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In Pics | Snapshots from Bastar: Life in India’s Maoist hotbed

A glimpse of life for the local, largely tribal population enmeshed in the bruised Indian heartland of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division --a Maoist hotbed with rebels and security forces in combat for decades.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2017 12:44 IST
Life for locals in Maoist riddled Bastar is one of subsistence and precarious balance between state and rebel forces.(Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Spread across 39,117 sq kms, more than 26 times the size of Delhi, Bastar division in Chhattisgarh comprising seven districts is a Maoist hotbed with rebels and security forces engaged in offensives since 1980 when the region was still a part of Madhya Pradesh. Chhattisgarh itself was carved out of MP on November 1, 2000.

Bastar’s child sex ratio for ages 0-6 has seen a decline from 1009 to 991 per between 2001 and 2011. While the literacy rate rose to 54.94% in 2011, it still lags behind the national average of 74.04%. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

About 70% of Bastar’s population of around 1,413,199 is tribal according to the 2011 census. Gonds, Abhuj Marias and Bhatras are among the main tribes. Security forces reach out to locals for information but Maoists are quick to brand them as informants, at times after trial in their dreaded Jan Adalats (kangaroo courts) with punishment being death.

A Gond man from Pedawada village in Darbha spotted during his tribe’s hunting ritual, arrow in hand. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Gonds go out hunting for game in groups during festivals and share the meat, mostly from wildfowl. Animal rights activists oppose this ritual and say animals are also killed during the Parad festival, but Gonds insist they respect their forests and animals and hunt only for subsistence, not sport.

A Gond woman in Sukma district, known as the Maoist stronghold in Bastar, carries firewood. Excursions beyond village bounds are not a frequent experience for most. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Weekly haats or rural markets are the lifeline of Bastar’s villagers, who rarely venture out to cities for larger purchases.The haat is about 8 km from their village and they cover it in foot once every week after harvest.

A woman vendor awaits customers for sweetmeats and savories at the weekly haat in Bhainsasur village, 15 km inside the forests near Antahgarh block in south Bastar. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Many areas of Bastar are practically out of bounds for journalists from mainstream media organisations without the nod of authorities and help of security personnel. Even with official approval, having local contacts is the key.

A busy day at Geedam bazaar in the interiors of Dantewada district, the largest of its kind and known for cockfighting. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

The marketplace has two claims to fame. First, it is the district’s biggest village bazaar. Second, it hosts the most raucous of cockfighting in the region. Cockfights, while illegal see roosters with sharp blades tied to their legs locked in duel, mostly to the death. Despite police crackdowns, villagers organise the fights and betting is prevalent.

An exterior view of the Bastar Dhaba prominently featuring a mural of Che Guevara. The artist’s identity is unknown. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

The eponymous Bastar Dhaba, sporting a mural of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, came up in Antahagarh block in Kanker district last year. There are no eateries after this one for people travelling to Narayanpur district, about 54 kms away. While the origins of the mural are unknown, but it is a talking point among people from cities who often stop by the eatery.

A post office in Tarandul village of south Bastar with an earthen roof. Even schools in the region employ bamboo and thatching out of security concerns. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Maoists target concrete buildings in Bastar’s interiors to prevent security personnel from setting up camps. Moreover, most villagers are too poor to buy material for concrete structures and get them ferried. Locals rely on bamboo, wood, and thatch roofing.

A tribal woman peers out the Visakhapatnam-Kirandul Express, the only one running through Dantewada. (Ritesh Mishra / HT Photo)

Mobile networks are non-existent or dodgy in many parts of Bastar making communication with the outside world spotty. A train operates daily and is the only one running through Maoist-hit Dantewada. According to railway officials, the stretch between Kirandul and Kumar Shadra, after Geedam, is highly Maoist-infested.

First Published: Aug 10, 2017 12:43 IST