist terror: bodies found in Bastar, Cong brass in ground zero

But right through the road journey, well wishers kept my phone busy, expressing grave misgivings about straying so deep into the state.

At one point of time it felt as if I wasn’t in the world’s largest democracy, but the killing fields bordering the two Sudans; a madcap, risking his life only to address a gathering of a dozen journalists, a vice chancellor and a minister! It wasn’t easy snuffing this fear. But then the other voice chided me: “Jagdalpur too is part of your country. Should you write only from the ivory towers?”

I am glad I held my ground, for now that Chhattisgarh is back in the spotlight, I can report back at least five distinct impressions:

1) This may be the power capital of India, or the repository of much of our mineral wealth, but under-employment is rampant. This has transformed remote regions like Jagdalpur and Sukhna into hubs for human trafficking, a mining heist for maid servants and drivers.
Some of these innocent, uneducated citizens of our country are slaves of the elite of Raipur; but the main market for this trade in human beings is Delhi. Look around!
2) Education is rare.

“Poverty is so stark that applicants to my school sometimes don’t know what it means to count beyond 1-2-3; (because) that’s the total number of utensils they’ve ever seen at home,” Dharam Pal Saini, a Padma Shri awardee doing yeoman’s work for the girl child, told me. I couldn’t have felt smaller with personal guilt for fussing over my own security.

Amidst apparent hopelessness, it warmed my heart to learn how Saini’s Mata Rukmini Ashram of Dimrapal village and its associate schools have earned deep respect in Bastar region. Since 1976, when the literacy rate of the region was just 1 percent, the ‘Badshah of Bastar”, as he’s called, succeeded in educating 20,000 girls.

A disciple of the venerable Gandhian Vinoba Bhave, Saini was born in 1930. His father was the head of the horticultural department in Dhar. Saini was the second among four children. An ordinary student until he came into contact with his commerce teacher, Vidyasagar Pandey, who introduced him to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, “thousands of educated tribal girls from the ashram now form the majority of government and non-government workforce in Bastar,” The Week poignantly said in a recent profile.

“A welcome change from the past, when there was hardly anyone qualified from among the tribals, and outsiders rarely wanted to work here. Saini's girls are the foot soldiers of change in Bastar, which makes the octogenarian proud.”

3)    For every Saini I saw and met, there were a thousand out to undo his work. The region reeked with brokers and fixers of the mining mafia: sharing drags and drinks with local publications; dangling carrots to civil society groups; buying off the politico-babu mafia.
These ‘honourable’ men seemed to be the only ones with the big bucks, their actions breeding disaffection with the state of fairness of the Indian state. Political Dhritarashtras seemed drowned in their favours via mining concessions, the local tribesmen excluded from the fruits of their own land.
The dark secret confirmed to me was that most of these slime balls gave monthly doles to naxal groups, many far removed from the goals of a social revolution; in fact, outrightly ultra-right with their Chinese funding and increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
“Corporate social responsibility [CSR] acquires new dimensions in a polity where politicians can count their support base to the number of folks in their convoy of Sumos!” quipped Ashok Tomar, an old faithful of Russi Mody, then a Tata Steel veteran based in the region.
4) Injustice manifests itself in deeper ways. The region has a wide network of railway lines, but hardly any stations for passengers to embark or disembark. This reflects a colonial mindset amidst both the railways (the state has the highest freight loading in the country and one-sixth of the Indian railway's revenue comes from Chhattisgarh) and the state’s politicians.

The length of rail network is 1,108 km. While a third track has been commissioned between Raipur and Raigarh, the state government and the railways remain focused on evacuation of minerals to the coast of neighbouring Odisha (read China). The railways have an MoU with Raipur and South Eastern Coalfields for construction of about 300 km of rail network. Is it too much to ask that projects at an estimated cost of Rs 4,000 crore; 180 km stretching from Bhupdeopur-Gharghoda-Dharamjaygarh upto Korba and a 122-km-long East-West Corridor from Gevra Road to Pendra Road, should incorporate a provision for passengers too, pre-feasibility be damned!

5) The mélange of poverty, malnutrition, corruption and illiteracy, married with endemic corruption and Maoism leaves Chhattisgarh in the safe hands of the mining mafia. While their goons hold sway in the dark alleys, their benefactors can be seen cornering India’s costliest real estate from Sainik Farms to Prithviraj Road. The IAS and the police are their private army. The rewards are many, but those fail must run away to central deputation.

Who minds if more netas die, more anarchy follows, and the soft underbelly of the Indian state is exposed further; if only our rulers wake up!



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