Chhattisgarh tribals walk over 50 km to demand cash payment for tendu leaves

Written by Gargi Verma
| Bijapur |

Published: June 30, 2020 7:24:48 am

Armed with bows and arrows and carrying idols of deities, thousands of villagers from 18 gram panchayats and 50 villages of Bijapur’s Gangaloor area walked more than 50 km Monday to gather in protest at the district collector’s office with several demands, including cash payment for tendu leaves instead of bank transfers.

The Chhattisgarh government decided to allow cash payment for forest produce in Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur districts. According to officials, the decision was taken after Chhattisgarh Minister Kawasi Lakhma made a request saying that banks are not accessible for everyone in the three Maoist-affected districts.

On Monday morning, Bijapur police were alerted about a large group walking into the city area from Cherpal. While barricades were set up on different parts of the road, the villagers pushed past them and policemen to reach the collector’s office, where a small delegation was allowed to meet the collector, DFO and other officials. No political party was involved.

“Our major demand is that the villagers be paid in cash and not direct bank transfers for the tendu leaves they procure and sell. It is one of the major income sources and coming to the city to withdraw cash is often more expensive than the amount to be withdrawn. Some people don’t even have bank accounts,” said Raju Kalmu (35), one of the representatives part of the delegation.

Ramesh Punem, another representative, said, “We want the bonus promised on tendu patta in 2018-2019, an increased scholarship for tribal students, schools and hospitals in the villages. The tribals are tortured by the police, which needs to stop too.”

Bastar IG P Sundarraj said, “No social gathering is allowed, so we tried hard to disperse the villagers. However, they were not harmed and eventually allowed to reach the collectorate.”

Activist Soni Sori was Sunday barred from leaving her house by police after she informed the police about her plans to join the protest. “I also wanted to go to Sarkeguda where an event was organised to create memorials for the people who were killed in 2012 in a fake encounter. However, I wasn’t allowed to go to either places by the police, who served me a notice stating that since I have been provided security, I can’t go to Naxal-affected areas. This is a violation of my rights and a way to suppress tribal voices,” she said.

Sundarraj said, “We couldn’t have allowed anyone to go for a public event as due to Covid-19, all public gatherings are banned.”

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