DELIVER OR DROWN, DEVOTEES TELL DEITIES 

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By FROM ANAND SUNDAS
  • Published 3.09.99
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Her face contorted with anger, her body leaden with despair, 72-year-old Bisumai shuffles ahead, dressed like a man in battle gear. Along with a dozen other Bhil women all dressed as men, she heads for Ratanmal, a tribal village bordering Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. She is out to punish the presiding deity for the lack of rain that has parched their village. The women are dressed like men to show that everything has gone ?ulta pulta (topsy turvy)?. They march towards the village temple, singing: ?Kire makore tarse marse, hunshahu tarse marse (The insects are despairing and dying, we are all despairing and dying)?. They cake the image of Hanuman in mud and tell him: ?Give us rain and we will rinse you clean. Otherwise, stay like this. Wait for the rains like us. Suffer.? Driven to the edge of despair, the tribals of Baria, Ratanmal and other adjoining villages in Dahod parliamentary constituency, are venting their anger on the gods. In one village, they dunk an idol of Shiva in water and leave him to drown. ?Drown. Suffocate. Give us rain and you will be released,? they tell him. When asked if he is angry with seven-time MP Somjibhai Damor, Baria village elder Chandubhai says: ?Politicians are mere mortals. If the gods can?t do anything about it, what can they?? Finding no other way out of their misery, the cornered Bhils ? who comprise 70 per cent of the population in Dahod ? are resorting to looting. The number of robberies have gone up over the last few months. Four days back, a train was robbed. A week ago, some travellers were stopped and their belongings snatched. But many of the non-tribal population of Dahod are not furious with the Bhils for what they are doing. Dinesh Rathore, a local businessman, says: ?Last year, we had 40 mm of rain. This time, there has been only 5 mm. What else do you expect the tribals to do? They depend on maize cultivation, which needs a certain amount of water to survive. If the maize dies, they die.? Ramesh Kewadia, owner of one of Dahod?s biggest hotels, Hotel Rama, says: ?Every time the monsoon fails, there is a spurt of crime. You can?t help it.? The tribal villages are flanked by Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Bhils put up road blocks in the border areas , stop vehicles, rob passengers and melt into one of the two states. It is not just robbery. Sometimes there are murders. Stricken by panic, buses travel in convoys of eight or ten at night. Private cars are rarely seen on the road after 10 pm. ?Don?t travel at night. They will take away your camera. This year, they are really desperate,? Kewadia warns. Politicians have no answer to the problems. Local MP Somjibhai Damor said water sources have dried up. ?The attitude of the tribals make it difficult to transport water,? he said. He admitted that there was nothing he could do. ?We can?t get water from America, can we?? The tribals know that politicians? will not help. So they leave it to the gods. To remain caked in mud or be released by cooling showers.