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An Eye Opening Trip To Bastar

Chhattisgarh is a journalist’s heaven – there is a story for their heart-wrenching reporting at each turn

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The word Bastar brings a particular emotion and imagery. Visions of gun-toting Naxals, broken schools, missing mobile towers, constant vigilance by para-military forces, missing basic infrastructure and loopholes in governance cloud one’s perspective to the city. It is, for many, a “forbidden land” of sorts. 

Chhattisgarh is a journalist’s heaven – there is a story for their heart-wrenching reporting at each turn. So, when I told my friends, they did not expect an entrepreneur to visit.  Why? How will you go? What about your safety – were the questions thrown at me. 

Since I started working with artisans and entrepreneurs in the Handloom Sector, I have been travelling to Silk and crafts hubs like Bengaluru, Varanasi, Bhagalpur, Jaipur, Surat, Bhopal, West Bengal and Lucknow. But when I decided to visit the Tasar cocoon production hubs in Chhattisgarh, I knew that this trip is going to be different.  

A large part of my work involves interacting with Government officials, so I wrote an email to the industry secretary of the state - Mr Anil Tuteja. This was more of a formality, and I did not expect any reply. To my pleasant surprise, I got a call from his office, coordinating my visit.  

Within a few hours of landing in Raipur, I was sitting across Mr Tuteja. I had my 10 mins speech prepared but to my surprise, I was the one getting the briefing! He elucidated me about Chhattisgarh’s plan to build a sustainable economy model through schemes like Godhan Yojana, sustainable farming, Bastar Café, C-Mart and series of such initiatives. We discussed how Chhattisgarh is the biggest Tasar cocoon producer in the country, yet most of our cocoon is used outside the state. I understood hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Bhupesh Baghel Ji’ s vision of Chhattisgarh integrating the value chain to ensure that we produce market ready products.  

I have come across many bureaucrats but few have I seen with clarity, plan and humbleness. After a 40-minute interaction with the busiest bureaucrat of the state, I headed for Bastar, He told me to meet the District Collector and keep him posted. 

To my surprise, there is a daily flight between Raipur and Jagdalpur which flies at 2.30, so you can easily catch it while going from Delhi. Before the visit, I had enquired some friends about the accommodation, and I didn’t hear good experiences. I came to know upon my visit that a new 4-star hotel has come up. More people are visiting the state and the management and facilities is better, which is an indication of growth and development. 

 The District Collector of Bastar was a young IAS buzzing with energy. It was afternoon, the time when he usually met locals to discuss their problems. Around 40 people, primarily villagers and tribals from far flung areas, were systematically handed a token as they arrived. I got my token and waited for my turn. We spoke for about 15 minutes, on handloom, Tasar, silk value chain, cocoon production etc, after which he introduced me to the CEO and State Silk Board officials.. Detailing and attention of the Babus were a happy surprise to me!. The vision of the Chief Minister was visible not only in Govt ads, but also in practice.  

The CEO invited me to a Business Networking event at a nearby venue. Over 50 youths, discussed business ideas, their challenges and the way forward. Their discussion was no less stimulating than start-up meets in Delhi and Gurgaon. Most businesses weren’t tech-driven, mentorship and vision, could be improved and resources and scalability =were not the same. Still, I wondered why the mainstream media was missing on the budding entrepreneurship tier 3 and tier 4 cities?  

I visited cocoon cultivation areas and the work of state and local administration was evident even if the results are yet to be seen at a grand scale.  

After two days of meeting and field trips, I had a relaxing afternoon for some sightseeing. I visited Chitrakoot and experienced how close to nature it was. An arc-shaped resort rested on top of the mesmerising waterfalls. The government has developed it as a tourist destination and many visitors come from within and outside of the state to witness the serendipity. On my way back, we stopped at one of the most extensive public libraries I have seen. It is difficult to believe that Jagdalpur houses this well-maintained infrastructure.  

Overall, a 4-day trip to Bastar was an eye opener As I plan my next trip to Bastar, my anxiety has been replaced with excitement and longing to come back. I wish more people visited the place and experienced how one of the most feared districts is changing for good.
Bastar 

Dr. Pooja Jha is the founder of Gender Mainstreaming Research Association, which works with women entrepreneurs in handloom sector to promote cultural entrepreneurship and help them modernise their practices

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Dr. Pooja Jha

The author is the founder of Gender Mainstreaming Research Association, which works with women entrepreneurs in handloom sector to promote cultural entrepreneurship and help them modernise their practices.

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