With just one police outpost in Kaknar in south Chhattisgarh, where the personnel can reach only by chopper, the place is highly vulnerable to becoming a Maoist hideout.
Therefore, it is no accident that the suggestion of having roads for the unconnected habitations came from the Bastar police.
And winning the trust of nearly 30,000 tribal villagers, who have to travel 15-20 km to reach the ration shop, was a major breakthrough for the uniformed persons, who are braving the Maoist challenge in this area, 350 km south of Raipur.
“I was taken aback when during my visit to the area on January 7, I found the villagers endured enormous problems as there are no roads,” Bastar superintendent of police Ratan Lal Dangi told HT.
Accompanied by a few policemen, he explored the possibilities of connecting the villages: They walked for miles, moved on the bike, and carried out an aerial survey. Forget driving a four-wheeler, the existing narrow dirt track is bound to discourage even a two-wheeler rider.
So enthusiasm was evident last month when hundreds of tribals turned up from several villages, pledging shramdaan (donation of labour) for constructing kuchcha roads, defying the diktat of the guerrillas who warned the locals not to be part of the police initiative.
“We will soon see roads in our villages,” said Bhola Sukalu, 28, of Chandela village. Lakhwati, 40, of the same hamlet appeared fearless, “No Maoist threat can deter us anymore.”
On any given day the women workers far outnumber the men.
“I was initially sceptical owing to the perceived trust-deficit between the forces and the villagers. Policemen were deployed to offer security. On the first day, only five villagers came, but the figure gradually swelled to more than 500 within five days despite the guerrillas’ intimidating postures,” said Dangi.
Budri Suka, 26, told HT the rebels visited his village Paroda. “We were asked to stay away from constructing ‘police’ roads, else our hands would be cut off. But it’s my dream now to see a road reaching my village. We will cooperate with the police,” he said.
The police have provided two JCB road- and paving-machines and a couple of tractors for transporting murum (surface-layer material).