|The twin evils of Displacement and Forced Migration are dogging both men and women in tribal belt of Chhattisgarh, especially Bastar, but its the women who are the worst affected|
Let me begin with Khemi - a Madia (a primitive trbe) girl who lived in Abujhmarh of the state. Until a year ago, Abujhmadh was a protected area where one needed a special permission from the Government of India to visit. The reason was to protect the unique (and vulnerable) culture of the Madia people.
But as the Maoist vs Govt conflict intensified, the authorities decided to lift the restricted label off Abujhmarh, considered a Maoist stronghold, so the army and other security forces could take action there.
As expected, there has been chaos since then. The Maoists opposed the Government decision, saying it would not fare well either for the government, or for the tribals. But the government was not in a mood to back down.
Caught in this chaos has been Khemi (name changed),
a young woman who, despite being through a lot, still smiles easilly. If life had followed its usual course, Khemi would have been married by now, maybe even on the way to motherhood. Instead, today she is in Kanker, a different district, far away from her family and her near ones who continue to live n Abujhmarh. As marginal farmers, they have no other means to manage a square meal except staying put on their land.
What would have happened if Khemi had stayed on? Consider a number of things: being a forced 'suhagan'/wife (last week, I was told by the residents of a village that they had been asked by the Maoists to 'arrange for 16 young women' who would be 'Suhagan's. Is this a vicious rumor? There is a possibility, but, considering 95% of the people I am speaking with are village women, I would believe what I hear).
If Khemi did not become a Maoist's wife, she would still be troubled. Due to the growing conflict, girls of her age have limited freedom of movement and are confined to their homes. And then there is extreme poverty - a mixed result of climate change and decreased crops (several areas in Bastar have seen drought this year), suspension of all development works, and the extra burden of sharing their food with Maoist cadres.
There are hundreds of Khemis and Manos in the seven conflict-ridden districts of Chhattisgarh. Some live in refugee camps, while some have taken shelters in a faraway village or a town. Young, with little education, no money and no relatives by their side, they are the most vulnerable of all people in this region. They need special attention, but not as propaganda tools to be used against either the Maoists, or the army, but as citizens who have been robbed of their rights.
***In next blog, despite the difficulties, they are trying to do something good***