From 10 a.m. every Wednesday, Adivasis from various villages start gathering at the weekly haat in Amabeda village. “People of 45-50 villages come here. It’s the main haat of this region,” says Sukay Kashyap, a Gond Adivasi activist from Amabeda. Since there are no kirana (general) shops in these remote villages, they come to this haat in Antagarh block of (Uttar Bastar) Kanker district in Chhattisgarh to buy essentials and other items for the week.
Vegetable and fish sellers from Pakhanjur tehsil and traders from Keshkal and Dhanora blocks – from a 30-kilometre radius – come to Amabeda to sell their goods. The array of vegetables at the haat includes potatoes, onions, tomatoes, brinjal, cabbage, cauliflower and green chillies. Many of the Adivasis bring ragi, millet and rice, some bring mahua flowers, brooms made of bamboo, and other forest produce. Some sell spices, oil and soap. Potters bring pottery items, ironsmiths sell various implements required by farmers and labourers. With traders from outside the region coming in, the haat has grown over the years – they bring watches, plastic buckets, mugs, trinkets, hairclips and other items. They also sell battery-operated transistor radios, power chargers and torches of various sizes, which are especially necessary when people walk through the dark forest paths in the evening or at night.
Though there are a few other similar weekly markets in nearby villages, the Amabeda haat is among the oldest here – many elderly men and women I met say they have been coming here since their childhood. But the haats of the past were barter systems – paddy would be exchanged for salt, for example. Now, money earned as daily wages or at other jobs usually changes hands.
“When I was a child (around eight years old) I used to visit this market with my uncle,” says Keshav Sori, 53, who works with a voluntary organisation based in Kanker. “My uncle Ajuram Sori was a bamboo basket maker from Hatkara village and we would come to the haat on a bicycle. We started our journey the day before in the evening, stopped on the way for the night, and from early the next morning we would start off again. At that time, most of the marketing was done in exchange for produce, very few people used money. My uncle too sold his bamboo baskets for rice and other items.”
The Amabeda haat is around 35 kilometres from Kanker town. This is forested area, with poor roads and transport services – there are no buses, usually only overloaded Bolero taxis or tempos ply here – and the region is impacted by Naxalite-state violence. The police routinely check vehicles; they checked ours too and asked where we were from and why we were going to the haat.
We made it to Amabeda by the afternoon, during the peak shopping and trading time – from 1 to 3 p.m., after which people start leaving to return to their villages. And we made it in time to watch a cockfight. The murga-ladai is a popular sport and form of entertainment in tribal haats in many parts of India. I have seen it in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. For the villagers, it’s a matter of pride to own a fighter cock and win.
At Amabeda, around 200 men (no women) gather for the big fight, some 50 of them with roosters – the rest as audience who bet among themselves on the fighting cocks. The bets range from Rs. 100 to even Rs. 5,000 (or so they tell me). There are 20-25 bouts, each of about 5-10 minutes, till one of the contestants is grievously injured or killed. The owner of the winner gets the vanquished or killed cock – and has a feast at home later. When a fight is on, the cheers and roars are akin to those in a kushti akhada, a wresting arena.