People ousted by Salwa Judum return to Chhattisgarh

Photo credit: Aman Bhadouriya

Away from the limelight, 28 tribal families — the first group of “internally displaced people” — have returned to their ancestral village at Maraiguda in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Thursday after more than a decade.

Branded as Maoist sympathisers, they fled from their homes following the 2005 Salwa Judum movement, in which the Chhattishgarh government gave a tacit encouragement to common people to pick up arms against Maoists and those who were believed to be their friends.

“The people who returned from Andhra Pradesh are originally from Chhattishgarh. Once they settle down, the administration will take the necessary steps to provide them with ration cards and make provisions for rural job scheme (MGNREGA). Their entitlements and rights will be taken care of,” Sukma collector Chandan Kumar told DH over the telephone.

Nearly 130 people from 29 tribal families lived at a tiny village in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. They ran away after their houses were burnt and relatives were harmed.

“Around 16,000 people from 5,000 families migrated to Andhra Pradesh (and later Telangana) after 2005 when violence increased in Chhattishgarh. Those internally displaced people live a life worse than almost everyone. In Andhra and Telangana, they are outsiders staying on encroached land whereas, in Chhattisgarh, there is a fair chance for many of them to get land rights under the Forest Rights Act,” said activist Subhranshu Choudhary, who is associated with several peace initiatives in the Bastar region.

Choudhary and his colleagues first met the displaced people last October in Telangana. Later when a 300-km cycle rally for peace was conducted between Jagdalpur and Raipur in February-March, close to 50 persons from such families joined the rally expressing their interest to return.

There are as many as 286 such settlements in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. “In March, forest officers asked all the 25 IDP families to leave the village at Bhadradi Kotadudem district. A month before a similar exercise was carried out with police forces, in which houses of 58 IDP families were destroyed. We hear such exercises will increase in the days to come,” he said.

Efforts to bring back the sons of the soil began after the new Congress government assumed charge in December 2018. Both officials and unofficial channels were engaged.

“Many prefer not to go back to their original villages located 50-70 km from the highway. For them we talk to the administration to find out alternate sites closer to the highway,” explained Choudhary.

Kumar said he informed the police administration and CRPF about the return of the IDPs. “They are on alert,” he added.

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