JHILIMILI (Bankura), 4 MAY: “If we ask for water, babus call us Maoists,” said 72-year-old Kanai Mura, who lives in a small hamlet called Kathalia on the fringes of Jhilimili forest in Bankura.
Even party candidates contesting election from Ranibandh Assembly constituency have skipped campaigning at Kathalia as the area, along with a couple of other hamlets, is known to have a strong Maoist presence.
The cluster of hamlets around Kathalia in Jhilimili, consisting of 200 houses, has remained untouched by government schemes and developmental projects for decades. Both Trinamul Congress and CPI-M have fielded tribal candidates ~ Mrs Falguni Hembram and Ms Debalina Hembram ~ from the constituency.
“A few months ago, we visited the panchayat office and told the members about the acute water scarcity in the village. To our utter surprise they called us Maoists and threatened to call CRPF personnel posted at the Jhilimili outpost. When we asked about pattas, they told us that our claims were rejected,” said Kanai. Only six people in the hamlet got pattas of land they were entitled to under the Forest Rights Act while others who filed claims faced rejection.
The hamlet of 40 houses survives on two tube wells, one of which has been lying defunct for the past four years, and there’s no other water source nearby. The Munda tribals here live on agriculture. They have to depend on rain for irrigation. The tube well they have meets their drinking water needs but the cattle has to be taken to far-flung area in search of water. Not only water, rice at Rs 2 a kilo is something that the tribals have only heard of during their weekly visits to the haat.
But do Maoists come to their village? Forty-year-old Ganesh Murmu, who had earlier refused to speak, asked: “How do we know who is a Maoist? We have just fed rice to some men who dressed like us and spoke our language. If some gun-wielding men come to your place begging for food, would you refuse them?” After such groups visited a couple of times one-and-a-half years ago, CRPF personnel started raiding our homes and beating our men calling them Maoists. The women said that the visitors must have come to know of the CRPF visit and so stopped coming.
Soon, the CRPF also stopped coming and so did panchayat members. An NGO had once come to initiate alternate livelihood projects and had promised to promote the rope and mats they weave out of Sabui grass.
But as Maoist activities gained ground in the nearby areas, they also ran away, said Rani, who was a member of the group being trained. They, however, could not name the NGO that had come to their village about a year ago.