March-April  1999


Dandakaranya : Struggles Of A Different Kind

{This is the first part of a two part report of the development work undertaken by the CPI (ML) [People’s War] in one of its guerilla zone areas. The first part of this report deals with the people’s movement for development in agriculture, education and health. The report on the cooperative movement will be carried in the next issue of People’s March}



Led by CPI (ML) [People’s War], the adivasis and people’s guerilla forces of Dandakaranya have been waging a relentless struggle against feudalism, imperialism and comprador bureaucratic capitalism as part of the new democratic revolution over the past 18 years. By establishing their own organs of people’s democratic state power in embryonic form in place of the age-old rule of the exploiters, they have literally turned the world upside down. They are inscribing a new chapter of history through letters of blood.

The following report describes the struggle on the economic front in Dandakaranya. It deals with the movement for people’s development and also the growing cooperative movement.

In order to understand the movement initiated by the adivasi people through their own conscious effort, we must first understand the background.


Dandakaranya comprises of 8 districts — Gadchiroli, Bhandara, Balaghat, Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Bastar, Dantewara, Malkangiri — spread across three states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. It is a vast forest region housing some 60 lakh people. The region is bigger in size than, at least ten states in India. It has fertile land and an abundance of water resources. Moreover, it has rich deposits of iron ore, bauxite, tin, granite, marble, limestone, corundum and other minerals along with timber. It is the original habitat of the Gond tribes who have been eking out a miserable life for thousands of years surviving perennial drought, floods and other natural calamities.

For centuries, the adivasis have been subjected to the exploitation of feudal kings, non-adivasi landlords and colonialists; in the post-1947 period landlords, imperialists, comprador bureaucratic capitalists intensified their cruel exploitation and oppression of the adivasis politically, economically and culturally. The staunchly independent and freedom-loving adivasis revolted against these oppressors at times but were however put down brutally.

Ever since the entry of three dalams (guerilla squads) of CPI (ML) [People’s War] of five members each into Dandakaranya from Telangana in the year 1980, the adivasis launched their struggle to eliminate age-old oppression and exploitation and to build a new world of their own. The revolutionary movement which began in a few villages in Dandakaranya led by a handful of small armed squads in 1980, has gradually extended to over 2500 villages encompassing lakhs of people; from a handful of members working in the guerilla squads, the party has now spread from the village level to various committees upto Dandakaranya level. Hundreds of guerillas are now working in the larger armed guerilla units all over Dandakaranya. Revolutionary mass organisations such as Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (DAKMS), Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh (KAMS), Krantikari Adivasi Bal Sangh (KABS), have spread throughout the region; people’s militia in the form of Gram Raksha Dal (GRD) and Area Raksha Dal (ARD) units, as well as organs of people’s democratic state power are multiplying.

The people are waging militant and resolute struggles in various forms against the local tyrants, government bureaucrats, big business, imperialists and police and paramilitary forces on economic, social and cultural issues. Thousands of acres of land of the landlords and government were occupied along with achieving increases in the wage rates and price of forest produce. They have not only undermined the government’s hegemony over the forest wealth, but they are also establishing their own organs of new democratic peoples power. They are ushering in democratic values in culture by waging war against feudal and imperialist culture as well as by rejecting the evils in their own tribal customs that arise due to the backward productive forces.

The three state governments have deployed massive police forces to suppress the movement. They also coordinate with the neighbouring state of AP where the revolutionary movement is quite strong. Arrests, tortures, molestations, murders, deportations, destruction of property, prohibitory orders etc. have become the order of the day. Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) is being used widely. Special operations such as Jana Jagaran Abhiyan, operation Bison, Godavari, Manthan, Mathila, Vajra, Indravati etc. were organised to suppress the movement with brute force.

The people, the mass organisations, people’s militia and the people’s armed guerilla forces are facing the enemy heroically; people’s armed resistance is growing. Notorious class enemies and police agents are being eliminated. Scores of police and paramilitary personnel were wiped out. Seizing arms and ammunition from the enemy forces and arming themselves, efforts are being made to develop the people’s army. Guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought and learning from revolutionary practice, the party, the people’s army and the revolutionary united front are being forged as invincible weapons to defeat the enemy and build a new society. With the expansion of the mass base among the populace at large, the party has taken up movements to achieve cooperation and development of the people. These movements, aimed at improving people’s living conditions, are helping to advance the ongoing revolutionary class struggle.

