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In this Red citadel, not a grain to eat, not a drop to drink

In this Red citadel, not a grain to eat, not a drop to drink

Author: Saugar Sengupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 28, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/172617/In-this-Red-citadel-not-a-grain-to-eat-not-a-drop-to-drink.html

In the sweltering 47 degrees Celsius, water is like elixir. But in a large part of the shrubby region of Bankura-Purulia-West Midnapore, called Jangal Mahal in Bengal, water is a scant commodity in most of summer time.

In this Kalahandi-like parched highland, the Red regime tends to snore off even as its most faithful voters continue to sleep on an empty stomach and drink haria (country liquor made of fermented rice) for water. "Haria quenches your thirst and holds back your sorrows," says Chanu Majhi. Still he will vote the CPI(M) because "there is no substitute".

So what is common among Rajaram Mandi, Laxman Tudu or Rabi Mandi? They are citizens of the 'hungry republic of south-western Bengal'.

"There is no agriculture here as we have to depend upon the skies for water. I have land, but there is only one crop a year," says Nirmal Mandal, one of the better-off villagers who is "fortunate" to own a mobile phone and motorbike.

"Often, it seems easy to fetch tari or mahua (palm arrack and liquor made by fermenting mahua flowers) than to get water," says Kanhu Sabar of Belpahari in West Midnapore district, where Amlasol block hit the national headlines when it was reported that the villagers fed on roasted insects.

Back to Bankura. Local MP Basudeb Acharya kept his promise by sinking a tubewell every 500 yards, but his men hardly check whether these continue to yield water. "Water comes in a trickle and our women have to walk 5-10 km to fetch water from ponds which have nearly dried up," says a villager.

Incidentally, most of these people refused to recognise Acharya. "We have been asked to vote for the Laal party but we do not know much about Acharya," said Laxman Tudu of Khaas Bahar.

Raja Ram Mandi of Neem Danga is another hapless man who has to often starve. Currently, he is down with tuberculosis but does not have resources to get treatment. "Though we get some drugs from the health centre, the doctors want us to eat well. We cannot do that as we cannot even feed our children," says he. His wife Parvati works as a construction worker for a meagre Rs 40-50 a day, while the market rate is Rs 120. "We will live till my wife can earn. After that, we will perish," says Rajaram, looking heavenwards.

About the repeated crop failures, Sumi Tudu of Khasbahar says, "Though the land is less fertile, the villagers tried rotation of crops but it failed due to lack of irrigation facilities." The blocks of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore have to depend heavily on the monsoon. Though the local MPs promised to bring water from DVC, about 50 km away, the project is far from taking off.

Incidentally, Bandwan in Purulia has the lowest food security in the State. There are at least 71 blocks spread across these three districts where people have less food security than the prescribed level, according to reports.

The locals have to rely mostly on coarse rice and saag. According to the reports, Sagdungri village of Purulia has 100 residents, but there is only one boy who goes to school. On education front, however, Bankura is better placed with the district schools often producing toppers in the board examinations. "We are fortunate that the Maoists have still not entered this zone," says a villager, conscious that Maoists feed on poverty.

"There is no way you can protest because the CPI(M) cadre are watching your movements all the time," says Nirmal Mandal. He recalls how a few years ago, Thatu Mandi - a BJP worker - was pulled out of a protest rally before being flogged to death. "No one talks for fear of these people," says son Rabi, while his helpless mother looks blankly even as she holds the bar of a 'dying' tubewell.

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