Transforming Bastar

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The change has begun with the cultivation of coffee. The cultivation of coffee was initially started on 22 acres of land and it gradually spread to more than 5,000 acres. More than 22,000 people from nearly 50 villages are now growing coffee in the Maoist-affected region…writes Sundeep Pouranik

The Bastar district in Chhattisgarh is changing fast as more people are taking up jobs and aligning themselves with the developmental activities, thereby trying to change the face of the region, which has been synonymous with Maoist or Left-wing terrorism.

The fear of Maoists is in decline and people are looking towards new employment opportunities and laying emphasis on education and health.

One has not been able to forget the massacre in the Jhiram Valley when 33 people including Congress President Nand Kumar Patel and former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla, were killed in a Maoist attack. Now, after nearly a decade the lives of the people of Bastar started transforming.

The change has begun with the cultivation of coffee. The cultivation of coffee was initially started on 22 acres of land and it gradually spread to more than 5,000 acres. More than 22,000 people from nearly 50 villages are now growing coffee in the Maoist-affected region.

This proves that the people in Bastar are looking for new employment opportunities and the deployment of security forces has further boosted the confidence of the tribal community.

In order to give a new identity to Bastar, steps are being taken to set up ‘Bastar Cafe’ in major cities across the country.

Similarly, under the initiative of ‘Bastar Fighter’, the Chhattisgarh Police has tried to provide employment to the youths. Through this recruitment process for a police constable’s post, even young girls are taking part in large numbers and are imparted police training.

In this way the youth of Bastar is making all-out efforts to fight against Maoists.

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel says that in the last three years, a sense of fear has ended among the people.

Now doctors are able to visit remote villages for treating people, new avenues are being encouraged to promote education along with reopening of schools for children, the Chief Minister said.

Earlier the camps set up by the security forces were opposed by the tribal population living in Bastar. But now nine such camps are operating in Bijapur and eight in Sukma district, both considered to be hotbed of the Maoist activities.

Earlier, families feared to marry their daughters in the Maoist-affected areas, but now the situation has seen a complete turnaround.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Maoists tried to increase their activities despite schools, colleges and religious places remaining completely closed during the lockdown. Therefore, the Maoists tried to interact with students and influenced them to join their organisation.

The Maoists have often been accused of using children as human shields for carrying out their nefarious activities. However, the security forces made efforts to stop this.

On one side Bastar is known as the hotbed of terror activities while on the other side the life of the people here depends heavily on forest produce. Therefore, the state government has fixed the support price for 61 minor forest produce and its purchase is underway in full swing.

The motive behind this measure taken by the government is that the maximum number of people should get employment and thereby refrain from indulging in anti-India activities.

Apart from this, under a state government scheme buying of cow dung has encouraged the cattle-rearers in Bastar which promotes animal husbandry.

The people of Bastar tell that there is no tradition of cow rearing here, but now people are moving towards dairy farming.

Arjun Baghel of Kurusnar in Bastar district says that he has bought the famous breed of cross HF cow from England for Rs 1.4 lakh, for which he has already been provided a grant of Rs 92,000. Similarly, ‘pattas’ have been given to the farmers to gain the ownership of their land.

Several initiatives have been promoted to increase the income of people of Bastar while efforts are being made to improve the lives of youth as well.

Several reforms are being introduced in schools to improve the quality of education along with newer opportunities for youth to participate in sports.

This is the reason that Rakesh Varda of Orchha, Abujhmad, has created a new world record of handstands in the traditional sport of Mallakhamb. Apart from this, there has been an increase in the number of girls taking up hockey as a career, including other sports.

It is quite often that Maoists have tried to kill those people who refuse to pick up guns like them but the fighting spirit among the people truly stands out now.

Ghanshyam, the husband of Rita Mandavi, who is the sarpanch of Kutru village of Bijapur district, was murdered because the couple were working hard to make the government welfare schemes accessible to the people. Even after losing her husband, Rita did not give up hope and is working towards linking the tribal population to the mainstream.

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