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A long way to homeland

Dec 29, 2008

Torn between state repression and Naxalite violence, the tribals of Nendra, a village in central India, have been forced to live in makeshift camps. Thanks to the efforts of a local voluntary organisation, they are gradually tiding over the fear of forest officials and rebels to rebuild their lives.

Nendra, Chhattisgarh: One needs to walk for an hour through thick undergrowth to reach Nendra. Vehicles can not reach the village as the road is in bad need of repair.

A few families living under a blue plastic sheet near an old Mahua tree greet us. They have returned from Andhra Pradesh in July, after living there in exile for almost two years.

Nendra.gif

Tamaiya, the village head, among the ones who have come back, says, "Ours was a prosperous village. Each family had more than 50 cows; we used to sell a lot of ghee in the nearby area."

Next to the makeshift hut, a blown-up school building stands testimony to the devastation. Amidst the undergrowth some corn plants are pushing their heads up bravely.

Tribal against tribal

Like Nendra, many villages in South Bastar region of Chhattisgarh have faced extreme violence in last few years, ever since the government-supported experiment Salwa Judum was started in 2005.

Salwa Judum is an anti-Naxalite programme in which civilians have been equipped with arms and are being made to fight against Naxalites. Naxalites have been active in this part of India for more than 30 years.

Hundreds of villages have been reportedly emptied to prevent the local tribals from helping the Naxalites. This has precipitated a deep crisis where the local tribal people are the worst victims of the conflict between the Naxalites and the government.

Nendra is one of those villages, which have been burnt four times to force people to move to roadside camps. Several villagers have been allegedly killed. Many managed to escape to the nearby state of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, where they were forced to live a miserable life. The forest department allegedly burnt their temporary homes many times.

Building confidence and friendship

Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), a voluntary organisation working in the area and an ActionAid partner has adopted Nendra village and is helping the tribal families return to their homeland and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

A VCA activist says, "When I visited Nendra, I realised that normalcy cannot come without peace and peace cannot come without friendship. So we're spreading the message of friendship".

Uday, a tribal resident of Nendra has seen the villagers slowly garner the courage and the strength to come back and stay put in the village.

He says, "Initially, when police came while we were having a meeting, people would run away. A few days later, one of the ladies stood firm when the police came. She asked everyone how long could they keep doing this? “Running away from one's home and homeland is no answer. Let them kill us,” she said. 'We'll die in our own land but will not move."

Gradually the tribals of Nendra have begun to venture out into the local weekly markets of Errabore. Encouraged by this, other families hiding in deep forests have also started visiting the markets. Now tribals from around 15 villages have started accessing Errabore, Konta, Dornapal and Injaram weekly markets, off and on.

VCA has been giving medicines to the ill and distributing rations amongst those in extreme hunger.

Fight in Nendra is far from over. Nendra residents hope that their village would return to normalcy sooner than later.

Source : ActionAid
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