When news filtered out in late October that security personnel on an anti-Maoist operation had allegedly raped and molested women in the villages of Bijapur in Chhattisgarh, several teams of social and political activists made their way to the area to collect testimonies of the villagers. But it proved extremely difficult to get there.

Bijapur, which is the southern most district in the state, is part of the region of Bastar, which has been in the grip of a Maoist insurgency for several decades. A large part of the district does not have roads.

The alleged atrocities had taken place in the villages of Basaguda block. While a motorable road leads to the block headquarters, and goes another four kilometres to Sarkeguda village, beyond that it disappears in a cloud of dust.

Fifteen kilometres of dirt track lead to Pedagellur, the village that had reported the rapes of two women and a teenage girl. Other villages where security personnel allegedly molested and threatened several women lay five kilometres-10 kilometres further ahead. The only way to access those villages was to walk or bike through the jungle.

It took several hours and much difficulty to get to Chinnagellur and Burgicheru, said Bimla Sori who led the fact-finding team of the Adivasi Mahasabha of the Communist Party of India.

Conflict over roads

For a long time, constructing roads has been a bone of contention between the Maoists and the government. While the government maintains that the Maoists are blocking the building of roads, the insurgents accuse the government of wanting to create a road network with the express aim of moving in security forces to crush their rebellion.

After the eruption of a civil war-like situation in 2005, when armed civil vigilantes under the banner of Salwa Judum clashed with the Maoists, the area saw a mushrooming of security camps for central paramilitary forces. To block the security forces from making further progress, the Maoists dug up existing roads and have blocked the construction of new ones since then. On October 25, for instance, Maoists set ablaze 31 vehicles and machines engaged in road construction work on the road connecting Bhopalpatnam to Tarlaguda in the western part of Bijapur district.

Activists of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a platform for Adivasi groups, who visited the area came back disappointed. "All one sees in the name of development are road construction activities dotted with security force camps," said Prakash Thakur, the president of the Samaj. But where, he asked, are the schools and hospitals?

Villagers told the activists that when someone falls ill, they usually rely on local traditional healers, known as vadde. While some villages have a government-appointed Mitanin or community health worker, she often does not have a stock of medicines. A serious illness necessitates a long trek to Basaguda. Sometimes, the patient needs to be carried on a charpoy all the way to the primary health centre.

For education, there are no schools in the villages. Children have no choice but to live and study in residential ashram schools in Basaguda.

However, the district collector, Yashwant Kumar, blamed the absence of healthcare and education on the missing roads. "The fact of the matter is our health workers and medical personnel are stopped from bringing medicines into the villages by the Naxalites," he said in a tone of exasperation. "Once the road comes, development will automatically follow."

Construction companies

In 2011, a firm called Patil Construction Infrastructure Limited, was granted the Rs 115 crore project of building a two-lane highway of 70 kilometres to connect the district headquarters of Bijapur with Jagargunda in the neighbouring Sukma district.

Originating at Murkinar, ten kilometres from Bijapur town, the highway would pass through Basaguda, Sarkeguda, all the way to Jagargunda. Before the Salwa Judum conflict, this route was widely used by both local people who travelled in jeeps and buses, and outside traders who moved out forest produce and timber, among other things, in trucks and tempos. A daily bus would travel down the highway, connecting Bijapur to Andhra Pradesh.

Upgrading the road as a highway, however, is proving to be an impossible task. It took three-and-a half-years of full security cover to build the 42 kilometres stretch to Basaguda – an average of one kilometre a month. Building the final stretch of 28 kilometres, which passes through Maoist-dominated areas, is an even bigger challenge, said company managers.

"We have lost ten road construction vehicles to Maoist violence and many of our equipments have been stolen," said Shaliwan, the project manager of Patil Construction. The company has hired a labour force of 100 workers, mostly drawn from outside the state, as local labourers simply refused to come forward.

When asked how long would it take to build the 28 kilometres, he said it could take anywhere between two months to two years. It would all depend on the number of security troops assigned to safeguard the workers and equipment.

The workers start at 10 am after the security forces have cleared the path for them. They are able to work for only four hours every day since the troops refuse to stay after 2 pm for security reasons. They also suspend work for days on account of Maoist bandhs.

The assistant superintendent of police IK Eleseliya said that the stretch between Sarkeguda and Tarrem would be the most difficult to build. Tarrem is the last village in Bijapur district, ten kilometres from Sarkeguda. A police station is supposed to come up here. Once the security forces have a base in Tarrem, it would become easier to patrol the area all the way to Jagargunda. "The Maoists will do anything to stop us from reaching Jagargunda," Eleseliya said.

The view of villagers

While officials of the police and civil administration maintain that roads are needed to take basic amenities to the villages, many villagers were less enthusiastic about roads in their conversations with the activists of the Sarva Adivasi Samaj. "The villagers find little benefit with the construction of pucca roads," said one of the activists.

Part of the reason is that roads have brought along more security camps. As the number of security camps increases, it becomes more difficult for locals to commute on the routes. They are stopped at barricades outside every camp and asked to explain where they are headed and why. To avoid the camps, people often cut through forest. But that runs the risk of security forces arresting them for moving suspiciously.

In the 42 kms stretch between Bijapur and Sarkeguda, seven camps have been established. The security forces aim to establish five more camps on the remaining 28-km stretch.

The camp in Sarkeguda was established in 2012, soon after 17 civilians were killed by security forces who opened fire on a gathering of villagers mistaking them for Maoists. With the security camp in place, the road to Sarkeguda came up but development did not follow. The residents of Sarkeguda point out that for basic healthcare, they still need to travel to Basaguda, or sometimes even all the way to Andhra Pradesh. Despite the road and better connectivity, no schools have come up. So why build the road, they ask.

This is the last of a two-part series on the alleged rapes in Bijapur, in Chhattisgarh. The first part can be read here.