‘Liberation’ from extremists and after
Saranda, Kaimur Plateau stand at crossroads
Saranda and Kaimur Plateau have no links at all. Both are miles apart. The first is located in Jharkhand and kisses the borders of Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The Dhalbhum forests provide links to West Bengal. The second one stands on the south-western tip of Bihar and the plateau protrudes into UP. And the river Sone separates plateau from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states.
But, Saranda and Kaimur Plateau have similarities in dissimilarity. Both had been the ‘home’ of extremists and gang lords. Gargantuan Sakhua trees, dense forests, high mountains, deep valleys, marshy land and herd upon herd of wild elephants dot the Saranda forests, while thick forests, high mountains, large caves, inaccessible land and dwindling vegetation make the Kaimur Plateau.
Omnipresent poverty, open plundering by Forest contractors and corrupt government officials have been common to them. They have played great role in the making of two dreaded zones of extremist groups. Innocence, illiteracy, timidity and habit to shy away from strangers made the job of these desperadoes somewhat easy. And the tribal and non-tribal political leadership used them as a meek and mute vote bank. Perhaps the leaders feared that their forays into the world outside cocoons would make them wise and politically selective. Both the ‘islands’ shared the same agonies and ecstasies. Their tears and travails remained buried in the beat of mandars and tapping of shuffling feet of tribal men and women.
Both the zones have predominantly tribal presence. While Saranda has unadulterated adivasi population, the aboriginal presence in the Plateau villages is quite sizable, with good sprinkles of ‘dikkus’ (outsiders). Forests and forest products still remain lifeline of the two regions. Chariots of development and progress have skirted them from a long distance. Extremist groups rushed in to fill the developmental vacuum. They made their safe havens in sixties. The nascent plants of the Naxalite movement took deep roots in the dense Saranda forests. Even some foreign mercenaries, including a British national Merry Taylor, nurtured the ‘saplings’. (Many pockets in the Saranda forests were so dense that even Sun could not touch earth before 12 noon.)
Though the naxal movement had reached the doors of monolith Shahabad district (Rohtas and Kaimur districts have been carved out of it), the Kaimur Plateau was out of their bounds. In those days dreaded dacoit gangs of Mohan Bind, Ramashish Koeri alias Dada, Ghamarhi Kharwar and other caste chieftains have been writing the fate of innocent inhabitants. The Chouri carnage, near Ara, was the first incident of its kind in monolith Bihar. The killings provided manure to the movement that assumed alarming proportions in the days to come.
Half a century later both Saranda and Kaimur regions, once again, appear sucked in the same vacuum. The Saranda forests are claimed to have been ‘liberated’ and Kaimur appears to be on the ‘threshold of ‘liberation’. The Union and Jharkhand governments have chalked out plans to obliterate the ‘grey zones’ of poverty and deprivation with development packages and better policing. The Rohtas administration too has plans to tackle the ‘emerging scenario’. ALOMIT, in two articles being published alongside, tries to assess the emerging scenario and find an answer to the ‘Yaksha Prashna’ (million dollar question). Will the Saranda and Kaimur residents breathe in fresh air of development and peace and join the national mainstream? Or will they be sucked back in the dark tunnels of exploitation and violence? Today, both Saranda and Kaimur Plateau stand at crossroads!