Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: No full stops here, only exclamations

No full stops here, only exclamations - The Indian Express

Neeraj Mishra ()
February 13, 1998

Title: No full stops here, only exclamations
Author: Neeraj Mishra
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 13, 1998

All those dreadful truths, that have been reduced to cliches of
the most inane kind over the years, stand bared in the depleting
jungles of Bastar.

After 50-years after national Independence - and 12 general
elections - a vast majority of tribals don't have access to
potable water. Many have no clothes, except a loin cloth. Even
the hope of being able to have one wholesome meal a day remains

What does the upcoming election mean to the tribals of Bastar?

Dukalu was up and about at 3 am today and, with six neighbours,
walked 20 km to the nearest forest to collect his staple two
bundles of firewood. It was a particularly chilly morning, so the
team of firewood-gatherers jogged intermittently just to keep
themselves warm. On the return journey, the heavens opened up
without warning and the party was drenched to the bone.

Who will Dukalu vote for? The question elicits a swift, as-though-
on-cue answer: "The candidate who can convince me that daru
(liquor) will be made available near my home."

Dukalu had paid a Rs 2 bribe to the local forester for letting
him 'steal' the firewood. So have the rest of the group. After
some initial hesitation, the team of seven opened up, unburdening
their woes in a torrent.

The going rate of hafta to be paid to the forest official is Rs 2
per kanwar (two bundles) of firewood. For a bicycle-load of
firewood, Rs 5 has to be paid. If anyone is caught and unable to
pay the arrif on the spot, his axe or scythe is confiscated.
It can be reclaimed the following day. No 'fine' is imposed.
Dukalu's village Nagarnar is on the outskirts of Jagdalpur in
backward Bastar. It is reeling under the aftermath of a drought.

Champa Bai (52), remarkably lean (and hungry, one may add), is
the sarpanch of village Nagarnar. She says that people in at
least 20 surrounding villages would vote for anyone who provides
them easy access to fuel to keep their kitchen fires burning. The
forests of the area have been plundered by the mafia and
government officials who have winked at the marauders and looked
the other way for years.

Arvind Netam, who has been a Congress minister at the Centre and
claims to be the guardian of tribal interests, is himself in the
thick of controversy. Netam, a district commissioner, four
additional collectors, nine SDMs and 80 revenue officials have
been formally charged by the CBI in a case that identifies them
as the masterminds of a conspiracy to defraud tribals of their
forests. Netam is now contesting the Kanker seat as the BSP's
candidate, after having been a Congress MP for 25 years.

Seventy per cent of Bastar district's 30 lakh people are tribals.
The Bastar and neighbouring Kanker Lok Sabha seats are reserved
for tribals, as are 14 of the 16 Assembly segments. With
education as the modern world knows it non-existent, anyone who
can read and write is eminently qualified to become a tribal
leader. And there are, not surprisingly, not too many of them

In village Charama, Budhram is adamant that he will not vote this
time. "They promised us a tube-well here last time. Forget the
tube-well, we have not seen them since the last election,"
Budhram said, bitterly. But how would his not voting help? The
question leaves Budhram despondent. He has in the past voted
either for the 'Kamal' or the 'Haath'. "Considering that neither
helped, I might as well have voted for my dead mother," he says,
half-seriously. Budhram's cynicism has apparently not yet spread
to his fellow-tribals. That couldtake some more time.

The 30 per cent non-tribals in the electorate could be expected
to rum out in large numbers on polling day. This section of the
population comprises mainly business people and government
servants, many who had from either Bihar or Kerala.

They reside in the more 'developed' areas of the region, and
their polling booths are within walking distance in most cases.

During the 1996 elections, the main issue was whether Schedule
Six of the Constitution would be applied in Bastar, giving the
right of governance exclusively to tribals.

The non-tribals found a crusader in Mahendra Karma, himself a
tribal, who rode an anti-Schedule Six plank and won the Bastar
seat as an Independent. This time the plank is missing, and Karma
is contesting on the Congress ticket.

Figures show that there are no full stops in Bastar, only
exclamations marks. Each year, Rs 1,000 crore is pumped into the
district. This would average to roughly Rs 3 lakh per tribal. Yet
infant mortality is a staggering 75 per 1,000. Of the surviving
children, 126 don't reach the age of five.

Education levels, in reality, is said to be much below the
official claim of 25 per cent. Though there may be no starvation
deaths, disease snatch away thousands of lives every year.
Displacement due to developmental activity is enormous.

In all this, where does next fortnight's election fit? Nowhere,
it appears. Bastar has rarely registered above 35 turnout on
polling day. Bastariyas, clearly, do not lay much in store for
the ballot box improving their lot.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements