Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remembering my sojourn in Dhandakaranya.

The Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh is constantly in the news these days. This week on 6th April, at dawn, 76 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were ambushed and killed in this district by the Maoists (PLGA - People’s Liberation Guerilla Army). This tragic incident took place in the Mukrana forest, a part of the huge Dhandakaranya forest, close to Chintalnar and Mukram villages. Last year the Maoists who are also called as Naxalites killed 591 civilians and 317 Security personnel from their hideouts in these forests, in their so called war against the State.
Many years ago before Chhattisgarh State was formed and this area was under Madhya Pradesh I got an opportunity to spend three adventurous and memorable days in this part of the dense Dhandakaranya forest. The present Dantewada district was then a part of Bastar district. I went there at the invitation of my friend Anil Kumar Singh. My friend was working for a Contractor engaged in the business of buying trees from plantations grown by the Dhandakaranya Forest Development Corporation (DFDC) and converting the felled trees into Charcoal and transporting to the Navabharat Ferro Alloys factory in Paloncha town in the adjoining Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. The Contractor had bought three plantations in auction in different and distant areas of South Bastar district and wanted my friend to explore and chose a central place to which the felled trees would be moved for conversion to Charcoal. And from this single conversion point the Charcoal would be transported to Paloncha. I joined my friend in this mission. We moved extensively by Jeep for three days in this dense forest between Marayagudem of AP & MP, Gollapalli, Kistaram and Konta of then MP State, a little south of Chintalnar where the above ghastly encounter took place.
The vast Dhandakaranya forest is spread over an area of 35,600 miles in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. In most areas we moved around using the rough mud passages; the forest was dense, with very tall trees and wild growth all around us. The shade of these trees was virtually creating a night like atmosphere for us and the sunlight was appearing as tiny stars through some gaps in the leaves of the trees. As we stopped here and there in the forest and the sound of the Jeep’s engine is silenced the occasional wild sounds of the jungle thrilled us. And the few refreshing and beautiful forest streams we came across and the wild fruits we could pluck and eat along the way are still good memories. In the nights, we stayed at the places of the Forest officers known to my friend. These resting or halting places were slightly larger villages but still a part of the forest. The presence and sounds of cattle, hen, birds, frogs and wild sounds from the forest around you as you are resting is a great and rewarding experience of such an expedition. Because of the hectic movement I had a good appetite at all times and we were well looked after in this regard by the friendly Forest Staff.
I wish this bloodshed will end soon and this area will once again become as serene and as peaceful as I had experienced it years ago.

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