Voters in Gadchiroli, a tribal district in Maharashtra, are not clamouring for jobs, roads, education, health, water or loans. Most of the tribals have only one wish, that they are spared harassment by the police. But no political party, it seems, can assure them that the harassment would cease, resulting in indifference to the poll process.
Polling for the Gadchiroli-Chimur constituency got over on April 11. But people in the constituency continue to wonder if the election would get them some relief from the police. “ We just want political parties to ensure that police stop harassing us on suspicion of being either Naxalites or informers of Naxals,” say a fairly large number of people.
“We depend on forests for our livelihood. But venturing into the forest itself is deemed suspicious by the police. In their view, only Naxalites or their informers spend time in forests. But we cannot afford to stay out of the forests because we collect firewood, wild fruits and weeds, timber and several other forest produce to sustain ourselves,” said a villager on condition of anonymity.
“We want the government to repeal CrPC 110 as that is being misused by the police. Police can arrest or detain anybody accusing them of having Naxal connection. They are given rights to investigate those charges as well. Police has invoked CrPC 110 against 300 people in Bharagad alone. They torture the arrested or detained tribals and there have been several cases of custodial death,” complains Pandu Mattami, secretary of Bharagad Patti Paramparik Gotul Samiti, an association of 108 Gram Sabhas.
His own brother, who was catching fish at a nearby canal was killed by the police on suspicion in 2001, he informs.
Pandu belongs to Madia tribe, one of the three primitive tribes in Maharashtra and one among 75 in India. Bhamragad tehsil has a population over 30 thousand and most of them are either Madia or Gond, another tribe.
Dadaji Kusrao, a tribal who works as a daily wage labourer and also writes poems, says philosophically, “They take away our land, destroy our forest and yet accuse us of being rebels”.
Saguna Durva, 29 years old Asha worker and mother of two children, pointed out the harassment tribal women face at the hands of police.
“A majority of our women don’t understand Marathi as they speak either Madia or Gondi language. They either go to the jungle to get Tendu patta, Moha flowers or other valuable produce for survival. Or they go to market places at Bhamragad or Ahri. Police stop them in between and ask them where they were going. No matter what tribal women tell, police suspiciously keep interrogating us, accusing us of being sympathetic to Naxals and for allegedly passing information to them,” she explains.
Tribal population whose lives depend on sale of Tendu patta, Moha flowers, Bamboo, and other forest produce feel that some of their exploitation would stop if the government buys the produce.
“Contractors and middlemen buy the produce from us but they keep changing their prices to exploit us. The government does buy produce from farmers and offers them a minimum support price. It should similarly buy our produce and give us a MSP, ” argues Lalsu Naroti, a member of the Zila Parishad.