Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Missionaries to Maoists: Chandil takes giant leaps

Jayanta Gupta , TNN 24 November 2009,

CHANDIL: It could well be the story of two M's. Decades before the Maoists arrived in this part of Jharkhand, missionaries succeeded in infiltrating the local tribal population and bringing about a change in their lives. Understandably, the Maoists made no effort to woo away the local population from the development that the Padres brought about.

Some 35 km from Jamshedpur, in an area known as a Maoist stronghold, there is one address that establishes yet again that social change need not be brought about through violence. The Holy Cross School in Tuidungri also runs a hostel for over a hundred tribal boys and nearly as many girls.

Nothing exceptional in that till one enters the hostel compound and watches the inmates go about their business. It's more of a commune than a hostel. Everything, save for rice, cooking oil and spices, is grown by the children themselves. When not studying or playing, the children get busy in the fields sowing, tending and reaping their crops. Before food is cooked, the children get busy cutting vegetables and cleaning cereals.

"Every one of them has a specific job. The older ones also drive tractors. We are nearly self-sufficient. There is a healthy competition between the boys' and girls' hostels on how much crop each can grow. Those who can afford it, have to pay an annual fee of about Rs 6,000. Those from villages can pay in kind (paddy). Nothing is charged from those who are extremely poor. The poor boys are also allowed to stay in the hostel during vacations," says John Murmu.

Murmu is a Class-XII student of a school in nearby Chandil. He studied till Class-X at the Holy Cross School and continues to help out in running the hostel.

Locals particularly those involved in business and trade complain that Maoists have made life miserable for them. Stone crushing units in the area receive regular demands for sums of upto Rs 5 lakh. Though Maoist leaders dismiss such allegations, residents of Jamshedpur claim many have been robbed of their belongings by rebels on the Jamshedpur-Ranchi Highway. Even those on day trips to Dalma top or other tourist attractions are not spared. So much so that steel city residents have started avoiding the area after dark.

"We don't know whether the Maoists are involved but there have been many incidents where gun-toting villagers have stopped vehicles. Trouble is Maoists have formed a kind of armed militia in villages around Jamshedpur. These villagers are trained and used in missions. When there are no missions to be carried out, they return to villages and get involved in criminal activities. In the recent past, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has gone on a regular recruitment drive. In a village called Chakulia near Chandil, the outfit was offering a pay of Rs 4,000 per month to recruits," a local said.

Missionaries involved in developmental work may have remained largely untouched by the violence but some of them speak up against the Maoists.

"What they are doing will not solve the problems of tribals. They are simply arming groups of people who do not realize what is good for them. The only way out is to help them in picking up new skills and teaching them to lead a healthier lifestyle," one of them said.

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