By- Jamuna Inamdar
The final number of districts that make up the Indian state of Chattisgarh, located approximately in the center of India, is 27 as of today.  (*A district (Zilā) is an administrative division of an Indian state or territory.)  Here is a map that depicts all 27 districts.

Many existing districts were further divided and as many as 9 new districts were added last year.  And even today, Chattisgarh is being divided into newer districts.  Very soon, the above map will have to be updated.

I only hope we finally know how many districts there are! Or because of the constant change and addition everyone will lose track of how many districts there were and how many there are currently and how they look on the map.

I also happen to now be more well versed (even though still abysmally inadequate) with facts about Chattisgarh state where I started working 9 months ago than about the state of Maharashtra where I was born and lived for 3 decades.

While I thought Chattisgarh might be the state with the highest number of districts at 27.  Turns out it is Uttar Pradesh with a whooping 70 districts. Uttar Pradesh is the 5th largest state in India but I believe it is the most populated.  The largest state in our country, Rajasthan, has 33 districts.

In October 2011, I read in Outlook India the text of a lecture by Jairam Ramesh, called the Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture.  Some excerpts from it regarding why the division of some states (Chattisgarh and the likes especially) into smaller districts might be the need of the hour:

The Union Government has identified 60 districts in seven states that are affected by left-wing extremism. Of these, 15 are in Orissa, 14 in Jharkhand, 10 in Chattisgarh, 8 in Madhya Pradesh, 7 in Bihar, 2 each in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and 1 each in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. 18 more districts are being considered for inclusion.

When you look at these 60 districts on a map of India , five characteristics stand out. I should, however, mention straightaway that the 7 districts of Bihar are an exception to these generalisations. Bihar has its own dynamics embedded in caste and land-related structures.
  • First, an overwhelming majority of these districts have substantial population of tribal communities.
  • Second, an overwhelming majority of these districts have significant area under good quality forest cover.
  • Third, a large number of these districts are rich in minerals like coal, bauxite and iron ore.
  • Fourth, in a number of states, these districts are remote from the seat of power and have large administrative units.
  • Fifth, a large number of districts are located in tri-junction areas of different states.
On the size of administrative units, recently on a visit to Chattisgarh I discovered that the size of some blocks (like Conta in Dantewada district and Orchha in Narayanpur district and Orgi in Surguja district) was equivalent to the size of some districts in some other states and indeed equivalent to the size of some other states themselves.(the highlights and italics are mine) Given poor connectivity and infrastructure to begin with, this is a huge handicap to contend with by administrators. Rationalisation of administrative units is entirely within the domain and powers of state governments. The Chattisgarh government has very recently decided to create five more districts in the Naxal-affected regions of the state and this is a good step.

While the above has been discussed in the context of curbing the Naxal struggle, I am thinking about it in the context of the recent rapes in a tribal school.

Since three days now, Kanker district of Chattisgarh is in the news.   In one of the Ashram schools in Kanker, meant for tribal girls, the teacher and watchman of the school were arrested for repeatedly raping the minor girls.  One of the girls has died as a result of a sexually transmitted disease that went untreated.

Kanker was essentially part of Bastar district in south Chattisgarh. In 1998 it got an identity of its own.  It is now a district on its own with its own district collectorate, child welfare committee, district institute of education and training (DIET) and the usual government set up that every district needs and has.

If Kanker has been separated as a district from Bastar (and is even called North Bastar) in a bid to make it more manageable, has that helped the state to manage it any better or does it still appear unwieldy to administrators?

In a district with (figures obtained from 7 tehsils or blocks and 1004 villages, how difficult is it for government officials especially appointed for the purpose to ensure that heinous and grave crimes such as repeated rapes of tribal girls in school hostels do not go unnoticed? Can this problem be attributed to insufficient government officials, too many schools in too many villages? Clearly not!

I have personally encountered and still work with district level education officials who have not seen the schools that fall under their jurisdiction – the blocks.  They have not made visits to the schools in these blocks.  Some schools have never seen a government official who is “in-charge” of hearing and offering a solution to their problems.  Are the villages and blocks that far flung that a district level official never reaches them?

Another challenge that exists is the division within government education officials – of those who look into administrative matters and those who look into academic  matters.  Whose concern becomes this case of sexual assault and rape?  Ideally everybody’s.. but..!

When asked why officials do not make visits to their assigned blocks and schools – the answer is often the resentment that they have to do so on their account using their own finances!

Had the district level officials, block level officials made regular visits to the school they were assigned to, elicited cooperation and accountability from the head teachers of schools, would repeated rapes of minor girls have gone unnoticed?

I understand it is not that simple or merely to do with administrative divisions – as block level officials have turned a blind eye to this atrocity even after becoming aware of it.  Making visits and keeping oneself abreast of what is happening is not sufficient from actually stopping something from happening.  There are many other dynamics at play – dynamics of dominant caste and oppressed tribes. As pointed out by a colleague, a very important point to be considered here will also be to find out if the rapist teacher and watchman belonged to the same tribal community or were they non-tribal?

What is also disturbing is the appeal of the villagers for help falling on deaf ears. What do people do when their plea for help falls on the ears of people who instead of protecting them are partners in crime?  Aren’t these situations when people have decided to then take the law into their own hands, reacting equally brutally and violently?  And does that not take us further away from being a civilized society?

And dividing states and districts and blocks for administrative efficacy is not even the answer for the basic apathy and narrow-mindedness and helplessness and inhuman side of human beings.

I hope this incident will shake the district and block level officials into connecting with the people, the villages and truly becoming the protectors of peoples’ rights.  I hope they know that they cannot turn a blind eye to something gruesome happening in their very blocks, in the very schools they are responsible for, under their very noses.  I hope they are able to overcome caste and class barriers and offer protection and support to human beings who are made vulnerable and forced into helplessness.

I hope in the administrative sense, we learn to make the players of this system more accountable and design the system to succeed and not to fail!

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