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Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006, 23:18 GMT 00:18 UK
Displaced by India's red threat
Refugees
The villagers say they were harassed by the police

In the past year, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has become a battleground as state-backed militia, the Salwa Judum, and police intensify their fight against Maoist rebels. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 villagers, caught in the middle of the growing violence, have been forced to flee their homes and land.

The BBC's Jill McGivering visited some of Chhattisgarh's relief camps to find that many of those displaced are now starving and desperate.

Nesalnaar Relief Camp is hot and dusty.

I walked past row upon row of one-storey, one-room very basic houses, white-washed mud bricks topped with corrugated iron roofs, lined with asbestos.

My first thought was that iron roofs must be stifling in the summer, pre-monsoon heat.

Across the back of the camp, building work was underway. About a thousand people live here at the moment but the numbers are growing.

They have lost everything - their rituals, their customs
Himanshu Kumar
Social activist

Other villagers in even more temporary housing elsewhere are gradually being moved here.

Before we started to record interviews, people spoke out about the reasons they had come to the camps, saying they had been harassed and intimidated by the civil militia, Salwa Judum.

But most fell silent when we tried to record their interviews.

'Terrorised'

Finally one man, Bikoram, agreed to talk to us. He brought his family to the camp eight months ago, he said, from a village about five kilometres away.

"The police came to our village and terrorised us," he said.

Housing at the refugee camp
Rows of basic one-room houses with tin roofs
"They said, 'We are fighting against the Naxals (Maoists) and we will kill you all if you don't leave this village and go to the camps.' We were really terrified."

I asked him how he and his family were coping in the camp, how the conditions here compared with the village. He looked exhausted.

"It was very nice in our village, we had everything," he said.

"Here we have nothing. We have nothing to eat. We are farmers. We cannot live without our farms. I don't know how we will live here."

No work

Himanshu Kumar describes himself as a social activist, running a non-government organisation and working for the last 15 years with tribal communities in Chhattisgarh. Now he's increasingly visiting them in these camps.

"The main crisis is the lack of work here," he told me.

Chhattisgarh refugee
The villagers say they do not have enough to eat
"They don't have any means to earn money. The government has given them some money to construct huts here, so now they have a shelter, OK. But they need something to eat."

The villagers said they had been given an initial allowance for building materials - and one radio per family - but there's little work available and they aren't given food.

Himanshu said the change to their way of life, now they were in relief camps, was one of the greatest concerns.

"The tribal people's culture is very rich," he said.

"Here, they have lost everything - their rituals, their customs. If the tribal people have lost their culture and their traditions, then nothing is left. They are just slum-dwellers now."

Caught in the middle

Many in the camps seemed desperate, eager to go home to their houses, animals and fields but feeling that was a choice they could not safely make.

Bikoram told me why he thought they could never go home.

"We are caught in the middle, because we cannot go back home," he said.

"The militia went to our villages and burned houses selectively, so the Maoists think we provided information on which houses to burn. So we cannot go back there.

"When we come to the government's side, they don't give us any help. So we are in deep trouble."

These villagers insist they just want peace but their tragedy is that neither side believes them. This is a conflict with no neutral ground.

This is the last of a series of three reports.


SEE ALSO
Maoists escape Indian police raid
13 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Maoists 'kill policemen' in India
01 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Indian soldiers help hunt rebels
15 Nov 05 |  South Asia
India plans anti-Maoist strategy
19 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Indian state bans Maoist groups
05 Sep 05 |  South Asia

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