It was just another day in the sleepy village of Parpa, eight kilometres south of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh’s southern region of Bastar. But that was only until around 4 pm on March 24 when four jeeps, five autos and a pick-up truck drove into the village with nearly 100 people. They were carrying banners which said, “Naxal samarthak Bastar chhodo” (Naxal supporter, leave Bastar). The men and women shouted “Bela Bhatia murdabad.” Down with Bela Bhatia.
Bhatia is a reputed social scientist with a PhD from Cambridge University in the UK. She has been an honorary professor at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences, Mumbai, and has served on a central government panel to look at governance challenges in areas facing Left-wing extremism.
The 53-year-old researcher has been living in Parpa for the past four months. Before she moved to the village, she spent more than a year in the town of Jagdalpur.
When the protesters came to the village, Bhatia was in Jagdalpur. They distributed bundles of yellow, blue and green leaflets which said: “Janiya aapke beech mein rahne waali Naxali dalal Bela Bhatia ko.” Know the Naxal broker Bela Bhatia who is living amidst you.
‘Alleged Naxal sympathiser’
Why are some people agitated about the presence of Bhatia? What does she do that makes them think of her as a Naxal supporter?
Last November, Bhatia and a few other activists travelled to interior villages in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh to investigate allegations that security forces had raped adivasi women. The activists recorded the testimonies of several women, which became the basis of a first information report. The police investigation of the alleged rapes is underway.
A month after the case was registered, Bhatia’s landlord, a tailor who had a contract to sew uniforms for the Central Reserve Police Force, asked her to vacate the Jagdalpur house. The reason he cited was that her dog was noisy. Bhatia moved out, even though she was intrigued at the reason, since, until that point, the landlady used to feed her dog and take care of it when Bhatia was away in the villages. Bhatia moved to Parpa village.
Then, in January this year, she travelled to Bijapur district headquarters only to find a few hundred people had gathered to shout slogans against her. “Bastar chhodo, Bastar chhodo, Bela Bhatia Bastar chhodo,” they said. Leave Bastar, Bela Bhatia. The group later identified itself as Naxal Peedit Sangharsh Samiti, or the Committee of Naxal Victims.
“Some people are actual victims of Maoist violence, and their case needs to be heard too,” said Bhatia when asked about the protest. However, they cannot incite people to violence, she added. She clarified that she is against violence of any kind, whether by the state or by the Maoists.
But it is probably easier to oppose state violence because it has set parameters, she admitted. “The state has some rules to follow and if they overstep it, human rights defenders jump in,” she said. While one can condemn Maoist violence, there are no redressal systems in place to fight against them, she explained.
“We live in a polarised society,” said Bhatia. “If you constantly oppose one camp, you are automatically assumed to be from the other.”
The only way to end the polarisation of viewpoints, according to Bhatia, is to engage in a dialogue with those differing from her. “I believe in democratic dissent,” she said. “I believe that they have as much claim to their thought as I do. We should sort this out through dialogue.”
Faced with a mob outside her home, however, Bhatia was forced to complain to the district collector, who assured her that the matter would be investigated. Said Amit Kataria, the Collector of Bastar district, “I have personally pulled up the troublemakers to ensure this won’t happen again.”
In the past, though, assurances by the
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Source: Islamic News Daily