Our Roving Editor Man Mohan writes from Orcha (Chhattisgarh)
You may not believe it. In this western Bastar region exists a huge hilly forest tribal area — nearly the size of Goa — where Indians and foreigners have not been allowed for the past three decades.
Welcome to Abujhmar. The Naxal-controlled inaccessible and the so-called ‘liberated zone’ in Narayanpur district, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Government of India’s writ does not run here. About 60 km from Naryanpur, Orcha is the north-eastern fringe of Abujhmar.
Seemingly virgin country, the tribals are still living a primitive life, like some Andaman and Nicobar Island tribes, with no connection with the civilisation.
Some days ago, the BJP-ruled state government decided to open doors of this mystery land for the common man. The aim was to find out what the Maoists were up to.
Former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, some years ago, was denied entry in Abujhmar when she wanted to shoot for a soft drink ad film.
Women in Abujhmar and many other Bastar areas wear a one-piece dress called ‘kosti’. Many of them even prefer to go topless.
‘Abujhmar’ is said to be that land whose mystery none could solve. ‘Abujh’ in local language means ‘unknown’ and ‘mar’ means ‘hills.’ So, the Abujhmarias means “people of the unknown or little known hills.”
The Abujhmarias are mainly Maria, Murias and Halbas tribals. The Naxals have brainwashed them by telling them that the government deliberately calls them ‘Abujh’ (idiots) and ‘mar’ (land) – the land of idiots.
The Chhattisgarh government is clueless about the kind of life the tribals are living in Abujhmar, and about their population, religion, social and economic status. There are no land revenue records of the villages.
“Two years ago, we met some Abujhmarias when they ventured out to purchase salt and other items at a ‘haat’ (weekly market). They did not know their country or state’s name,” said a local shopkeeper. “They had not heard of India’s Prime Minister, but acknowledged knowing Mao’s name,” he added.
In the 1970s, the Narayanpur collector had issued an order banning ‘outsiders’ from entering Abujhmar. He enforced an ‘inner line policy’ by which one could gain entry only after obtaining a special permit. Gradually, the Maoists/Naxals ‘captured’ Abujhmar. The police, forest rangers, teachers and other government employees stopped going there.
The provocation to ban the entry of outsiders in Abujhmar had come following a BBC film on the ‘ghotuls’ (tribal youth club) of the Bastar tribes where youngsters interact, drink and dance in the evening. The impression given in the film was that free sex was legitimised through ghotuls in the tribal heartland.
The Maoists got Abujhmar virtually on a platter. In this extremely backward area, some tribals are reported to have only recently begun tilling their land and sending their children to schools run by Maoists.
The Abujhmar terrain varies from 450 to 750 metres above the sea level, has dense forest and many high ridges and deep valleys created by streams, which provide an effective natural barrier from all sides, isolating it from the rest of the region.
In 2005, nearly 132 years after the British conducted a land survey in Abujhmar, Chief Minister Raman Singh acknowledged the difficulties faced by the police in entering the Naxals’ ‘liberated zone’, and decided to get an aerial survey done to prepare revenue records and map the Naxalite terrain. The Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency carried out the survey.
One wonders how much time the state administration will now take to unravel the mystery of Abujhmar and confront the Maoists to ‘reclaim’ the lost territory.