The 70th Republic Day was celebrated in a grand manner befitting the occasion at many places across India today. But in Naxal-affected Bastar, far from the urban jungles, district officials unfurled the tricolour on the banks of a river that runs right through the Maoist hotbeds.
The aim was clear – send the message to Naxals that law rules in this part of Chhattisgarh.
Senior police and other officials, including SP Bastar Arif Sheikh, hoisted the national flag on a makeshift pole on the banks of the Indravati River on the occasion of the 70th Republic Day.
“The village head was killed six months ago by Naxals after he demanded that a bridge be constructed across the Indravati River,” SP Sheikh told reporters following the simple but significant ceremony.
“So we came early morning to hoist the flag here to convey the message that the people and the police will rule the forests, not Naxals,” the SP added.
The officials and security personnel had to cross over a shallow end of the river to reach the bank where the flag hoisting was to be held.
Numerous encounters have taken place between security forces and Naxals along the banks of the Indravati River, which flows through all of the Naxal-hit districts of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli.
In some places, the river separates Naxal-infested forests from peaceful areas.
In April 2018, bodies of around 40 Naxals were found floating in the river after a major encounter that took place in Jimalgatta forest of Gadchiroli.
Much of the areas along the banks of the river are inaccessible due to the constant threat of Maoist violence which hampers developmental activity.
Chhattisgarh’s Bastar is one of the worst affected Naxal-infested districts in the country.