By Zehra Kazmi:
Monsoons are a glorious season in my home state. Green hillocks peep from behind a whirl of heavy, dense clouds and the air feels pure against your skin. The streets are washed clean and the rice fields sway gently in the cool breeze. The abject poverty of its people, however, contrasts starkly with the natural beauty of Jharkhand.
I have spent my whole life in the state, growing up in sleepy small towns of a land which I dearly love and whose people and culture have led me to develop immense respect for it. To any observer, the unjustness of the situation in Jharkhand is what strikes as most evident. The voices of its people have been left unheard, their interests neglected for far too long.
The recent election results saw Raghubar Das as the tenth man to have been sworn in as its Chief Minister in the fourteen years of Jharkhand’s existence. Politically, the state has been in chaos ever since it’s conception. People have lost count of the number of times governments have changed here. Out of the 23 states, Jharkhand’s HDI rate is the fifth lowest, with a score of 0.376, comparable to Sierra Leone.
Maromar Forest Rest House lies in the middle of absolutely nowhere. A winding road leads to the lonely forest rest house in the heart of the Palamau Wildlife Sanctuary. Pamphlets advertising tourism in Jharkhand show a picture of a beautiful white tree house in them. My father was posted as a D.F.O (Divisional Forest Officer) in Palamau when he took responsibility of its construction. The Kusumi Tree House was burnt down by Naxals in 2007. All that’s left of it are a burnt kusum tree and four pillars.
There is an older forest rest house near the burnt down Kusumi Tree House-the inscription on the floor tile says 1945. Once, a wiry thin man named Manmohan had narrated to me the heartbreaking tale of losing his children to the forest, on the verandah of this rest house. The teary-eyed forest-watcher had not been able to take his dying daughter to the nearest hospital because accessible healthcare in the interiors of Jharkhand is a rare luxury.
A few months later, Manmohan had to be transferred because handia (a local rice brew) got the better of him.
If you drive in Mahuatand in Latehar, you will see a curious site. White debris marks the way and if you notice carefully, you will see that it actually comprises of the parts of an anti-landmine vehicle that exploded more than three years back. Though the chilling horror truly sinks in when you are told that twelve people died on that very spot when the convoy of an MP-Inder Singh Namdhari was attacked by the Naxals in 2011. The huge craters on the road are evidence enough of the ferocity of the blast. In the years that have passed since, no one has had the guts to remove the scraps from the road. The locals are always caught in the cross fire between security forces and the Naxals. Fear is a constant emotion that people have to live with in these areas of the country. Naxalism is a menace that the state has been facing for decades now. Maoists are active in 20 out of 24 districts in the state. Jharkhand is the worst affected state by Naxal violence, with 383 reported deaths in the year 2013.
It is difficult to guess where Jharkhand is going in the next few years or if, in fact, it is going anywhere at all. The apathy and corruption of the administration combined with the brutality of Naxal violence in the state has left it broken. The Saranda forest, bordering Odisha, is the saddest example of the above. Mining projects have destroyed vast tracts of forest land in the area with over 1,100 hectares of forest land being completely wiped out in Saranda. The mining has led to excessive siltation and pollution in the River Koina which flows through the forest-leading to the water becoming permanently red. Elephant habitat has been systematically ruined by the fragmentation of the forest. Perhaps the most horrific consequence of the rampant mining in the state has been the observed in Jaduguda where exposure to uranium toxicity has led to stunted children being born with swollen heads, skeletal distortions and blood disorders. The practices of indigenous Ho and Munda tribals have been disturbed. Despite the sustained push by environmentalists to notify Saranda as a protected area, the mining lobby has prevented it from happening. The government launched the Operations Anaconda in 2011 to flush out Naxals from the area. Soon after, Jindal Steel Works, SAIL and ArcelorMittal acquired permission to carry out more mining projects in the area. The implications of the Saranda Action Plan cannot be clearer even to the most gullible.
Ranchi, the capital, once a quaint, quiet town known for its pleasant climate, is now like any other bustling mid-sized city in India, with chain stores and malls dotting its crowded lanes. It is growing at a lightning fast speed but is now aesthetically grotesque and culturally hollow. HEC factories are obsolete now and the colony is deserted. The malls that have sprouted up in the past 4-5 years in the city make it hard for me to remember what originally stood in their place. The old city is now paving way for the new, times are changing.
But the nights are still lonely and desolate in Maromar.