By B Prasant
THE road to Kankrajhor lies through an extension of the Dalma forest across the border. The forest, still filled with herds of rare Indian elephants, sweeps into Bengal through the rolling jungle mahal of Banspahari.
The forests have hitherto been routinely, and profitably, desecrated by the Maoist gangs who do a thriving business on the precious wood of the Sal-Mahul-Pial trees and we saw all along the roadsides outlines of neatly sawn and rope-bound wood piles, trimmed into cartable length, ready for transport to the abutting states, come the opportune moment.
The break of dawn at Banspahari, closely abutting Jharkhand, sees the fulminating rage of the adivasis now organised under the Jakat Majhi Marwah units against ‘outsiders,’ as Maoists are now inevitable referred to in the Santhal-Oraon-Munda-dominated regions of the red earth zones of Bengal.
The flashpoint was provided by the corporate media who reported that a ‘Maoist woman cadre’ has been ‘brutally done to death’ by the Jakat and left to rot deep inside what remains of the once dense forestry that lead to Banspahari-Kankrajhor, once the stamping ground of the left sectarian gangs.
Inquiries quickly enough reveal that the woman who succumbed to an untreated case of tuberculosis could not have access to medical care. The Jakat immediately assembles and takes out an impromptu procession sans banners but with Red Flags. They demand reinstatement of the medical centre at Banspahari, callously and casually blasted apart by the Maoists last year. On October 22, 2008 the miscreants and villains proceeded with impunity to blow apart a medical outdoor van killing the doctor and the nursing staff in it.
Sidhu Hembram a relative of the deceased woman is seething with rage when he tells me that ‘like in Belpahari, Bhulaveda, and Simlipal, we too shall force the Maoists out of their safe houses in this area and drive them off.’ The resonance in his voice, though thin and reedy, and the language of his body, emaciated but resolved, tells me that the mass of the working people of the area shall keep the tryst Sidhu articulates.
The police sources inform us that a core band of 20 Maoists operate in the area in groups of twos and threes, and they are armed with automatic rifles and IEDs. They come from across the border, threaten and extract funds from the poorest of the poor, blow up infrastructure, cut up road communication network and then disappear. We learn from Jakat leadership as we leave for adjoining afforested zones along an orange-brown metalled road, that it will try to foil the proposed ‘meeting’ the Maoists have threatened to hold at gun point, which they usually, nay inevitably do, in the Banspahari area, probably in the small cluster of villages adjacent to the Banspahari-Jharkhand border.
Elsewhere, on December 11, the Jakat resistance movement has seen the first martyrdom -- of Banspahari’s Jordanga village’s mukhiya (village head), Sudhir Mandi. The killing is done in typical cowardly Maoists’ way. Sudhir was once the former sabhapati of the Binpur two Panchayat Samity, representing the Naren Hansda faction of the Jharkhand Party, and now he was an activist-leader of the Jakat, being a much-respected Majhi or village Pradhan himself among the adivasi inhabitants.
Sudhir was on his way home after a day-long back-breaking toil as a daily wage labourer -- and the light dimmed as evening was dropping in. Challenged by a quartet of armed Maoists, near a culvert, on the bend, that would lead to his hutment, at Chakadoba village, Sudhir fought back. Outnumbered, the unarmed adivasi leader was gunned down -- and he died on the spot.
Sudhir had been engaged lately in active propagation among the adivasis not to pay ‘levy’ to the Maoists, not to give them shelter, and to foil all the villains’ efforts at creating ‘liberated zones’ where democracy was only conspicuous by its complete absence. Sudhir had also been fulminating against the cult of assassination, of which he himself has now become a brave victim who would not bow low before the killers.
The previous day, December 10, a large adivasi-non-adivasi rally at the coal belt of Asansol in the adjoining Burdwan district called out, large and clear, that no longer shall the tribal communities be allowed to be led astray by sectarian and divisive elements. It was music to our ears when adivasi leaders who have never been associated with CPI(M) proclaim bam front sarkar gariber jamir adhikar diyinchhey, samman diyinchhey – roughly translated, ‘it is the Left Front government that has given us the right to land proprietorship, and has honoured us.’
The speakers whose ranks included adivasi leaders like Phulan Murmu, a militant Santhal who has resisted Maoist incursion, Benoy Hansda, Mongol Murmu, Kabilal Mandi, Robin Tudu, and Laxman Bauri. Phulan is insistent when she says that the present sarkar has worked a lot to give status and rights to women including joint pattas in agricultural land plots, and forest rights in the adivasi belts of western Bengal.
The demands that were raised from the rally include rapid development of the western zone, quickening of the process of awarding of SC/ST certificates, pension schemes for woodcutters and peasants, augmentation and widening of the drive for educating the adivasis, equipping them for jobs outside of the traditional pursuits etc. Among the non-tribal speakers were CPI(M) MP Bangsagopal Chaudhuri and CPI(M) MLA Dilip Sarkar.
In neighbouring Durgapur, I was present at a cultural convention of the adivasis on December 11. A total of 450 delegates came from all over Bengal. The same spirit and tenor, as was witnessed at the Asansol rally, prevailed here. The extra element was provided by the bewilderingly wide array of chime, wind, percussion, and string instruments, including various dance forms, with the performers holding hands in solidarity, in unity. The joyousness of the occasion would overwhelm anyone present.
Later, tribal and non-tribal speakers -- the latter including LF government’s minister Jogesh Burman, and CPI(M) leader Muzaffar Hussein -- fulminated against Maoist sectarian conspiracies. They called for faster pace of development of the adivasi regions with more education and more employment opportunities through development schemes. The Bengal adivasi and lok-shilpi sangh organised the programme.