Contrary to being scared or terrified, the inquisitive side of me took over as I hail from an insurgency hit state of the North-East. I was keen to see for myself the differences, if any, in the two regions. While driving down to Kanker from Raipur, a local friend narrated stories of the activities of the Maoist. As I stared out of the window, processing all the information, reeling in the beauty of the tiny hillocks and breathtaking landscape, I could not help but wonder how such horrific violence was unleashed in a land so beautiful and tranquil.
After a public meeting in the Kanker Bazaar where the villagers were informed about the purpose of our Padyatra, our 150-km journey to Raipur began. Few villagers joined us for the day while the rest stayed back after we crossed the boundary of their village. Darkness descended after walking nearly 15 km and we still had to cover another 8 km to reach our stop-over.
We were asked to ‘keep close’ and not to ‘stray’ repeatedly; a reminder of the ‘environment’ we were in. Almost 60 km of our journey fell in the affected region, there were no hotels. Our male comrades had to sleep in village schools or sheds, while we, the girls, got the luxury of sleeping in the houses of the hospitable villagers.
I took maximum advantage out of this arrangement. My queries to the inhabitants of these houses were incessant. Variegated subjects from the past to present; covering livelihood, education, militancy, administration et al. To me, the resemblance with the conditions back home in the North-East was striking.
Since minor girls were raped in girls’ hostels, we took it upon ourselves to inspect all the hostels we came across. Blood-urine-faeces stained mattresses, forty girls made to live in rooms of 60 square feet, rodent infested rice and grains, the sight of the toilet almost nauseating, these deplorable conditions left a lasting impression on my mind. Never before had I seen all these predicaments combined in a single dwelling. Seeing the situation first hand I realised in what horrific conditions these girls live and just how callous the BJP government in Chhattisgarh was about the welfare of these young girls.
Ever since the news first broke about the rapes, the BJP government had tried to brazen it out and brush the issue under the carpet. It was only after the Congress Party, and IYC and NSUI cadres raised the issue in the media and among the public, that the state government was forced to admit what had been going on in these hostels.
Throughout our journey, we had public meetings in every village where the reason of the padyatra was highlighted, where we also asked the people to raise their voice for their rights. A tribal leader came up to me and speculated if they too come under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution instead of the current Fifth, things might change.
We walked nearly twenty kilometres on an average, daily. And, during these eight days I seemed to have understood the dilemma of the people. The locals had lived in fear for far too long – fear of the Maoists, and they had suffered because the Raman Singh government did not simply care for the common people. Under these circumstances, it was not easy for them to raise their voices. Yet to their credit a number of them would often join our padyatra when we passed through their area, and most importantly were always so hospitable, letting us stay in their houses.
The Congress-led UPA government is bringing development to Chhattisgarh, so that the condition of the local people improves, while at the same time using better policing and helping the state government with central forces to combat the Naxal menace.
As for me, at the end of my journey, I thought I had seen enough to hope that one day the rule of law will replace the rule of the gun in Chhattisgarh.