Putting Politics in Command

It is the masses who make history and it is they who are the real heroes. People can perform wonders if only they are imbued with the correct revolutionary politics. In spite of the extreme backwardness and low level of the productive forces, the adivasi peasantry of Dandakaranya have demonstrated these truths in the course of their practice. They are improving the level of productive forces and their living conditions. Armed with a revolutionary political line, they have taken up development activities unheard of and which, otherwise, were considered to be beyond their abilities. They are illiterate, yet they are able to correctly grasp the real revolutionary politics and build their own schools. They have low level of technique, yet they have constructed tanks and set up rice mills. They have no money capital, yet they have taken up hundreds of development works through their voluntary labour. People’s initiative and creative talents are being brought to full play. Depending on their own economic resources and mutual cooperation, the masses have embarked on this new experiment of organising their own development. This has also exposed the hollowness of so-called development planning by the Indian rulers for the past 50 years that has only pushed the adivasia into even more miserable conditions.

No doubt, the development programmes taken up by the people in the course of fighting the class enemies and enemy’s armed forces have several limitations. But the important thing to note is that the struggle in the economic front is part and parcel of the struggle to establish a new democratic state and society. It is linked to the question of seizure of state power and helps in further raising the revolutionary consciousness of the masses and advancing the class struggle.

The development and welfare programmes of the people in Dandakaranya are mainly centred around agriculture. Along with these, programmes related to education,health and environment are also being taken up. The following is the list of activities on the economic front between February 1997 and May 1998.

Construction of Tanks

During this period, people of Dantewara (South Bastar) undertook the construction of 81 tanks of which the construction of 47 tanks was completed. The rest of the 34 tanks are nearing completion. 47 of these tanks are for irrigation and 34 are for providing water for cattle and raising fish. In Gadchiroli district 18 tanks were taken up for construction of which 6 have been completed. 16 of these are for irrigation and 2 for cattle and fish. In Bairamgarh range in South Bastar one checkdam is under construction. Several tanks that are lying in disuse for long, due to neglect are being repaired by the people themselves through collective effort. 2 tanks each were constructed in Balaghat district of MP and Malkangiri of Orissa. In those areas in Dandakaranya which have a hilly terrain that is not conducive for construction of tanks, people are constructing smaller tanks each of which can serve the irrigation needs of 10 to 12 families. In Balaghat, the construction of tanks was obstructed by the police. In Pusanar village in South Bastar, the police dug up the embankment of a tank. In Madded area in South Bastar, the construction of 9 tanks had to be abandoned due to continuous enemy attacks.

According to the information collected until now people of 237 villages participated in the construction of 99 tanks all over Dandakaranya. While 46 of these were constructed by the people of individual villages, the other 53 tanks were the result of the collective effort of people belonging to 2-12 villages. Tank Construction Committees have been elected by the people to oversee the construction work.

Here is an example in order to understand how the people go about the construction of a tank :

In a village in Basaguda area of South Bastar, a small irrigation dam was in existence since a long time and it used to provide water to 9 villages including the small town of Basaguda. Some 20 years ago, this dam got breached due to floods. Repeated complaints by the people to the government fell on deaf years. In March ’98, the people of 9 villages under the leadership of DAKMS elected a tank construction committee and began the work. Around 400 people participated in the construction work for 26 days. They raised local resources of around Rs. 60,000. Another 70 quintals of rice were collected from the local rich peasants and traders and a kilo each was given to the volunteers participating in the construction work. Terrified by the initiative shown by the people, the government suddenly woke up and announced that it was releasing Rs. 14 lakh. But the people rejected the government offer. It is estimated that the cost of labour alone that is involved in the construction of the tank embankment would be around Rs. 10 lakhs.

In tanks used for collective fishing, about 3 lakh fish seedlings were sown along with a few thousand prawn seeds in August -September 1997. These were harvested collectively by April-May 1998. The success of this is encouraging other adivasis to raise fish to supplement their meagre incomes.

Growing vegetables and fruits

Due to the backward agriculture prevailing in Dandakaranya, vegetables are not cultivated on a wide scale. In the more backward areas, people gather leaves, roots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and such other naturally available vegetables. The people spend a lot of time catching fish and crabs. Though some vegetables are grown in the relatively advanced areas, these do not fully meet the needs of the people. A programme to grow vegetables was taken up since the past 6-7 years and from 1996 seeds of various vegetables are being brought from outside and are being distributed among the people. In 1997 seeds of tomato, brinjal, radish, beans, onions, dhaniya, chilli etc., were distributed to people in 250 villages. Most of these villages lie in South Bastar. People evinced great interest and worked hard to get a good yield of the vegetable crop. In those places where cultivation was done on a collective basis, and where the fields were properly fenced to guard against incursion of cattle, the yields were high. In some of these villages people sold the vegetables in the local weekly markets and thus increased their incomes. The enthusiasm and interest of people in growing a variety of vegetables is increasing.

Likewise, fruit saplings were also distributed in several villages. A total of 16,196 saplings of mango, guava, lemon, coconut, cashew etc., were distributed in about a 100 villages. 7 or 8 saplings were given to each family in over half of villages while the rest 150-200 saplings were given to a village as a whole to be grown collectively.

