It’s hot weather. Mariya Gond sits on the roadside with forest produce she collected from the Kamanaar forest. She barely earns Rs 50 on any given day these days. But, just one year ago, she used to earn as high as Rs 400, daily.
Mariya is among a good number of Bastar women doing roadside business on the JK Highway connecting Jagdalpur with Konta. The road now wears a deserted look with life coming to a standstill well before the dusk. People are yet to recover from the Darba (Jheeram) Ghats Naxal incident and so is the business.
In May, 2013, Naxalites ambushed a Congress party’s convey on the Darba ghats killing 31 people. This wiped out party’s Chhattisgarh leadership. Besides Congress state chief Nandkumar Patel, former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma, former Union minister Vidyacharan Shukla, were prominent among those killed in the incident.
“Those doing business on the roadside (on the stretch of 100 km on JK Highway) are the worst suffers,” Darba Block Congress Committee president Mahadev Nag said. Besides the roadside vendors, small shops and dhabas were set up, that trapped business from people travelling through this road.
The vehicular movement was heavy on this road. It has reduced substantially after the Darba incident. “Traders are now doing business on no-profit, no-loss basis,” Nag said, adding the trade on the road has reduced by 75 per cent in the last one year. The number of travellers has come down.
The worst is the case with tribals like Mariya, whose livelihood depends on selling forest produce, on the roadside. It has been a routine affair for the people passing to get down and purchase the produce, considered pure. The shopping was also an interesting experience for people coming from distant areas, as well as for tourists.
“After the Darba incident, villagers found it difficult to go to the forest and collect the produce that has been their source of livelihood,” Jayadev, a resident of Darba said.
The rebels are present in a large number in the area that has been a stronghold of the “red army”. A villager seen talking to a Naxalite would invite trouble for himself. On the other hand, he could be considered a police informer, if the Naxals spot him with a security personnel in the region.