Op-Ed: The Nation Owes An Apology To The People of ‘Cut-off Area’

Let us not get distracted by the ugly and shameful tug of war among the three major political parties to corner – and deny – credit for the inordinately delayed Gurupriya bridge. Instead, we should all rejoice that a historical wrong has been righted and the people who sacrificed everything to light up our houses – and were promptly dumped in an Area of Darkness in return – have finally got the minimum they deserved. For six decades, 30, 000 odd people living in the 151 villages spread over what used to be known as the ‘cut off area’ even in official records were left to wallow in misery and deprivation. The nation certainly owes them a sincere apology.

We city dwellers cannot even imagine the hardships these hapless people were made to undergo for six decades. Heavy rains confine us to our houses for a day and all hell breaks loose. The outrage is loud enough to keep the administration on its toes for days trying to drain out water from streets and residential areas. But thousands of people have been forcibly water-locked for decades and not a whimper anywhere. They have been denied the barest minimum of amenities for living: food, basic medical facilities and – not to forget – electricity, for which they were forced out of their homes in the first place. Those who get restive when made to wait for transport for just half an hour can never understand what it is like to be at the mercy of an extremely erratic and unreliable motor launch service that gets frequently disrupted due to the vagaries of weather, callousness of the service providers and the threat of Maoists; to remain cut off from the rest of the world for days and, at times, weeks. People who get their provisions booked online and delivered at their doorsteps can never realize the plight of those who have to cross the mighty reservoir for the smallest of needs; even something as elementary as a match box. Their miseries never make it to social media or lead to outrage on the streets. Just about the only time the media’s attention turns their way is when an act of Maoist depredation takes place. Political parties that barge into government offices, hosepipes in hand, and inundate the office and drench the officers on duty in protest against water logging in the city have no time to do the same to demand an end to the water-barring of 30, 000 people for decades together.

It was, in my view, one of the worst – if not the worst – and certainly the most sustained violation of human rights known in independent India. I am, in fact, surprised that no one has bothered to approach the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) – and maybe even the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – against this wanton disregard of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

And pray what exactly were these people made to pay for all these years? For their cardinal filly of trusting the government and leaving their homes and hearths to be submerged under water so that homes and streets in faraway cities and towns could be lighted up!

As if all that was not bad enough, the Maoists found a safe haven in this god forsaken area that borders Andhra Pradesh on one side and Chhattisgarh on the other. Already reeling under all kinds of deprivations, the people of the area got caught in a whirlpool of violence and ended up getting the worst of both the worlds. The police believed they were all sympathizers and harbourers of Maoists and unleashed unspeakable horrors on them. The Maoists thought they were ‘police informers’ and punished them for it by selective killings. It was a classic Catch 22 situation where you are ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. They were mere pawns as the security forces engaged in a fierce battle for supremacy with the Maoists. And the rest of the state was too busy going about their own business to bother about the plight of these people caught in the crossfire.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has done well to sound a note of optimism hoping that the ‘Samparkara Setu’ (‘Bridge of Relationship’) will ‘transform’ lives in the cut off area. But I would have been happier had he used the occasion to tender an unqualified apology on behalf of all of us to the people of the area that ceased to be the ‘cut off area’ on Thursday.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).