The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dynamite for dam: rebels blast development trail

Gaya and Lawalung (Bihar-Jharkhand), June 22: The weapons are the same — dynamite and landmines — but instead of blowing up police vehicles and outposts, they have helped crack open a hard rock.

Not to blast a passage for another charge but to build a canal to water land that goes dry in summer.

Taking a break from violence, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) is bringing about a change in the irrigation system in its stronghold of Nawadih, a village about 12 km from Lawalung block of Jharkhand’s Chatra district.

Now work is on to link the canal to the 500-foot-long dam that the MCC helped to build on the Dhobi river, which used to run dry once the rains stopped.

The 40-foot-high dam, the brainchild of Dilipji — an MCC leader now dead — blocked the flow of the river, making the water level rise and creating a 2,50,000-square-foot reservoir. Once the canal is linked to it, at least 5,000 acres of farmland can be watered.

The dam has brought hope to a land where Maoist and police guns have blazed all too often. “In this monocrop area, the water table sunk low, causing hardship to farmers. With the construction of the dam, the table is set to be higher. We are thrilled to rediscover our strength in building the dam,” said Babulal Yadav, a villager and an MCC worker.

A. Arya, a respected MCC leader, said his organisation believed in the efficacy of small dams. “Opposing big dams, we now want to show how small dams can become effective,” Arya said.

District officials, however, see the MCC’s new focus on development as a survival tactic. The outfit has faced a massive police onslaught since 2000, when work on the dam began.

According to them, the MCC is trying alternative ways to extend its network and consolidate its base.

“The MCC may be finally realising that the villagers it has been working for needed more than guns and landmines,” said S.K. Barnwal, deputy commissioner of Chatra district. He added that the area had long been identified as a danger zone for the administration.

In 1995, a government building was blasted by the outfit. After the incident, the block office of Lawalung was shifted to Simarea as officials were reluctant to go there, Barnwal said.

“But as long as the MCC is not indulging in subversive activities, they are common citizens. We don’t mind allowing them to carry out development works.”

The villagers, too, are surprised by the change among the Maoists who have even taken up social activities like inter-caste marriages. The MCC, which has long encouraged such unions, got couples from different castes to tie the knot in public. Among them were Rambrikhsa Paswan, who married Urmila, a dhobi by caste.

In Konch, Monoharpur and Khoji villages of Gaya district, the MCC lifted an earlier ban to allow farmers to sell their land to marry off their daughters.

Hem Chandra Sirohi, the commissioner of Gaya, said this was the MCC’s way of serving society and “wooing the villagers”.

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