Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chhattisgarh tribals foil march by ‘outsiders’

Suchandana Gupta, TNN 16 December 2009, 04:09am IST

BHOPAL: Maoist-infested tribal district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh no longer wants ‘‘outsiders’’ to interfere in its affairs. On Monday, a group

of rights activists and NGOs cancelled their fortnight-long ‘padyatra’ to Maoist-hit villages after thousands of tribals poured out on the highway linking Dantewada and Konta to prevent them from going to Bastar.

Over 8,000 tribals gathered under the banner of the recently formed Maa Danteshwari Adivasi Swabhiman Manch and raised slogans asking the activists to ‘‘leave them alone.’’ With Operation Green Hunt of security forces against the Maoists due soon, the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, an NGO working in these tribal areas for 17 years, had organized a march by rights activists from December 14 to 26.

Monday’s blockade marked the emergence of a new anti-outsider sentiment among the tribals post-Salwa Judum — the state-sponsored anti-Maoist campaign that allows villagers to arm themselves. The NGOs strongly oppose Salwa Judum, arguing that it could lead to civil strife. Although Monday’s protest wasn’t part of Salwa Judum, the strong anti-outsider sentiment lent itself to a perception that the tribals are now becoming wary of ‘pro-Maoist’ NGOs.

VCA chief Himangshu Kumar said the objective of the march was to restore confidence among tribals living in dread of security forces. VCA also said tribals and rights activists from other states had gathered for the march to address issues related to land acquisition, development model, displacement and rehabilitation of tribals and the present war-like situation in the region.

According to VCA, 39 women activists were stopped in Kanker, near Raipur, on Monday, as the police advised them not to proceed fearing law and order problems. The activists then boarded a bus, which was again stopped in Kondagaon. The state police warned them of people’s wrath awaiting them on the highway. Thereafter, the ‘padyatra’ was shelved.

‘‘We are not accusing all NGOs of being Maoist sympathizers. But some of them work in areas where you can’t survive without Maoist support. We are living through tough times. And matters have been made worse by outsiders who have only aggravated the problems,’’ said Chhabindra Karma, Dantewada district panchayat president and son of Congress tribal leader Mahendra Karma.

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