Godavari River (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)
My day began with a breakfast of peserettu, a traditional Andhra dish that was like a dosa, but better. It was stuffed with carrots, onions, and upma. Some foods just make me happy. Peserettu is now one of them. The small joint we ate at was hot and steamy, highly unappealing at 8 am. It didn't help that a "Bandh" was taking place today for Telangana's independence. This meant that all the shops, ours included, had to pretend they were closed whenever a megaphoned auto-rickshaw from a political party drove by.
As the orientation began, everyone was quiet and reserved, but by the afternoon, murmurs of polite conversation and a few laughs could be heard. While the orientation was underway, I spent many a distracted moment focusing on Karthik and Chetna's one year old daughter, Disha. She seemed so carefree and easily amused, and would become suddenly pensive. She struck me as highly cognizant for someone her age. And she was ridiculously cute.
Our group of 10 was oriented on the situation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) throughout India. While there are IDPs from Kashmir and Assam, the focus of our study was on the tribal IDPs who have come from Chattisgarh to the border areas of Andhra Pradesh due to Maoist and Salwa Judum violence. According to government figures, there are 203 IDP settlements in Andhra Pradesh, but according to the Agricultural and Social Development Society (ASDS), many more exist.
ASDS is already working in numerous settlements in and around the Khammam area through its Cluster Coordinators, who are locals or IDPs themselves that facilitate a relationship between ASDS and the settlements. The Cluster Coordinators help the IDPs to avail of government schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). They also help the IDPs obtain some form of identity such as Voter IDs and ration cards. Each Coordinator is responsible for a Mandal, which could include anywhere from 7 to 20 villages.
I spoke with one of the Cluster Coordinators named Suresh. He had left his studies in Chattisgarh, where his parents still lived, to come to Andhra Pradesh due to fear of Salwa Judum violence. We spoke about what he does now and the challenges he faces in ensuring the families in his cluster live a life of dignity. "If only the Maoists and Salwa Judum stopped fighting each other, our job would be done."
At one point, he looked at me intently. "Are you from Delhi?"
"How did you know?" I asked him.
He smiled. Is it that obvious?