Chitrakoot Has to Contend with 'Dacoit Raj' as Well
Blossoms in the Dust
Chitrakoot : The uncrowned king of this district is Dadua, a dacoit whose exploits have become legendry. For the kols, the scheduled caste which constitutes a substantial proportion of the population here, the dacoit raj. Dadua being the most infamous of the dacoits here, is just another kind of exploitation they have to face. Besides there is the exploitation by local politicians and the 'babus', not to mention the many fakes in saffron robes who swarm this holy place where Lord Rama is said to have spent 14 years of exile.
For the Kol women, this exploitation takes place at many levels. Dadua and his gang drop in as uninvited guests into the homes of poor villagers forcing the women to cook meals for them. If one is too poor to afford a meal, the gang pays for it. After the 'guests' leave, the hosts are often harassed by the local police to give information regarding the gang. The villagers are caught between the devil and the deep sea. The women are always scared of sexual assault from the law-keepers as well as from the law-breakers.
Interestingly, women say that till some years ago Dadua disapproved of any sexual molestation of Kol women and actually punished his men if they were found to have indulged in harassment or rape. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Villagers blame it on the generally low morels of Dadua's new recruits! Given the poverty that exists in the Bundelkhand region, dacoity offers an employment avenue for the young.
Kol women, dependent on agriculture and income from non-timber forest produce for their survival, find their livelihood threatened by Dadua. Most of the land is controlled by rich landlords acknowledge it openly, but they often pay Dadua, in cash or in kind, to keep him at bay. With self-preservation being their uppermost concern, these landlords are least bothered about the welfare of their farm labour. The prevalence of dacoity helps reinforce the feudal mindset in the region.
Dadua's main source of income, however, is from the district government! Politicians and bureaucrats acknowledge that Dadua's 'cut' is very much a part of the project cost of every governmental work, whether handled by the panchayat pradhans, block development officers, or officials in departments such as the PWD and water supply. The forest department and the forest corporation are also not spared. Surprisingly, departmental heads deny they pay anything to dadua even as they openly point accusing fingers at other departments!
Kol women working seasonally for the forest corporation to collect tendu patta complain their wages for a day or two are cut "for dadua" by the village level accountants employed by the corporation. Senior officers of the corporation, which mops up an annual profit of over Rs. one crore from this area alone, deny this. Yet, the complaints surface every year and the corporation has not been able to plug the leak. Kol women are trying to fight for their rights with the help of some well-meaning local NGOs. Yet, the prevalence of dacoity, epitomised by dadua, continues to adversely affect their livelihoods and security.
This is a part of the series of articles contributed by Aditi Kapoor based on her research project on 'Women and Environment'. The research is funded by a fellowship grant from Leadership and Environment and Development (LEAD) International, New York.
Aditi Kapoor, The Times of India, July 26, 1999