Chhattisgarh Field notes
Over the last month, the levels of violence in Chattisgarh appear to have de-escalated to a degree. I say de-escalated rather than reduced because the violence is largely driven by raids and counter-raids between the Maoists and the security forces, which is very different from the chaotic and un-nerving violence described in the recently leaked Iraqi war-logs covered by the Guardian and the NYT.
Sources in the police and the Maoists agree that the reduction is largely due to this year’s torrential monsoons which submerged large parts of the interiors in Dantewada and Bijapur. In the monsoons, the jungle tracks used by both forces turn into fast moving streams, making it difficult to launch operations and confining the forces to their camps.
If the security forces stay in their camps, the Maoists can’t attack them and the cycle of ambush, counter ambush and reprisals on civilians is broken. In this period, Chhattisgarh is shown up for the impoverished state that it is – a state where hundreds die of dysentry and dehydration, where the children of bastar are born, cut down by disease and buried without the ‘outside’ world ever finding out.
Residents of Tarmetla, Chintagupha, Burkapal and Chintalnar say that at least 40 Adivasis have died of dysentery and vomiting this monsoon season, and many more are ill.
Apart from Dantewada, at least 100 people have died of “dysentery-vomiting-diarrhoea” in Bijapur district this year, pointing to a complete breakdown of the region’s medical and civic infrastructure.
Working on the story on Dantewada’s medical crisis, I spent three days in an ‘interior village’ – which gave me ample time to re-examine what the ‘interior’ of Chhattisgarh really is.
Old timers say that Dantewada has always had ‘interior’ areas, but the divisions between inside and outside hardened during the judum.
The Jagargunda camp is considered to the last outpost of the Indian state in Chhattisgarh. From another piece I did:
A police station since the 1950s, Jagargunda expanded into a major government backed settlement during the Salva Judum: a controversial programme in which the state government tried to move villagers from the forests into fortified camps. Today it houses about 3000 civilians and a company of the CRPF, and provides a useful illustration of the CRPF’s deployment troubles.
Although the camp is only about 80 km from Dantewada town, the Maoists have extensively mined the 20 km stretch between Jagargunda and Aranpur, the closest CRPF outpost on the Dantewada-Jagargunda axis. Thus, Jagargunda can only be accessed via a 100 km detour running south-southeast from Kuakonda to Dornapal via Sukma along NH 221. From Dornapal, one must traverse another 70 km past the CRPF camps at Polampalli, Kankerlanka, Chintagupha and Chintalnar before reaching Jagargunda.
Despite being only 80 km from a district HQ, the Indian state airdrops food supplies to a police station in Central India. Helicopters are everywhere in Dantewada – ferrying troops and supplies along routes on which everyone else commutes by bus, taxi or three to a motorcyle.
Till 2005, there was a daily bus to Jagargunda which stopped after the Salwa Judum. Now the outside world stops at National highway 221 that runs from Jagdalpur to Andhra Pradesh. After the Judum, the force uses its helicopters to go ‘inside’. Everyone else walks.