The consumption of pulses and oil seeds is extremely low in Dandakaranya. In a few areas til is cultivated. Since the past five years the party and the mass organisations have been encouraging the people to grow pulses and oil seeds in order to fulfill their nutritional requirements and also to improve their incomes by selling the crop in the market. Groundnut and bengalgram seeds were distributed in about 165 villages in South Bastar in 1997. Though the crop was damaged or gave low yields in many villages due to a lack of proper knowledge and experience in growing these crops, as well as due to drought and pests, the people are determined to learn from the experience and to grow pulses and oil seeds in more areas.

Cattle detention sheds

The adivasi peasantry of Dandakaranya raise cattle not only for agricultural purpose but also as a means of enhancing their incomes. Goats and pigs are also raised by many families. The system of shepherds, cowherds etc., to look after the animals is however not much developed in the region. As a result, the cattle and other animals often damage the crops giving rise to disputes between the people. The cattle owner has to pay a certain amount as fine to compensate for the loss of crop suffered by a peasant. The problem has become acute as there is no system of building sheds for the cattle. The Gram Rajya Committees and mass organisations decided to resolve this problem by constructing cattle-detention sheds and imposing the condition that the cattle should not be allowed to stray without the keeper. It was decided that the cattle which strayed into the fields should be detained in these sheds and the owners of these cattle should pay fine to a village fund, and in case where the damage to crop is considerable, the peasant should also be paid compensation for the loss. Cattle sheds were constructed through collective effort in 268 villages in South Bastar between the summer of 1997 and the summer of 1998. Such sheds are being constructed in several villages in other divisions too. The construction of these sheds has helped reduce disputes among the people and in protecting the crops.

Along with this the people are also being encouraged to build their own cattle sheds and gobar pits as in most of the backward areas the system of maintaining separate sheds for cattle does not exist, besides, the dung too is not removed daily which leads to a highly unhygienic condition especially during the rainy season when cattle die in large numbers. The dung is also being wasted instead of being used as manure. The unhygienic conditions lead to diseases like malaria among people too. An education propaganda campaign has been taken up in most of the villages to change these habits and urged the people to: construct cattle sheds at a distance from the houses, remove the dung daily and to store it separately in pits inorder to use it as manure and in order to keep the surroundings clean and hygienic.

Results are showing up in some villages, for instance, in 1997, people of 75 villages dug special pits for storing the dung. A lot more needs to be done in order to bring the people out of their old traditions and habits that have roots in the backward state of the productive forces in the region.

Protection of the forest

Dandakaranya is the abode of hundreds of species of animal and plant life. Minerals are abundant.But in the 50 years of so-called independent India, the region has been continuously plundered by the big business houses, imperialists, landlords, contractors, traders, timber smugglers, poachers, hunters from outside, leaders of various political parties and government bureaucrats and police officials. This has endangered the very survival of plant and animal species. Even the water of the tanks and streams is polluted. The indiscriminate felling of the forest by these non-adivasi outsiders has upset the ecological balance leading to frequent drought and depletion of ground water. The local people too are cutting down the trees to bring more land under the plough due to recurring droughts and backward agriculture.

The CPI (ML) [People’s War] has been propagating the need for protecting the forest and the environment among the people at large. Since the past ten years, the party and DAKMS imposed a ban on the massive felling of the forest by the governments of Maharashtra and MP. The attempts by these governments to continue the felling with the help of massive police force was foiled by the people’s guerilla forces through conscious mobilisation of people. Besides, the party and mass organisations have also taken up measures to stop the practice of the local people to poison the fish and other animals in order to catch them, hunting by non-adivasis, smuggling of animal skins, conversion of forest land into agricultural land by rich peasants and landlords, cultivation of coffee, mining of iron ore as in the Raoghat hills by the government and other such practices which drain the region of its natural resources.

In some places as in Gadchiroli, ‘environment protection committees’ have been formed and in other places ‘forest protection committees’ are formed all of which are waging struggles against the damage done due to the influx of the people from outside. They also discourage the local peasants including poor and lower middle peasants from cutting down forest and they are being organised to seize the land of the landlords instead. The practice of cutting down entire trees in order to collect the fruit or leaves or honey in some areas has been stopped. In Bairamgarh area in South Bastar, 1000 saplings of tamarind, mango and sitaphal were planted in 24 villages in the land that was lying in disuse for 3 or 4 years after carrying out podu (slash and burn) agriculture. In some villages in Kunta area, people have planted seeds and saplings on such lands. This programme of afforestation is slowly catching up in other areas too. A lot of effort is needed to make the people realise that it is necessary to protect the forest in order to exercise their own rights over the forest wealth; the relation between society and nature, forest and environment, and the strategic relation between forest and our revolutionary war.

