BASTAR: Rita (name changed), 42, returned to her home only to be punished by Maoists on late Saturday evening. She was in Jagdalpur divisional headquarters in Bastar district to get medicine for second stage of Parkinson's disease that she is suffering from, but she happened to stop and attended Congress President Rahul Gandhi's rally, as someone told her that a bus will be going to drop few people to Dantewada and it will not charge them.
Rita was also excited to receive a brand new pair of anklets by the BJP candidate, who had allegedly distributed freebies seeking votes for himself. But little did Rita know that the news of her attending the Congress rally and receiving the pair of anklets would cost her a lot and she would have to face the ire of Left Wing extremists.
Rita was at home when she was called outside and beaten black and blue by in front of the entire village. She begged for mercy but there was no stopping the belts on her back, her daughter said. No one, not even people from her own village, dared to stop the Maoists from beating her, she claimed.
Her daughter further told this reporter that this was not the first time armed Maoists beat up someone from the village for participating in any election-related activity, as they have been making regular calls to boycott the elections.
“Ever since elections have been announced, parchas (notices) have been put up by them (Maoists) for boycotting the elections. They are totally against voting and are saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the last 15 years has done nothing, but I have a doubt that if we do not participate in the voting, how will the development happen,” Rita's daughter said, adding that the villagers may not vote due to fear.
This is a regular feature in Bastar, a Left Wing extremism (LWE)-affected region. Bastar is a home to regular conflict between security forces and Left Wing extremists since over three decades, claiming the lives of hundreds of jawans, villagers and even Maoists.
For forest village dwellers, the 'festival of democracy' aka elections, have always been a dilemma -- of choosing between their right to vote and the right to live.
Arun Pandey, a social activist based in Jagdalpur, this is the biggest dilemma for the people of Bastar, especially those who live in forests and villages.
“On one hand, government officials, the Election Commission and even villagers want to vote for development and basic amenities in their respective areas, but on the other hand, they are threatened by the armed Maoists who have dominance in their area and are present in good numbers,” he said.
Even if people from the LWE-infested areas dare to go out and vote, they are sure to face the consequences as the extremists will not let them off peacefully, says the social activist.
“In 2013, there were five murders but no one ever took the responsibility. There were several cases of people being beaten up in the Janata Adalat held by Maoists for participating in the voting. The villagers are really scared due to this. I do not think people, as in other non-conflict zones of India, will participate actively,” said Pandey, who regularly travels to sensitive zones.
Bastar-based senior scribe, Prashant M, says it's not just the villagers, tribals and forest dwellers who are being threatened by the Maoists, but even government employees posted in rural areas. Journalists working in the rural areas have also been warned by the extremists.
“For tribals and people who live in the LWE-affected areas, elections create a very difficult situation, where one has to choose between life and death. People actually want to vote for development, but if they do so, they might get killed,” he said.
According to a very highly placed police officer posted in the Bastar divisional headquarters, the Maoists have increased their activities to scare voters before the polling, which is underway today.
“Maoists have increased their activities to scare voters, but I do not think that they will be successful this time, as more than 1.5 lakh security personnel are being deployed in the entire division. The larger deployment of security forces in the area is to ensure that nothing untoward happens and no voter is subjected to any kind of atrocity by the Left Wing extremists who have threatened to cut off the fingers of people who vote,” the police officer said.
This reporter traveled up to Abujhmad and faced an informal hotel arrest by the security forces, and observed that the decision to vote will be a tough call for tribals. Many of them have already made up their minds to not vote.
(Inputs by S K Hasan Raja)