Animal husbandry

In Dandakaranya though several families raise cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry etc., diseases often claim a considerable part of the animal wealth. The chief occupation of the adivasis is agriculture. For this they use not only oxen but also cows for ploughing the fields. Almost every family has a piece of land. In the relatively advanced plain areas, the number of landless is relatively higher. Although the majority of the population has lands and ploughs, they have a shortage of oxen. The poor and lower middle peasant families exchange food grains, pigs, goats, hens or money for oxen with other well-to-do families, for ploughing purposes.

As part of the attempts by the party and mass organisations to solve this serious problem faced by the poor and lower middle peasants, 101 oxen were distributed to 67 families in South Bastar during 1997-98. Most of these were obtained through confiscation from the landlords. Some were bought by raising funds. 76 goats and sheep which were confiscated from cruel landlords were distributed to poor peasants.

Drinking water wells

Scarcity of drinking water is one of the burning problems facing the people of Dandakaranya. The women have to traverse long distances to fetch drinking water. Some borewells were sunk here and there by the government, but as the wells were not sunk to the required depth out during the summer months. Moreover substandard handpumps were fitted due to the nexus between the contractors and the government bureaucrats. Hence the pumps go out of order no sooner than they are fitted and water cannot be pumped. Hence people have no other option than to consume contaminated water in the tanks and streams. Consequently, a good number of people suffer from diseases and many, particularly children, die every year due to water-borne diseases. People are realising the need to dig wells for drinking water through their own collective effort. In 1997-98 in about 25 villages of South Bastar, drinking water wells were dug under the guidance of the Vikas committees or mass organisations. It is decided to check upon the work of digging drinking water wells in a big way throughout the region.


Dandakaranya is one of those regions in the country where education has hardly reached the villages. The overwhelming majority of the villages even have no primary schools. The schools in the interior areas that the government claims to have established only exist in government records and are practically defunct. Even in bigger villages lying along the roads and highways there are no adequate facilities in the schools.

Education is essential in the adivasi areas where superstition and blind belief hold sway due to the extreme backwardness of the productive forces. It is also essential for improving the cultural level of the masses at large and to advance the revolutionary movement. Towards this end, the party, the Vidya Committees (education) and mass organisations have been trying to improve the opportunities for education. Primary schools were started in six villages in South Bastar in 1997-98. School buildings for the students and houses for the teachers were built by the people themselves. Slates and chalks were supplied by the Vidya Committees to students. The parents were impressed upon by these committees to send their children to the schools. The schools have completed an academic year successfully. With the success of this experiment, many surrounding villages have come forward to establish their own schools. Besides these, night schools are also being run for the peasantry.

People’s health centres

Barring the taluk centres, no government has ever provided medical facilities to the people in the rural areas of Dandakaranya. There are qualified private doctors in a few range centres and in some of the other relatively developed villages RMP doctors are working. The services of these doctors are out of reach for a large section of peasantry. In the more interior villages, no doctor or medical facilities are available. Every year, lakhs of people are affected by diseases like cholera, malaria, typhoid, jaundice and skin diseases. Many succumb to these diseases. Especially during the months of August-September every year, almost one in every family are afflicted by disease. This is also affecting agriculture productivity. Nutritional deficiency is creating even more serious problems for women and children who are most easily affected by disease.

As a first step in resolving this problem, health committees were established which run health centres in the villages. In South Bastar and Gadchiroli divisions about 135 health centres were set up mainly during 1997. This was done by training the local adivasi youth themselves. To begin with 15-20 adivasi peasant youth were given basic training for 3-4 days. This consists of identifying the most commonly occurring diseases and the drugs to be used for these diseases. They were also educated on the need to keep the surroundings clean and hygienic. The medicines for the various diseases were distributed to 4 or 5 youth in a village with each receiving medicine for one or two diseases only. This method had to be adopted as the majority of the youth are completely illiterate. Most of the adivasi people are still under the influence of traditional methods of healing through local quacks called ‘Voddes’ who base themselves on blind superstition, magic and on roots and barks of trees. Gradually through education and persuasion people have begun to gain confidence and are evincing interest in the medicines provided through the health committees and revolutionary mass organisations.

To sum up, inspite of limitations, the following have been the positive results of these activities on the economic front :

1) Collective spirit and collective consciousness among the people has grown further. Unity among the people within a village and among people of different villages is growing. People’s confidence on the party has strengthened.

2) People are realising that it is possible to improve agriculture and the living conditions by putting to collective use human labour and local resources.

3) People are understanding the nature of the economic-welfare programmes under the new state power of the future and the necessity to wage united struggle to achieve the same.

4) By taking up a variety of programmes for agricultural development and people’s welfare, the role of people, their creative talents, skill and leadership abilities are improving.

5) These activities are helping to expose the hoax of the reforms enacted by the anti-people government of the exploiting classes and to rally the support of the democrats and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia for the revolutionary peasant movement.

(To be continued)




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